Greg Scannell, CSP •

Equestrian Winter Hauling

Winter is here but our equestrian lives are anything but in hibernation. A constant safety topic should be revisited this time of year—horse trailering. Hauling horses in winter escalates the hazards for driver and passengers. The challenges are to maintain the health of your horses and arrive safely on schedule. The hazards of winter require more preparation than the same journey in other seasons.

Don't forget these winter travel essentials:

  • Write a list of emergency contact information and carry two copies—one on your person and another in the truck's glove compartment.
  • Ensure your itinerary is known by all handlers at the origin and destination of the journey.
  • Research the weather along your planned route, especially in any dangerous segments or stretches without readily available emergency response teams.
  • Service your truck and trailer for winter driving conditions. Test the truck's heater, lights, tires and radio before departing.
  • Increase your visibility to other drivers by adding reflector tape strips to the trailer's sides and rear.
  • Covering the trailer hitch and electronic connection can prevent ice and snow from collecting.
  • Prepare a list of potential layover sites along the route, with phone numbers, addresses, and directions.
  • Extra hay and bedding. Extra halters and lead ropes with your name, address, phone number, and horse's name.
  • Tire chains, ice scraper, flashlight and batteries, 12-volt rechargeable power pack.
  • Assortment of different weights of horse blankets and sheets.
  • Old towels (for drying your horse, yourself, or the windshield).
  • Shovel (for digging out stuck tires).
  • Water in covered buckets and extra water hose.
  • Bag of sand or cat litter (helpful for loading horses into the trailer from a slick surface or for traction if the trailer gets stuck).

Environmental control is important for maintaining horse health through a shipment. The trailer shelters out the cold; however, overheating is a more hazardous, and a more typical, problem for horses being hauled. Heat inside a fully enclosed trailer can build up quickly, increasing the humidity—which can also lead to breathing issues. The horses can then sweat more, leading to added fluid loss. Air should circulate, but the trailer should not be drafty with wind blowing directly onto the horses. The first step in providing proper ventilation is to check the trailer's vents and windows for proper operation. As heat increases inside, adjust ventilation by cracking windows or reversing vents. Watering is another important part of winter travel—dehydration is just as likely to occur in cold weather. At each stop, check water buckets and the horses for overheating. A good method for this is feeling or looking under blankets for sweat.

Horse health is not the only part of winter travel that you should consider. Severe weather can drastically affect the way you drive your truck and trailer. You might have to drive through low visibility conditions, such as a whiteout during a snowstorm, heavy rain, or hail. In northern climates, snow and ice can slow or even halt highway traffic, leaving you and your horses stranded for hours. Assume extra responsibility for safety by anticipating all of these risks. Continuously check your truck and trailer's performance. Reduce speed when the road is icy to assure yourself that you still have full control of truck and trailer. Always use trailer safety chains when you hitch up. A strong wind or a slippery road can hamper control of the trailer, so you want it to remain firmly hitched to your truck even if the primary hitch fails. With proper planning for winter trailering, you can keep your new year safe and healthy.

The importance of preventative safety remains paramount. Daily inspections of the environment your horses live in go a long way in preventing emergencies. We at Safety Check Inc. are trained in hazard analysis and accident prevention. For an equine safety consultation or barn walkthrough, please feel free to contact us at (815) 475-9991.

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