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Hauling Horses: Driving Tips for Adverse Weather Conditions
Transporting horses in  Winter conditions!

Winter driving does present special challenges, but learning how to drive defensively will help you and your precious cargo arrive at your destination safely.
Written by Karen Elizabeth Baril and Debbie Disbrow

While it’s always best to check the weather forecast before you travel with horses, sometimes driving in bad weather can’t be helped. A sudden storm crops up while we’re on the road, or we need to get a sick or injured horse to the clinic, or worse---we’ve been asked to evacuate. Depending on how well prepared we are for the challenge; it can be an exciting adventure story or a real disaster.

One of the first things a trucker learns in school is how to safely pack a load. It’s simple physics; heavy stuff down low on the bottom, light-weight things on top. Secure the load with ropes or harnesses to prevent objects from shifting which could mean loss of control of the vehicle. Hmm….you see the problem.

The unfortunate fact is that horses are built top-heavy and unless we load them upside down, we already have to break the first rule. Worse yet, horses are a dynamic, constantly moving load, impossible to fully secure. You now have a challenge that most professional truckers never have to face. Like all things in life; preparation is key.

Don’t Put the Horse Before the Cart
The most important action you can take is to know your rig’s capacity for towing. Even a small trip downhill is a challenge if the weight of the load exceeds the capacity of the tow vehicle. In that scenario, the load (the weight of your horses, trailer, and equipment )  drives the vehicle, a very frightening and potentially dangerous event, especially if the roads are slick.  

You already know that your truck has a maximum rate for towing, but this is also true of your hitch, ball, ball mount, and safety chain. Concentrating strictly on the truck is missing at least half of the equation. All hitches come with a class rating as well as a weight rating. For example, a Class 1 hitch has a 250lb tongue weight and generally speaking, a 2500lb.fully loaded weight or Gross Trailer Weight (GTW) limit. All bumper pulls must have a Class III or Class IV Hitch bolted or welded to the frame of the vehicle.

All hitches are not created equal despite the class rating. The total GTW of your hitch will depend on installation techniques and construction of the tow vehicle, not to mention the ball mount and safety chain. Get professional equine advice when in doubt. Don’t rely on your vehicle salesman to give you the right information.

Check your Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) on any highway vehicle scale just to be sure  you are hauling within your limits. Make sure you weigh a full load, including horses, tack, hay, and equipment.
Make your towing vehicle ready for Winter conditions.

Pre-Flight Checks
Before you load up do some pre-flight checks, especially if your trailer has been sitting for a while. Look over your hitch and check the tire pressure on both your truck and trailer. Blow-outs are one of the most common causes of towing accidents and one of the easiest to avoid. 

If you live in a cold-weather climate, invest in winter wipers (little rubber sleeves) to prevent ice from building on the blades, but take them off in the good weather. Winter wipers are heavy and tend to wear out the wiper motor. Check and replenish engine fluids, including wiper wash. Adjust your telescoping mirrors to avoid blind spots.

Remove all snow and ice from truck and trailer before venturing out on the roads. Pay attention to headlights, brake lights, indicator lights, and reflectors. Clear snow and ice from the windshield, but also from the roof. Ice that suddenly slides off the roof can cause an accident or spook your horses.

Driving Tips
When roads are slick, drive slower than the speed limits allow. Go easy on the brakes. Downshift to a lower gear when traveling up or down steep grades and never park on a grade in bad weather. Don’t feel pressured by other drivers. Ignore them. Your goal is to get your horses to their destination safely.

Turbulence from another passing vehicle may cause your bumper-pull to sway. To avoid sway, keep tension on the hitch. A trailer that begins to sway is heading towards disaster. Truckers call this “the tail wagging the dog”. If you feel your bumper-pull sway, keep your steering wheel steady and don’t use your truck brakes. Apply your hand brakes carefully; usually short bursts are most effective. This will slow the trailer behind you and help to stabilize the motion.

In a jackknife situation, the trailer brakes have locked up, causing the trailer to drive the vehicle. A jackknife is more likely to occur in bad weather, but can occur even in good weather at speeds as low as 5mph depending on the size of the load.

If you feel your trailer sway or feel the hand brake has locked up, don’t apply your truck brakes. Instead, you’ll want to drive forward, if possible, gaining enough speed to regain control of the vehicle and regain traction on the road. Using the hand brake is useless and using your truck brakes will make things worse. Sway bars help prevent jackknifing and are a must, but even the sway bars are not a guarantee against a jackknife. Knowing what to do when it happens is critical.

Hydroplaning occurs when the tread on your tires cannot channel water away from the tire fast enough to create traction. This lifts the tire off the surface of the road and all traction is lost. In a hydroplane, remove your foot from the accelerator slowly. Don’t touch the brakes. Avoid all fast moves. Prevent hydroplaning by making sure your tires are in good condition and by driving slow on wet roads. Driving in the tracks of the vehicle in front of you helps as well, as some of the water will already be displaced.

Winter driving does present special challenges, but learning how to drive defensively will help you and your precious cargo arrive at your destination safely. 

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