In an effort to help improve safety of horses and those who travel with horses in trailers, USRider has been working with nationally known large-animal rescue experts Drs. Tomas and Rebecca Gimenez. (For more on the survey, see "Survey Specs," opposite page.) More than 200 horse trailer accidents have been evaluated. Research findings have provided useful information for improving horse trailer-safety practices. "The data showed that the main causes of horse trailer wrecks are lack of proper maintenance, operator error, and equipment mismatch," notes Dr. Tomas Gimenez.
For your Safety
Based on the team's research, USRider and the Drs. Gimenez offer 15 safety recommendations to those who travel with horses.
1. Drive carefully. With operator error factors, such as driving too fast, causing the majority of trailer accidents, it's imperative for you to be very careful and remain attentive. Drive as though you have a cup of water on the floorboard of your vehicle, and stay slightly under the speed limit to make allowances for adverse driving conditions. Double the following distance recommended for passenger cars. Maintain that distance even when cars cut in front of you.
2. Hang up, and pay attention. Avoid talking on a cell phone while pulling a trailer. Transportation experts have determined that talking on a cell phone while driving proves to be just as dangerous as driving while impaired by alcohol.
3. Pull over safely. If your vehicle becomes disabled, continue driving, whenever possible, until you can pull over to a safe area. Do this even if you have a flat tire, and it means destroying a wheel. Wheels can be easily replaced. Stopping on the shoulder is extremely dangerous, particularly on an interstate highway, and can put you, your horse, and emergency responders at great risk. Pull over on the grass as much as possible, away from the white line.
4.Use your headlights. Drive with the headlights on at all times to increase your visibility.
An unbalanced load can cause a trailer to overturn in an accident. When loading your trailer, load the heaviest cargo on the left. If you're loading only one horse, load him on the left side of the trailer. After loading, secure trailer doors and hatches.
For the past three years, Dr. Tomas Gimenez, professor of Animal and Veterinary Sciences at Clemson University, and Dr. Rebecca Gimenez, an animal physiologist and a primary instructor in technical large-animal emergency rescue, have assisted USRider in gathering and analyzing data about horse-trailer accidents.
The Drs. Gimenez began collecting data through a survey in December 2003. The research team also culled data from incidents reported in newspapers and online postings. The data is being used to formulate recommendations for preventing accidents and enhancing equine safety.
Equestrians around the country were urged to help with the research. USRider posted a survey on its website, and asked all horse owners, trainers, emergency responders, veterinarians, and others who'd somehow been involved in horse-trailer incidents to participate in the survey by logging on and answering some pertinent questions.
"Through unique studies like this and other initiatives, we're on a mission to increase the equine community's Trailering IQ," says Mark Cole, managing member for USRider. "You're transporting precious cargo. You can never be overprepared or too safe."
Research for this project is continuing. To contribute your stories for future use, visit www.usrider.org/survey.html.
5. Use reflective material. Apply reflective material to the back of your trailer. If you lose trailer lighting or experience an electrical failure, this material will help other drivers see you as they approach.
6. Replace your tires. Replace your tow-vehicle and trailer tires every three to five years regardless of mileage. Make sure that tires are rated to support more than the gross weight of the trailer and its contents. Check the air pressure in all tires (tow vehicle, trailer, and spare) at least every 30 days. Purchase a high-quality air pressure gauge, and learn how to operate it.
7. Check your inside dually tires. If you pull your trailer with a dually truck, check the inside tires for wear. Since these tires are "hidden" behind the outside tires, they're easy to neglect. Also check the inside tires' air pressure. Even if an inside tire is completely flat, it'll be supported by the outside tire, making it appear properly inflated.
8. Leave tire-changing to the pros. Even if you know how to change a tire, don't do it by yourself if you have an on-the-road breakdown; call for professional help. Your life is worth the time waiting for help.
9. Maintain your vehicle and trailer. Perform regular maintenance on your tow vehicle and trailer. Have your trailer wiring inspected for uninsulated, loose, and/or exposed wires, and poor connections. This applies to old and new trailers alike. New trailers aren't trouble-free; inspect them closely. Have your trailer axles serviced annually or every 6,000 miles, whichever comes first.
Caution Horses Safety
State Line Tack
10. Use ICE. Make use of the ICE program; ICE stands for "in case of emergency." This simple program is designed to help emergency responders identify victims and determine who needs to be notified. Make it easy for first responders to know who to contact for information on handling your horse: Program an entry into your cell phone called "ICE - Horse." Key in the contact information of someone with the authority to make decisions about your horse's care, should you become incapacitated.
11. Draw up a power-of-attorney document. In conjunction with the ICE program, initiate a power-of-attorney document with a trusted friend or relative. If you become incapacitated, this will provide for your horse's emergency medical treatment. Also, prepare the corresponding Notice to Emergency Responders document. Keep copies of both documents in the glove box of your tow vehicle. (Both forms are available for download free from the USRider website, right).
12. Hitch up safely. Improper hitching is a common cause of trailer accidents. Use a hitch that's the correct type, size, and rating to match the coupler. Make sure the hitch is properly installed onto your towing vehicle. Securely fasten the safety chains and breakaway switch actuating chain.
13. Balance your load. An unbalanced load can cause a trailer to overturn in an accident. When loading your trailer, load the heaviest cargo on the left. If you're loading only one horse, load him on the left side of the trailer. After loading, secure trailer doors and hatches.
14. Use protective gear. To help ensure your horse's safety, always apply shipping boots and a head bumper.
15. Carry a first-aid kit. Carry a current veterinar ian-approved first aid kit. Recommendations for such a kit are listed in the Equine Travel Safety Area on the USRider website, below.
For additional safety tips, visit the Equine Travel Safety Area - created by Neva Kittrell Scheve and James Hamilton, DVM - on the USRider website at www.usrider.org. USRider provides roadside assistance and towing services, along with other travel-related benefits, to its members through the Equestrian Motor Plan. It includes standard features, such as flat-tire repair, battery assistance, and lock-out services, plus towing up to 100 miles, roadside repairs, emergency stabling, veterinary referrals, and more. For more information, call (800) 844-1409, or visit the website listed above.