While at a horse show this summer, I went to retrieve my horse trailer in the parking lot, only to realize that it was not there. It was, quite simply, gone.
I know it would be much more exciting if I could share some detailed course of events that lead to the horse trailer's MIA status or clues as to where it ended up, but it just didn't happen like that. One day it was there, and then it was not.
After the subsequent and repetitive hour-long drive through the two-acre parking lot, I stood in the location where we had parked our horse trailer. As it began to dawn on me that our horse trailer had been stolen, I suddenly realized how a seemingly simple occurrence had such complex consequences.
Gone with my horse trailer was a lifetime of horse acquisitions. That would include beloved belongings such as the custom Mike Craig silver show bridle that was given to me by my parents when I was 18, and the beautiful beaded show shirt and Jim Taylor show saddle I won two world championships in. Also gone was a tack room full of everyday, yet cumulatively expensive, items-brushes, buckets, blankets, hoses, reins, bridles, and bits. Gone too was my ability to haul my horse home. And the ability to haul to the vet, horse shoer, and the local arena I went to twice a week for its good stopping ground.
The irony, I realized, was that these things really weren't gone. They had just gone missing in my life. These things I worked hard to earn were now being enjoyed, or sold, by someone who gained them through theft. And let me tell you, that is a truly infuriating realization.
I was asked to write this article to not only share my experience, but to also share with you some useful information. I suppose I could spend hours accumulating trailer theft statistics. But after all of this, I think it would be more beneficial to share what I have learned on a practical basis, and what other people who've had their trailer stolen have shared with me.
Here is what I now know that I didn't know before:
1. Lock Your Trailer Hitch
I have been showing horses for over 25 years and never used a hitch lock in all those years of towing a trailer around. After having my trailer stolen, I now realize the flaw in that practice. So, whether you have a bumper hitch or a gooseneck, purchase a hitch lock and use it. There are many great hitch lock options out there, and they take only seconds to put on and off and will run you about $30 to $100.
We now keep a hitch lock on our trailer both at home and at shows. And if you want to go the distance, you can purchase a locking receiver hitch pin. This is the pin that secures the bumper hitch to the receiver hitch on your truck. Sadly, having our trailer stolen spilled over into other areas of our life. Case in point: We never even locked our house, and we routinely left the keys in the ignition of the cars. No longer.
2. Paint Identification on Your Trailer
After speaking with many other people who have had their trailer stolen, I now realize that simply discouraging a thief is priority #1. You want to do whatever you can to make your trailer look hard, time-consuming, or complicated to steal. So along with locking the hitch, make sure there are some very obvious identifying features to your trailer.
Have the name of your ranch, business, or even just your name put on your trailer in a prominent location. When our trailer was stolen, it was parked amongst many trailers that were fancier, bigger and more expensive. However, ours was one of the few white trailers out there with no logos or identifying features on it. And that is exactly why ours was stolen- it was an easy target. And once it left the grounds, it looked just like thousands of other trailers going down the road.
3. Have Adequate Insurance
Our trailer was insured. However unbeknownst to us, all of its contents were not. As it turned out, what was in the tack room of the trailer was more valuable than the trailer itself. My advice: Contact your insurance agent today, and make sure the contents of the trailer are insured-no matter where the trailer is. And find out if your tack and equipment are covered in the case they are stolen out of the show facility or on a trail ride.
You may be covered under renter's or homeowner's insurance, but call today and ask lots of questions to verify that is the case. Follow through by documenting all of your items either through a video or photographs. Ask your insurance agent about what type of documentation is needed to prove you owned the equipment should you need to settle a claim. And be specific about what kinds of things you want covered. You may have to pay a little extra to have items worth more than $1,000 (like your saddle) fully insured.
4. "Security Patrolled" Only Goes So Far
Our trailer was stolen at a very large reining show in Denver, and we were told that the trailer parking lot was monitored by facility management and off-duty police during off hours. But think about it: How often have you backed up to your trailer at a show or trail head, hooked up, and driven off without anyone ever questioning your ownership of that trailer? All the time!
In reality, unless someone is checking ownership of the trailers at a controlled exit point, security is there to perhaps discourage break-ins, but that is about it. When I found our trailer missing, I realized that the parking lot security person was drowsily sitting in his car, facing the complete opposite direction, with a line of sight a good 10 feet below the trailers due to his location. He couldn't even see the trailer parking lot. And when we later spent hours slowly driving through the lot looking for any sign of our trailer, not once did I ever see any security in that parking lot.
So take responsibility for your own belongings. Along with using a lock and painting identification on your trailer, check on your trailer often if you have it parked in a remote location. Then if it does go missing, you will have a narrower timeframe to identify when it was taken. Most places you haul your horse to won't even have security, so don't rely on it.
5. Make a Police Report
If, despite all your precautions, your trailer is stolen, the first thing you want to do is contact the police and file a report. This may be a frustrating thing. Since our trailer was stolen in an urban area, the police officer had no idea what terms such as "slant load," "bumper hitch," "tack room," or "drop down feed doors" meant. And because our trailer was stolen in a large urban area, the police officer (who was very kind) pretty much kissed it off as gone, leaving with the remark "Don't call us, we'll call you."
I made several calls to the police department after the trailer was stolen and was told the same thing. After all, a stolen trailer is going to rate pretty low when compared to shootings, domestic disturbances, and human safety concerns.
6. Keep Your Trailer Registration with You
As it turned out, I had a copy of the trailer registration in my purse, which in turn, had the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) on it. This proved to be very important and needed information for the police report. And while it seems extreme, it would have also have been helpful to have pictures of the trailer. We could have used this for the police, as well as when we made up stolen trailer flyers, and contacted area trailer sale companies.
7. Call Your Insurance Company
If your trailer is stolen, after contacting the police and filling out a report, you then need to call your insurance company. Amongst other things, your agent will ask for the police report number, and the VIN. If your trailer is not recovered after a length of time, you will likely be asked to send the title (signed) and original sales information to the insurance company.
After several weeks, our insurance company then used a subcontractor company to determine the replacement cost of our trailer, using regional sale information based on used trailers similar to ours. We then received a settlement check about a month after our trailer was stolen, for about 70% of the original purchase price of our trailer. (Our trailer was 6 years old and purchased new.)
In talking with people who learned of our trailer theft, I was constantly struck by the simple fact that strange things happen all the time, and there are bad people out there that think nothing of stealing from others. One person told me about friends that had their truck and trailer stolen-while they were sleeping inside the living quarters of the trailer. I also learned of a semi rig and the attached eight-horse trailer that were stolen at a truck stop, along with the horses and tack on board.
In the end, several months after having our trailer stolen, I again remind myself that the trailer and all of its contents were just "things"-not family or beloved animals. So for that, I am thankful.