Owners of trucks and horse trailers can perform a long list of safety checks and maintenance tasks on their vehicles, without necessarily enlisting the aid of a mechanic. In fact, knowing how to maintain your own horse-hauling rig should be considered one aspect of responsible horse ownership. Adhering to manufacturers’ service recommendations and following a simple checklist of safety considerations can help reduce overall maintenance and service costs, and keep you and horse your horses safer on the road.
Long-haul travelers often use one simple idea – a checklist – to help ensure they don’t forget anything in their trip preparation. Simply make a list – handwritten or prepared on a computer – of all the safety checks that need to be made before leaving home. Have the list laminated and keep it in the glove box.
Towing a trailer loaded with horses creates tremendous stress and wear on braking systems, both for the tow vehicle and the trailer. Be sure to continually monitor your braking systems for wear, and monitor brake fluid levels and brake bias. An imbalance in the brake bias – too much front or rear brake pressure – can cause tires to lock up under heavy braking, leading to loss of control.
It’s easy even for trailer-towing veterans to get complacent and overlook the actual hooking up of a trailer to a tow vehicle. Before you drive away, take a few extra minutes to double-check the hitch connection, safety-chain connection and brake-light connection. Ensuring a proper hitch connection is just as important on a bumper-pull trailer as it is on a gooseneck.
Another often-overlooked, and relatively simple, task: checking fluid levels and belt and hose conditions. Pop the hood and check that all fluid levels are where they should be, and that belts and hoses appear to be in good shape, with no cracks or dry spots. While you’re at it, check your windshield wipers and washer-fluid level. If you really want to get into the spirit of things, remove the air filter from its container and check its condition. A clogged air filter can affect both engine performance and fuel economy.
Before any trip, clean out your trailer and, in the process, perform a few do-it-yourself maintenance checks. Check interior lighting systems and remove floor mats to check the condition of the trailer floor. Look for water damage or rough, uneven areas that could injure a horse. Use WD-40 or a similar lubricant for stubborn hinges and latches.
Examine the tires themselves. Carefully check the sidewalls of each tire for cracks and uneven wear patterns. Excess outside tread wear is a symptom of too little pressure; excessive inside tread wear means too much pressure. Improper tire pressure can cause chunking, cupping and tread separation.
Make sure your trailer’s wheel bearings have been serviced per the manufacturer’s guidelines. Some trailers have grease fittings so that bearings can be serviced with a manual grease gun. In other cases the wheel and tire must be removed, so bearings can be packed conventionally and the seals replaced.
One critical procedure every horse owner should practice is a before-you-leave-the-barn check. Once your trailer is hooked up to the tow vehicle and you’re ready for departure, take five minutes to check the following:
* brake lights, turn signals and running lights on the truck and trailer
* load balance, or weight distribution
* load security; make sure nothing can move or dislodge in transit
* tire pressure on truck and trailer tires (for less than $10 you can buy a good quality tire gauge; for a little more money, you can install a monitoring system to check pressures while you’re on the road)
Be sure you’ve packed an emergency kit stocked with:
* medium- to large-capacity, high-quality fire extinguisher
* heavy-duty compact hydraulic jack
* tire lug nut wrench
* road flares
* tow strap
* heavy-duty flashlight
* complete tool box
* cell phone
* first aid kits for people and horses
And, of course, be sure your brand inspections, health certificates and Coggins test results are on hand, and that you’ve informed someone of your travel plans, route and destination.
Tom Madigan is a Western Horseman contributing writer and a veteran automotive journalist. Send comments to [email protected]