Horse Care Other Tips

You CAN Do This: Trailering a Horse for the First Time

trailering-horse-first-time
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Written by Mandy I.

Learning to tow a horse trailer? Here’s how to haul without having a full-blown panic attack.

There is nothing simple about towing 5,000 pounds of trailer and horse behind a big ‘ol pickup truck. It’s intimidating because there are major consequences if you screw it up.

And, between pulling a trailer down the highway and backing it up, there are a lot of ways for things to go sideways (figuratively and literally). No pressure, right?!

Fortunately, we’ve created a helpful guide to horse trailering so you can start practicing and become expert in no time flat.*

*No tires flat either.

Trailer = Freedom

That’s what I was told when I mentioned to my coach that I was considering whether to buy a trailer of my own. “It’s not just a trailer,” he said. “It’s freedom!”

Being the proud owner of a horse, or several, is one of the best feelings in the world. But, as you already know, it’s also a lot of work. One of the most challenging things about horse-ownership is traveling with your giant companions. It can also be one the of the most rewarding.

From backpacking trips to competitions, taking your horse on the road is always an exciting adventure. Of course, in order to travel with your horse, you’re going to need to learn to pull a trailer. This can feel like a huge undertaking if you’ve never done it.

Don’t let the fear of pulling a trailer keep your from getting out with your horse.

Horse Trailering 101

Horse trailering is one of those things that, as intimidating as it is, once you’ve got it, you’ve GOT it.

(Sort of like riding a bike, but more intense and way more expensive.)

Fortunately, if you’ve been driving a car/truck for a while, then you’ve already won a quarter of the battle. You know how to turn your vehicle and, hopefully, back it into a parking spot.

Now, you just need to get used to doing those things with a trailer in tow.

Before you can actually hit the open road follow these steps to prepare for your equestrian adventure.

Horse Trailer Weights

Get the Right Vehicle for the Job

First and foremost, you need to make sure that you have the right vehicle for the job. Horse trailers weigh a lot, especially when you load them down with a couple of horses, feed, and tack.

Because of this, your standard mid-sized sedan is not going to cut it for towing purposes.

horse-trailer-tow-vehicle

Make sure your tow vehicle can handle your load.

Generally, a truck of some sort is your best bet. However, not all trucks are created equally.

Not sure how much horse trailer your truck can handle? Check out your vehicle’s owner manual to find information about towing capacity, particularly the gross combined vehicle weight rating, or GCVWR. That number will give you a pretty good guideline.

Basically, you add the weight of your truck to the weight of your trailer (including an estimate on horses and tack). That number should not exceed the GCVWR.

Need more information? Read our article about horse trailer weights. Or, check out this article from DoubleD Trailers.

 

Check (and Double Check) Your Rig

Make sure your truck and trailer are ready for the open road. This step might seem tedious, but it is SO important. Check the oil and brakes. Make sure all of the lights work, especially the trailer lights.

Trust us, you don’t want to be pulled over for not having trailer lights. For a run down on how to connect trailer lights to your vehicle, this article from CariD has got you covered.

You also need to make sure you have the right ball and hitch setup for your trailer. We recommend making a checklist of this information to avoid forgetting anything important.

Or, use the Horse Rookie’s Ultimate Packing and Horse Trailering Checklist!

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Practice, Practice, Practice

We’ve all heard the saying practice makes perfect. Because, well, it does!

Whether you’re learning to ride a bike or tow a trailer, practice is the best way to guarantee perfection.

After soaking up the information in the rest of this guide, hook up that trailer and get to work. An open field is a great place to practice turning and backing up.

We know you’re anxious to get going on your next equestrian adventure. But, before you do, make sure to take the steps we laid out above to ensure a smooth trailering experience.

Common Horse Trailer Maneuvers

How to Hook Up a Horse Trailer

Are you a visual learner? Yeah, us too. We thought this topic was better covered with a video. That way, you can see as well as hear exactly how to hook up your horse trailer.

(Note: Double-check with your trailer and truck manufacturers manuals to ensure you understand any unique features of your rig.)

How to hook up a bumper pull horse trailer:

How to hook up a gooseneck horse trailer:

Your best tip is to practice your backup skills until you are confident you can control exactly where that vehicle is going. Plus, we recommend having someone help you back up to the trailer the first few times.*

*Or, forever!

How to Tow a Horse Trailer

You’ve checked your towing vehicle and trailer to make sure everything is in perfect working condition, you hooked your trailer up, and now you’re ready for the fun part- towing the trailer.

This part is actually fairly simple, when you’re going straight down a flat stretch of highway, that is.

It’s usually when you have to turn, stop, or back your trailer up where things get a bit more stressful.

How to Turn a Horse Trailer

Have you ever taken a turn too sharply and accidentally clipped the curb? Of course you have. We all have! Use that experience to inform your driving as you turn with your horse trailer.

Avoid clipping the curb or worse, oncoming traffic, by swinging your rig wide.

How wide you have to take a turn depends on whether or not you are driving a gooseneck or bumper pull trailer. With a gooseneck trailer you’ll have to take turns wider than you will with a bumper pull.

Whichever trailer you have, make sure your side mirrors give you a full view of the trailer’s tires.

Take the turn slowly and watch the trailer tires to make sure they will clear the turn. As we’ve said before, practice is your best friend. Find an open field or an empty parking lot before you hit the open road to get a feel for how your trailer turns.

Once you’ve got the hang of that, use this video to set some new #lifegoals:

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How to Back Up a Horse Trailer

Just use that handy dandy backup camera! Kidding, although if you have a backup camera make sure you take advantage of that added visibility.

If you’re not so lucky (or don’t want to pick up one on Amazon), your side mirrors should give you plenty of visibility as long as you know how to use them.

To back up a your horse trailer, you first need to understand how to steer a trailer in reverse.

We recommend steering from the bottom of the steering wheel with your hand at the 6 o’clock position.

This is a great trick for beginners because it alleviates the counter-intuitiveness of backing up a trailer.

Basically, when your hand is at the bottom of your steering wheel, you are steering the same direction that you want your trailer to go.

If you want the trailer to go left, move your hand to the left. If you want your trailer to go right, move your hand to the right.

Horse Trailer Weights

Here is a super helpful video from Evention:

How to Stop a Horse Trailer

Have you had nightmares about driving down the highway with your horse trailer when, all of a sudden, your trailer jack-knifes out of control?

While this horrifying scenario does occasionally happen, it is usually a result of dangerous driving conditions or a loss of tire traction due to braking.

To avoid this, make sure that you always give yourself plenty time to brake slowly.

Especially if you’ve never pulled a trailer before, driving like a grandma out for a leisurely Sunday drive is the best way to go.

Common Horse Trailering Mistakes

  • You decided not to practice and, as a result, accidentally backed into a tree.
  • You didn’t check your rig ahead of time for simple issues like latched doors, safety chains, and lights. Your tack room door popped open on the highway, and your beautiful show saddle hit the pavement.
  • You don’t ensure your horse is familiar with the trailer, and he takes four hours (and 40 carrots) to load.
  • You put the pedal to the metal instead of taking it slow and giving yourself lots of room between other drivers. You rear-end a car and end up being two hours late to your destination.
  • You don’t know how to tie a horse safely. Fix that mistake by reading our trailer tying article!

Horse Trailer Weights

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is backing up a trailer so hard?

Backing up a trailer is counterintuitive. This is because trailers are attached to your vehicle by a ball, which means that whichever way you steer your towing vehicle, the trailer will do the opposite.

This is a totally panic-inducing realization for first-timers. However, to avoid this, simply place your hand on the bottom of the steering wheel.

That way, you steer your hand in the same direction you want the trailer to go.

For a visual tutorial, check out this article with pictures from WikiHow. 

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How do you back up a trailer using mirrors?

The important thing to remember when backing up a trailer is to use both your mirrors and your own eyeballs. Basically, make sure your side mirrors give you a view of the entire trailer, especially the rear wheels.

When you are backing the trailer up, you will use the side mirror that corresponds to the direction your trailer is headed.

Let the Adventure Begin!

Now that you’ve got a head full of trailer-towing know-how, get out there and practice!

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About the author

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Mandy I.

Horses have been part of my life... my whole life! I grew up on a dude/cattle ranch in Montana, so I'm used to long days in a Western saddle. I also blog about motherhood and how to balance horse life and family life.