This page offers tips and advice for safe and trouble free towing.
Having your own four-wheel drive and trailer is probably the most
cost-effective way of transporting your horse, but are you
Having safe equipment is the first step to
successful towing, so ensure . . .
... your trailer (and vehicle) are both road-worthy. Trailers need
servicing annually, but check the floor is safe regularly. Mark
Unsworth from trailer hire company i4hire recommends trailers with
alloy floors not wooden ones. “Wooden floors rot from the elements
and horses’ urine,” he says.
Tyres must have enough tread (at least 1.6mm) and check the
electrics work. . . . your car’s maximum towing weight (you’ll
find this in the vehicle’s handbook or by contacting a dealer)
isn’t lower than the weight you are going to be towing.
... the trailer’s weight (with the heaviest load you’ll be towing)
does not exceed 85 per cent of the car’s unladen weight (you can
get this information from the vehicle’s handbook or manufacturer).
To work out your towing load, weigh your horses with a weigh tape
and add it to the weight of the trailer, which you’ll find on the
chassis. “By law trailers must be marked with their maximum gross
weight in kg, and the police have the right to make you take your
trailer to a weighbridge at any time,” says Mark.
... you are legal to tow a trailer – you must hold a full driving
licence, and if you passed your test after 1 January 1997, you’ll
have to take
separate towing test. And make sure you do because you won’t get
let off lightly if you get caught.
... you have adequate insurance. Your car insurance may cover the
trailer third party when towing, but this won’t include theft or
... the trailer has a partition, if you are towing more than one
horse, has a breast bar set at the correct height for the horses,
and a floor and ramp with good grip. If you’re only towing one
horse, travel it on the right to allow for the camber of the road.
you’re happy that you’re road-worthy, then you’re ready to go.
Hitching up takes a bit of practice, but there are ways you can
make it easier for yourself. It sounds obvious, but never load a
horse into your trailer before you hitch up.
Make sure that the trailer’s handbrake is
on, and the tow bar is higher than the tow ball. Line your
vehicle up so you can go back in a straight line towards the
trailer, and then reverse slowly. You will find it easier to
judge your distance if you have a helper.
tip: You may
find it easier to look through the rear window of your car
rather than using the wing/rear view mirrors or looking out of
the driver’s window. If so, Position your head so you look
through the centre of the rear window in line with the tow
Once you have the tow ball lined up under
the tow hitch, start to lower the hitch onto the ball by
turning the jockey wheel (in the right direction). Some tow
hitches will automatically hitch up, but most need the handle
to be held up You’ll
hear it click into place as the two become connected.
Undo the jockey wheel by turning the lever at the side, and
raise it up as high as it will go. Then tighten it securely so
there is no chance of it coming down when you’re driving.
You’ll see your trailer has a piece of wire with a hook on the
end. This is the breakaway cable, and it must be attached to
an eye or looped through a main brace of the tow bar, not over
the tow ball. The idea of the breakaway cable is that, if the
trailer and vehicle become separated, the wire actually takes
up the tension and applies the trailer’s handbrake.
To connect the electrics, line up the gap of the car’s
electrical socket with the gap in the tow hitch socket.
Release the trailer handbrake and check everything is working
(lights, indicators and brakes). For the brake lights, ask
someone to stand behind and check for you. Do a last check to
ensure everything is safe before you load your horse, and
never travel with the hitch lock on, because if the trailer
should flip over, it is likely to turn the car over, too!
Help prevent electrical cables becoming
faulty by spraying them with WD40 (to prevent rain getting in)
and pull them out before you drive your vehicle away from the
trailer after unhitching (to prevent them being stretched).
Keep tow balls well greased, too.
Park your trailer on as flat a surface as possible and then apply
the car’s and the trailer’s handbrake.
Disconnect the electrical and breakaway cables.
Undo the jockey wheel until it is touching the ground, and tighten
Hold up the tow hitch handle and wind the jockey wheel higher
until the vehicle and trailer disconnect.
Lock your trailer so it’s secure. To avoid the brake shoes
sticking to the drums, leave your trailer parked with the
handbrake off, but wedge the wheels to prevent it rolling.
Reversing a trailer well will impress anyone who’s watching,
whereas doing it badly will attract attention for the wrong
reasons! Don’t forget that plenty of practice makes perfect, so
find a nice big area and do just that. The first thing to remember
is to take it very slowly – you’ll have a lot more chance of
getting it right than if you try to do things in a hurry.
Before reversing, you need to find out what your trailer’s
jack-knife point is. The jack-knife point is the point at which
the trailer reaches a certain angle and you are no longer able to
get your vehicle out of this angle by reversing. Do this by
driving your vehicle forwards in a tight circle on full lock –
that’s your jack-knife point!
First, make sure there is nothing behind you, and preferably
have a helper to see you back. Where you start from will have
a big influence on where you end up, so if you want to reverse
around a corner, start straight and about a vehicle’s length
from the area you are reversing into.
The main thing to remember when reversing is that whichever
way you turn the steering wheel will send your trailer will go
in the opposite direction. So, if you steer the wheel left,
your trailer will go right. To straighten the trailer up,
simply turn the wheel back the other way. Often if you get the
angle wrong, you are better to go forwards again rather than
trying to correct it.
easiest way to do this is to use your wing mirrors. If you can see
more of your trailer in one mirror than the other, then you need
to straighten up. If things start to go wrong, pull forwards and
correct your line.
goes without saying that you should take corners slowly when
towing a horse, so give yourself plenty of time to slow down. Your
trailer will follow a tighter corner than your vehicle, so swing
out wider on turns to allow for this. When using a roundabout, the
same applies, and be aware that vehicles pulling onto the
roundabout may not judge how long your vehicle is, so don’t take
Breakdown cover for your vehicle will not cover your trailer, so
you will need additional cover for this.
you don’t transport your horse very often, then hiring a trailer
might be a better option than buying. There are lots of companies
which offer this service at a good price. For example, i4hire (www.i4hire.co.uk),
based in Dorset, charges £40 a day, £50 for the weekend and £75 a
you’d rather buy one, then buying in winter can be cheaper than in
summer. “Ifor Williams trailers that normally retail around £3,300
can be bought for as little as £2,950 in winter,” says Mark
Unsworth, “so it’s worth considering.” He also has the following
advice: “Make sure you can get your trailer to a dealership easily
for repairs and servicing, and if you buy second-hand, be really
careful. I can recite many horror stories about dangerous
trailers, so don’t take the risk. Always test tow a trailer before
buying and if you have any doubts, forget it,” he adds.
Would you know what to do if something goes wrong when you’re
towing? We offer some solutions to common towing problems
Q What should I do if my trailer starts snaking
on the road?
trailer will ‘snake’ for many reasons, such as the towing weight
being too heavy for your car, big vehicles overtaking you, wind,
poor roads and uneven tyre pressure. If it happens, ease your foot
off the accelerator and keep the steering steady. Do not try to
accelerate out of it – it doesn’t work! Drive straight home and
try to find out what the cause was so you can eliminate it.
Q What should I do if I break down with my
horses on board?
to avoid getting the horses out of the trailer, especially on busy
roads. If you are a member of a breakdown service, call them
immediately (the OHTO offers a full breakdown service for £72 a
year). Switch off the engine and if you have one (we advise you
do), place a hazard warning triangle 50 metres behind your
trailer. Alternatively, put your hazard warning lights on.
a motorway, get passengers out onto the verge, and note the number
of your nearest roadside marker to tell the breakdown service.
Non-members will still get help, but they’ll pay more.
Q What if my trailer gets a puncture?
recommends unloading the horses if it is safe to. “You can change
a tyre with horses on board and a sturdy jack, but horses are
quick to sense something is wrong and may get distressed,” he
says. If you do change the tyre with horses on board, be careful
that the horse’s movement doesn’t knock the tyre off the jack, and
check the tightness after 30 miles or so.
Dual carriageway and motorways:
Remember that trailers are largely governed by the rules which
apply to HGV vehicles, and one of these rules states that you only
have access to the inside and middle lanes.
Horse And Rider
Thank you to Horse and Rider magazine for allowing us to reproduce
the above article in amended format from the Horse and Rider
August 2005 publication. All images copyright of i4hire trailers