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Traveling Different Terrain Types

– Reprinted from Western Horseman Magazine

Before you hit the road, trailer in tow, make sure your vehicle is compatible with your trailer, your truck and trailer brakes are synchronized and you're prepared for any type of road conditions.

At some point, most horse owners must trailer their horses, whether for medical reasons or to enjoy a show or trail ride. Whatever the circumstance, it's important for novice haulers to learn some of the safety tips that come from experience. Here are some things to keep in mind while traveling across three terrain types.

Make sure your vehicle is compatible with the trailer.

Regardless of terrain, your tow vehicle should be large enough to pull your trailer, which means adequate power plus adequate weight to the vehicle itself. A heavy trailer hooked to the bumper of a light truck might raise the front or rear of the truck, depending on weight distribution in the trailer. Obviously this is a dangerous combination. A trailer might also outweigh a tow vehicle to the point the trailer pushes the vehicle - another dangerous situation that can result in a jackknifed trailer.

Synchronize your truck and trailer brakes. Trailer brakes should complement the truck brakes not grab and skid, or be so light that they're ineffective. Trailer brakes set higher than the truck brakes hold back the truck, which eventually could cause overheating, fading, and possibly failing trailer brakes. Inadequate trailer brakes and the trailer might push the truck into a jackknife situation. An adjustable braking mechanism installed inside the vehicle enables the driver to find smooth, comfortable assistance from the trailer brakes.

Anticipate stops and turns. This is especially important to prevent a jackknife situation when the tow vehicle and trailer travel on a curve. Regardless of truck and trailer size, safe trailer towing requires the driver to look ahead to anticipate road conditions. Besides, sudden stops, starts and turns can quickly make a horse inside the trailer reluctant to load for the next trip.

Terrain Type No. 1: Off Pavement
When a person tows off pavement to a gravel road, for instance, the full tread of the tires isn't in complete contact with the road surface, causing the rig to slide more quickly than when on pavement. The weight of the trailer pushing into the back of the vehicle is also increased because of the loose road surface conditions sand and/or gravel. Under these conditions, reducing your speed is always the best bet. Looking ahead and anticipating what the road will be like after noticing the "Pavement Ends" sign is much better than trying to regain control of a rig that's jackknifed and sliding off the road. Resist the impulse to speed down an empty, country road.

Terrain Type No. 2: Snowy, Icy, Wet Roads
These are probably the most hazardous conditions you'll encounter. If possible, avoid venturing into such conditions altogether. Human and horse safety should be the first consideration, and it's always better to wait until conditions improve. However, if you must venture forth, here are some inclement driving tips.

Anticipate road hazards. A slick situation can quickly become dangerous for a driver who doesn't anticipate what lies ahead. Allow extra space behind the preceding vehicle. Try to maintain a safe, constant speed. Make sure vehicle and trailer are under complete control before descending a hill. Slowing, then shifting into a lower gear (second or even first) prior to descending a steep hill is always a good idea. Even in dry conditions the engine will help hold the rig under control. Travel in the right hand lane. This is generally a good idea because faster traffic can get around, and you might need "a place to go" on the shoulder if suddenly confronted with out of control vehicles piling up ahead.

Adjust trailer brakes. Adjusting your trailer brakes a little higher than the truck brakes also is an advantage under these conditions. The trailer will help pull the truck in line when braking.

Maintain a steady speed. Seasoned drivers who are familiar with traveling in ice and snow know it's best, whenever possible, to maintain a fairly constant speed. In hilly terrain, the rig should be under control going downhill, but it's important to maintain some momentum while going up the next hill in order to avoid excessive use of the gas feed, which can cause wheels to spin out. Don't help a vehicle stop on ice, so remember to travel no faster than conditions warrant. On wet roads, remember the hazards of hydroplaning.

Terrain Type No. 3: Steep Grades
As with slick conditions, descending a steep grade presents its own share of circumstances. Watch for highway signs warning of steep grades, and try these tips.

Slow down. Keep speed in check to prevent the trailer from pushing the truck when braking or turning. Slow down prior to descending a hill, and shift the vehicle into a lower gear, second or even first, depending on the grade. Truck and trailer brakes can quickly burn out from constant use on a steep hill, and the result is an out of control rig. That's why you need help from the transmission. Shifting to a lower gear can help maintain a steady speed going up a steep hill, too, avoiding shifting back and forth by the automatic transmission.

Be aware of weight distribution in the trailer. Experts recommend 60 percent of a load ride toward the front of the trailer to ensure the trailer doesn't fishtail from side to side. Example: A single horse traveling in a three horse trailer will travel best in the front or middle, rather than the rear compartment.