Horse Trailer Emergencies


trailer safety

Roadside emergencies are always a BIG worry when you’re driving a horse trailer. Know how to be PREPARED – just in case!

Most of us experience some fear when we think about what could go wrong when we’re out on the road with our horses. And with good reason. A horse trailer emergency could crop up at any moment – it might be a blown tire, locked brakes, someone slamming on the brakes in front of you, or your vehicle just breaking down.

An Ounce of Prevention

Ramping up your awareness with careful, defensive driving will help reduce some mishaps. But with today’s roads being more crowded than ever, and drivers being more preoccupied with cell phones, GPS systems, and other digital devices, awareness may not be enough.

Since the best road emergencies are the ones that don’t happen, it is wise to remember the old saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. When it comes to hauling your horses, this couldn’t be more appropriate.

The right truck/trailer combination that is properly hitched and handles at its maximum may turn a potential tragedy into a minor inconvenience. So thorough preparation and inspection of your tow vehicle and trailer will not only greatly reduce your risk of having an emergency out on the road, but will give you the means to better handle an emergency if one does arise.

A Good Trailer Makes a Difference

The type, design and condition of your trailer will reduce the potential for injury to both you and your horses, but a thorough discussion of that topic would require a separate article. However, it’s important to know that horses are prey animals, and that their survival depends on their flight response. When they are exposed to stress, they want to run away. Being enclosed in a small dark space like a horse trailer goes against their basic instincts.

Prepare for this situation by keeping some sort of emergency directions in a very visible place, along with the name of someone who can be contacted to help with the horses if you are incapacitated.

When an animal is exposed to stress for long periods, his health begins to suffer and he can start to panic and scramble. When horses (live weight) start to act up in the trailer, it can cause injury and possible loss of control. Taking this into account, you can quickly see that the size, design and style of the trailer can affect the health and well-being of your horse(s). Without going into great detail, the trailer needs to fit your horse, have plenty of ventilation, lots of light, be free of interior obstructions, and offer a dust-free environment. Extra safety features such as the ability to unload any one horse without having to unload the others, and having a second exit on the side of the trailer, can make a real difference depending on the emergency. A more comprehensive description of how to achieve this can be found in the book The Complete Guide to Buying, Maintaining and Servicing a Horse Trailer.

Roadside Necessities

Whatever the emergency, you will most probably be stuck on the side of a road. Emergency triangles or flares should be set up to let others know you are there and to slow down. If it’s night, you’ll need a good flashlight and extra batteries. Carry a fire extinguisher, broom, shovel, insect spray, tool kit, spare, portable air compressor, and work gloves. You can also do wonders with a sharp knife and duct tape.

First Aid for Your Horse

Be ready for the worst and hope for the best is a good way to approach your preparations for an emergency, since they come in all types and degrees. Always carry a first aid kit, both horse and human, making sure the equine kit is well equipped with items such as splints and medications. If you’re uncertain about what to carry, you can find a list of suggestions in Equine Emergencies on the Road, written by Neva Kittrell Scheve and Dr. Jim Hamilton, DVM.

You may want to cultivate a good relationship with your veterinarian and discuss the option of carrying tranquilizers or other medications, and learn how to correctly use them. Tranquilizers in the wrong situation can result in the loss of your horse. While you’re at it, ask your vet to teach you how to read vital signs (heart rate, pulse, temperature, dehydration) and how to apply a splint. Have at least five to 20 gallons of water on board for drinking, cooling down your horse, and for lacerations that may occur. Be sure to have a bucket, sponge and lots of rags.

Changing Tires

The most common incident is a flat tire. Carry a fully inflated spare, a tire iron, and an easy-to-use jack such as a TrailerAid. Practice changing a tire so you’ll know how to do it if you are ever stranded on the side of a road. Since trailer tires are not always readily available, it would be a good idea to have a second spare in case the mishap takes out two tires. The alternative would be to have a Roadside Emergency Assistance Plan such as USRider.

Roadside Repairs

We recommend you always tie your horse in the trailer and use a halter and trailer tie/lead rope that will not break. You always want to have control over your horse when out on the road. A loose horse on a busy road will only end in disaster. Nevertheless, carry extra halters and lead ropes. Never unload your horses on a busy highway and never unhitch your trailer with the horses in it. It’s ideal if you can get off the highway and to a safe place.

If your emergency involves failed brakes, turn signals, and/or running lights, an automotive kit with spare fuses, bulbs, tester and wiring tools will be needed. And don’t forget your tow vehicle – spare belts, hoses, a tow chain, road atlas/navigation system, and extra cash or a credit card will come in handy. In addition to the above items, be sure to bring your registration for the vehicle and trailer, and required health certificates for your horse(s).

In Case of Emergency

Be aware that if you are in an accident and are injured yourself, the EMS personnel and police will most likely not be capable of taking care of your horses. Even though first responders are starting to realize that they need to learn how to handle an accident involving horses, in many cases they will probably not have received the training. Prepare for this situation by keeping some sort of emergency directions in a very visible place, along with the name of someone who can be contacted to help with the horses if you are incapacitated. Also, keep those numbers on your cell phone with the letters ICE (in case of emergency) HORSE in the contact name.

Remember that you will be able to handle an emergency situation much better if you have the appropriate equipment and knowledge.


Neva Kittrell Scheve and her husband Tom are the authors of the nationally recognized textbook The Complete Guide to Buying, Maintaining, and Servicing a Horse Trailer. Neva also has two other horse trailer books to her credit, including Equine Emergencies On The Road with Jim Hamilton, DVM. Besides being authors, clinicians and writers of numerous published articles on horse trailer safety, Tom and Neva have designed and developed the EquiSpirit and EquiBreeze line of horse trailers manufactured in Kinston, North Carolina. Visit EquiSpirit.com or email Tom@EquiSpirit.com.

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