You’re on the road, horses in tow, when you hit a downpour or hailstorm. This is no time to drive fast and take chances; you have to keep the safety of your load paramount. Severe weather increases the risk of skidding and accidents, so adjust your driving to the current conditions. In rain or snow, you’re driving on a wet, slippery surface, and often have poor visibility of the road ahead. Focus your attention: besides watching other drivers, you must be aware of, and control, your rig.
Preparing for Weather Conditions
Before you head out on your trip, check the weather forecast and prepare for all possibilities, no matter how remote. Start by checking the tires, your only contact with the road.
- Tires need traction to stay on the pavement. Look for sufficient tread, so the rubber contacts the pavement through a film of water. On snow, tires can lose grip, and ice can greatly reduce traction.
- If you drive a dually truck, realize that the rear tires might “float” on top of snow. “It’s better to have single rear tires, so you don’t have to fight the truck,” says Mario Sandoval, who has hauled horses for show barns on the East and West coasts, driving both semis and full-size pickups.
- Check inflation of all tires every day you’re on the road. You might consider adding an air pressure monitoring system that checks tire pressures while driving. Under-inflated tires are more likely to fail. Remember to check spare tires—and carry two spares for your trailer.
- Verify that truck and trailer brakes function properly. For snowy roads, adjust the gain control on your brake controller for safer stopping. You want the trailer brakes applied before the truck’s brakes.
- Be sure your heater is working, and all lights turn on, so you’re visible to other drivers. In bad weather, drive with your headlights on.
- Replace worn windshield wipers, and check for sufficient windshield wiper fluid.
- Chains may be required on certain highways. A state DOT may call for chains on the truck rear axle and trailer last axle. On a dually, you may need chains on all six tires. Dave Dalzell of Jamco Aluminum Trailers advises that chains “are for use in a very severe condition, and only short term. Chains do make for a much rougher ride.”
- For the horses, bring enough hay for the trip, with some extra for unplanned layovers. When Sandoval drives from New Mexico to Florida, he takes two bales per horse for the 40-hour trip. “I fill hay nets every six hours. And before I leave, I make sure the water tanks are full of water.”
- Before your trip, visit state DOT websites, which list road conditions and often post photos from roadside cameras. En route, continue your storm watch by dialing 511 on your cell phone or using a weather radio.
- A GPS with travel information helps you locate gas stations, restaurants, and hotels at highway exits. It may include traffic conditions that alert you about accidents or road closures. And just in case, bring maps of each state you’ll be driving through.
When the weather turns, slow down. Rain or snow reduces friction between your tires and the pavement, reducing your rig’s ability to accelerate, slow or stop. When you drive through heavy rain or water, you’ll be hydroplaning because your tires don’t contact the road.
- Allow plenty of space between you and other vehicles, and watch for any problems ahead. “Stay 200 feet behind the vehicle ahead. Let the crazy people pass you,” Sandoval says.
- On a slippery surface, be aware of the effects of inertia caused by the trailer. Control both vehicles by shifting to a lower gear. Avoid a jackknife by careful, slow braking on snow or ice. “Don’t use the truck brakes, but use the manual activation lever on the brake controller,” Sandoval says. “Use the trailer brakes, so you’re pulling back, instead of the trailer pushing you forward.”
- “If you see traffic weaving ahead, lightly apply the trailer brake,” says Mark Podeyn of Action RV. “Then step on the truck brake. That’s especially important if you feel the trailer start to touch the truck.” He knows the importance of caution, as he often repairs trailers after winter accidents.
- In rain or blowing snow, your visibility is reduced. Watch other vehicles, which may brake or swerve to avoid a puddle or deep snow. In a rainstorm, brakes get wet and often “grabby” when you drive through a flooded intersection or a dip in the road.
- When the temperature is freezing or lower, look out for black ice, which most often occurs on a bridge, overpass, or in a shady area. You might see a car ahead fishtail, alerting you to slow down.
- If possible, get off the roads when they are icy. “I don’t mind driving in the snow, but when it’s icy, I’m completely against it,” says Sandoval. “It’s safer to stop somewhere and make sure your horses have water and hay than to try to keep going.”
Layovers, Planned or Unplanned
Sometimes, no matter how prepared you are, the roads can become impassable. Too much can go wrong when roads are slippery or you can’t see the road in front of you.
Pull over during a downpour or whiteout. Look for a parking lot, or if you can’t exit the highway, pull well away from traffic lanes. Switch on your hazard lights while you’re stopped.
Weather can worsen unexpectedly. Sandoval encountered an I-40 ice storm in October and was stuck near Amarillo. “It was two hours driving from one exit to the next. I parked the six-horse at a gas station overnight, and had to carry water in buckets from a restaurant.”
Even driving a semi can’t keep you going on ice. Sandoval recalled a “white knuckle” trip to Aspen, driving a Mack cabover truck and a 15-horse trailer. “I was planning for the truck stop, and the ice started coming down. On the way down a little hill, the trailer started swinging, and it ended up facing the other way. My front tires were off the road.”
When you navigate through foul weather, you must balance your schedule with the risks of transport. Take your time so you arrive safely.
USRider Equestrian Motor Plan — www.usrider.org
Trailer Brake Controllers — www.brakecontroller.com