Happy Trails?

From a flat tire to a more serious accident, here's what you need to know about staying safe on the road when traveling with horses.

He wasn’t the first horseman who learned the lesson the hard way.

He’d faithfully paid his AAA dues for roadside assistance and travel planning for over 10 years. Now he was on his way home from a show on a rainy Saturday night. He left early with one load of horses; the barn’s head riding instructor left about an hour and a half later hauling another. Now she was calling him on her cell phone. Her four-horse slant load had blown a tire and she was sitting alongside a busy interstate. She needed help. He called AAA.

Sorry, they told their long-time member. Not our job.

Emergencies Are Never Planned

Emergencies, by definition, are unplanned events. You can, however, be prepared to deal with them calmly if you think ahead about the strategy you will use and have the tools available to execute that strategy. Planning ahead can make the crucial difference between an event that’s a true emergency and one that’s just a real annoyance.

There are three basic trailering contingencies you need to anticipate:

1. Your trailer or tow vehicle has a mechanical breakdown.

2. A situation requiring veterinary care arises while you are away from home.

3. The people traveling with the horses are incapacitated in an accident.

Who Ya Gonna Call?

If you’ve been subscribing to a roadside assistance program expecting its network of towing contractors to come to your aid when your truck or trailer breaks down, you’d better check your agreement again (ditto that car insurance policy that includes reimbursement for towing).

First, as the horseman above discovered, you’ll probably find your roadside assistance program works a little differently from your car insurance. It generally covers the person who signs the agreement, not the vehicle. If someone else is driving your truck when it breaks down, they’ll be out of luck unless they’ve subscribed to a program of their own. Second, you’ll find that if you have a truck with dual rear wheels, the towing contractors typically used by roadside assistance programs will not be equipped to deal with it. Third, you’ll probably find that the assistance program covers your truck—but not your trailer.

You might find yourself in the opposite dilemma if you have a fancy trailer that includes full living quarters. In this case, you could subscribe to a roadside assistance program that covers recreational vehicles, but you’re going to need a separate agreement to cover the tow vehicle.

If you reach a sympathetic operator at a roadside assistance program that only covers the tow vehicle, he or she may be willing to help you locate a towing contractor that can deal with your mechanical problem—but you won’t be reimbursed for the cost. The operator may even be able to help you find another horse hauler or put a call through for you to people you know who can come to your rescue. But don’t count on it. The towing contractor who does show up may be willing to take your tow vehicle under the contract he has with the roadside assistance program, then come back to get your trailer for a separate, often cash, payment.

However, the towing operator may refuse to take on the liability of towing the trailer with horses in it. You may still be left with the problem of unloading horses from a disabled trailer and finding another way to haul them.

One-Call Partial Solution

If you want a roadside assistance program that covers both your tow vehicle and trailer, the year-old US Rider Equestrian Motor Plan is currently the only plan available to horse owners that does the job. For $109 a year (plus a $29 new member activation fee) this new motor plan offers roadside service for your tow vehicle (even a dually, and even when you’re not hauling horses) and for your trailer (from a 2-horse bumper pull to an 8-horse gooseneck). Besides providing towing, repairs, battery assistance, lock-out service, and deliveries of fuel, oil or water, US Rider can help horse owners find local veterinarians and emergency lodgings for themselves and their animals. According to member services representative Karen Cartwright, most of the calls received to date have been for towing.

Horse business owners should be aware of a hitch, however. The US Rider Equestrian Motor Plan is currently set up primarily to serve individual horse owners. (Spouses and children can be added as associate members for a reduced membership fee.) If a stable owner subscribes to the plan, it will not cover his or her employees or clients who may be hauling horses for the business. Remember: the plan follows the person. Unless the plan subscriber is in the vehicle as the driver or a passenger, the plan will not be in effect. If more than one employee at a facility hauls horses from time to time, each would have to be enrolled separately as a member. Cartwright noted that US Rider is currently looking into the possibility of providing a group or barn program.

Being Self-Sufficient

Without a roadside assistance program that covers your entire rig, you need to be prepared to handle mechanical breakdowns on your own. Tom and Neva Scheve, of EquiSpirit Trailer Company in Southern Pines, North Carolina, note that the best “insurance” is to buy a well-built trailer and then maintain it properly.

Then you should learn how to do some basic troubleshooting, such as replacing light bulbs or electrical fuses, checking brake wiring connections, and changing tires. Practice makes perfect. Cherry Hill’s book, “Trailering Your Horse,” offers step-by-step photos for procedures including hitching the trailer and changing tires. When all else fails, she writes, be prepared to lead or ride your horse to find help or reach safety.

Tom Scheve notes that a lot of emergency supply lists leave out items that could be critical if you break down late on Saturday night and the parts stores won’t be open until Monday morning. He likes to include spare belts for his truck and extra slide and ball mounts in sizes that will fit other hitches. That way, if you or someone else with a hitch that accepts a different ball size breaks down, you can switch hitch balls and get the trailer towed to safety. Neva Scheve includes a comprehensive list of supplies to carry along for both trailer and tow vehicle repairs in her book, “The Complete Guide to Buying, Maintaining, and Servicing a Horse Trailer“ (see box, this page).

To address the problem of finding roadside help when traveling with horses, Neva Scheve compiled the “Hawkins Guide—Horse Trailering On the Road” about 10 years ago. The glove-compartment-sized book covered registration, licensing, and health regulations in every state. The listings included a directory of veterinarians, trailer repair shops and towing services. The Scheves plan to have a revised edition available in about a year.

Creating Your Own Safety Net

Until then, hit the Internet and create a safety net of your own before you leave on a trip. Besides help with mechanical difficulties, you may need to find a veterinarian or emergency stabling for you and your horses. Download contact information for vets, stables and trailer repair services along your route (see “When You Need Some Help,”?page 24). Search at or your favorite search engine to look up the contact phone numbers for state horse councils along the way. In an emergency, they may be able to point you to help. Invest in the print version of an overnight stabling directory. Carry breed or sport directories or photocopy the pages for the states you’ll be passing through. Those contacts may be able to point you toward local repair services or help with emergency stabling. And don’t forget to pack your cell phone with a battery charger that works off the power outlet on your truck’s dashboard.

It’s First Aid, Not Surgery

Being prepared to administer first aid means just that—being ready to do the first thing when there is an injury or illness while you are traveling. You don’t need to carry enough supplies for every possible medical emergency, but you should be prepared to clean and bandage minor wounds and meet basic health emergencies.

You can find suggested lists of first aid supplies to carry in many books and publications including “Hawkins Guide—Equine Emergencies on the Road” (see “When You Need Some Help”). However, author Jim Hamilton, DVM, of Southern Pines Equine Associates in Southern Pines, North Carolina, strongly recommends that traveling horsemen ask for their veterinarian’s advice to customize their kit. The vet can provide emergency supplies of prescription painkillers and analgesics such as bute and Banamine. A vet who knows the history of the animals in your barn can also package travel-sized dosages of prescription medicines individual horses may require and can recommend other pertinent emergency supplies for common health crises.

Hamilton, for example, recommends that his clients who use shipping boots also pack a supply of old-fashioned standing bandages, bandaging quilts or cottons, and something that can be used as a temporary splint. He is adamant that every traveling horse owner should carry an ample supply of water (at least 5 gallons per horse) for emergencies ranging from washing wounds, watering horses if you get stuck in traffic on a hot day, offering to colicky horses, or cooling down an overheated animal.

Hamilton believes that it’s important to have a good working relationship with your home-based vet because you may need his or her help more than ever if an emergency occurs while you are traveling. Unlike other emergency contacts, vets can be reached 24/7 thanks to today’s communications technology. If you’re on the side of the road with a colicky horse, you may be able to reach your home vet faster than a local vet and get treatment advice.

You can also appoint the vet to act as your agent in the event you are injured and unable to authorize emergency treatment (including euthanasia) for your horses. If you have discussed potential emergencies with your vet, he or she will be in a better position to advise a local vet on the scene who may be reluctant to either euthanize a horse or start expensive emergency procedures to save its life without authorization. Hamilton sees this as an important service that veterinarians can provide for their clients.

In fact, your home vet may likely be your best bet for finding a local vet, says Hamilton. He points out that his staff has directories for the American Association of Equine Practitioners, the American Veterinary Medical Association, and other groups right at their fingertips. Because he travels widely, Hamilton points out that he may already know another equine vet near the emergency location and can call and confer with that vet on behalf of his client. A home vet with a broad network of contacts in a sport or breed may even be able to help you with emergency stabling.

Hamilton notes that many horse owners assume that there is a health care safety network “out there” that will catch their horses in an emergency like the one that exists for people. Not so, he says. You need to be prepared and create your own before you leave home.

When You Can’t Act

The worst case scenario faced by traveling horse owners is an accident in which both the people and horses are injured. It’s a given that the vast majority of first responders to accident scenes are completely clueless about horses. Fear for their own safety may make them reluctant to even approach an injured or panicked animal. You need to plan for the contingency that you may be unconscious or unable to act in an emergency.

Hamilton strongly recommends that you keep the names and phone numbers of emergency contacts such as your home vet prominently posted in both the trailer and your tow vehicle. Put them on a neon-colored clipboard or something else that will catch the eye of emergency personnel and make the contact list easy to find. Make sure that you have authorized those contacts to act as your agent if you are incapacitated in an accident.

Some owners use special travel halters with plates engraved with the horse’s name and the home vet’s phone number. Others use clip-on dog tags for travel ID.

Why the vet’s phone number? You could put down your spouse’s cell phone, your farrier, or the number back at the barn. But will that person be available to answer the phone or will emergency personnel just get an answering machine? If an animal gets loose and runs away, providing the horse’s name and your veterinarian’s phone number makes it far more likely that horse and owner will be safely reunited quickly.

While it’s impossible to anticipate every possible roadside emergency that you may encounter when traveling with horses, thinking ahead and planning for various scenarios can take the edge off of an emergency and make it more likely that all involved will, eventually, arrive safely back home to tell the tale.

When You Need Some Help

US Rider Equestrian Motor Plan — Travel insurance for tow vehicles and trailers. 800-844-1409;

U.S. Stabling Guide (Balzotti Publications, Inc.) by Jim Balzotti — Lists stables, ranches, fairgrounds, bed and breakfasts, farms and hotels for both traveling horses and their human companions. 800-829-0715 (to order print version); (on-line listings of stables)

Nationwide Overnight Stabling Directory & Equestrian Vacation Guide by Equine Travelers of America, Inc. — Print directory for those traveling with horses; lists overnight stabling, motels, bed and breakfasts, area trails and nearby attractions; also provides one-time phone access to resources in the directory for separate fee. 620-442-8215 to order print directory ($19.95); call between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. CST to get phone numbers of stables listed near your breakdown location);

National Truck & Trailer Services Breakdown Directory — 800-288-0002 (to order printed directory only); (on-line search for nearby truck repair shops)

American Association of Equine Practitioners — Nationwide on-line directory of equine vets sponsored by the Bayer Corporation.;

The Complete Guide to Buying, Maintaining, and Servicing a Horse Trailer, by Neva Kittrell Scheve with Thomas G. Scheve (Howell Book House). — Extremely comprehensive manual discussing trailer features and maintenance procedures that can prevent roadside emergencies from happening. Call EquiSpirit Trailer Company (877-575-1771) or go on-line ( to purchase the book direct from the author and access other articles about emergency preparedness.

Hawkins Guide—Equine Emergencies on the Road, by James McCain Hamilton, DVM, and Neva Kittrell Scheve (BlueGreen Publishing, Inc.). — Concise, pictorial veterinary guide to symptoms and procedures for handling veterinary emergencies while away from home. Sized to fit in a glove compartment or first aid kit. Available from EquiSpirit Trailer Company (877-575-1771; or Southern Pines Equine Associates (910-692-8640;

Trailering Your Horse, by Cherry Hill (Storey Books). — Well-organized, clear description of points to consider when buying a trailer and matching it to a tow vehicle. Driving tips and advice on how to anticipate and address roadside emergencies including flat tires and overheated engines. Available direct from the author at —BK

Paperwork and Checklists

While vehicle registration papers must stay with your vehicle, you can organize other information in a notebook or portable file that you can carry from your office to the vehicle and trailer you will use for your trip. If you regularly travel to shows but take different horses each time, put information for each individual horse or client into a separate plastic sleeve to make it easy to customize your notebook or file for the clients you take on each trip.

The Essential Paperwork

  • Registration for truck and trailer
  • Proof of insurance on vehicle and trailer; contact phone numbers
  • Roadside assistance program ID number; contact phone numbers
  • Contact information you have compiled for vets, trailer repair shops, and overnight stabling along your route (see “When You Need Some Help,” page 24)
  • Identification papers for each horse (copies of registration papers, photos)
  • Health papers on each horse (when crossing state lines)
  • Proof of Coggins (EIA or equine infectious anemia) test on each horse
  • Proof of rabies inoculation for each horse (may vary by state)
  • Proof of mortality or health insurance on horses (if any); contact phone numbers
  • Contact name and phone number of regular veterinarian(s)
  • Instructions regarding who can act in your stead on behalf of your horses if you are unavailable or incapacitated
  • Instructions regarding emergency procedures you are willing to authorize and pay for in the event you are unavailable or incapacitated
  • Proof of health insurance on driver and passengers; ID numbers and phone contacts
  • Contact name and phone numbers of driver’s and passengers’ regular physician(s)

Emergency Checklist

  • emergency kit for mechanical breakdowns
  • first aid kit for horses
  • first aid kit for humans
  • identification, health and insurance paperwork
  • contact information for truck towing, trailer repair, vets and emergency stabling along your route







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