Horse Trailer Safety Check

Check your trailer before you haul to prevent roadside problems and improve the horses’ comfort and chances for a safe arrival.
Completing a safety check on your trailer can help protect you and your horse before you hit the road. | iStock

It’s that time of year when you load up and go. But, is your trailer roadworthy?

Here are some tips to check out your trailer to ensure that it is ready to roll when you are.

First, check the moving components, starting with the running gear: tires, brakes and wheels.

Tires Just like a horse, a trailer is only as sound as its foundation. The weight of the vehicle and the horses rests on the four tires in a tandem axle trailer. “The very weakest link is the tire,” says Mark Podeyn, Action Trailer Depot, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

In motion, weight rests on those tire’s footprints—the “contact patch” where rubber tread meets the road. To roll freely, tires must be inflated correctly. And weather can affect tire pressure, too. CD Turnbow, Turnbow Trailers, emphasizes what to check: “Air pressure, air pressure, air pressure. Check all tires’ air before you go.”

Measure air pressure when the tires are cold. Underinflated tires can lead to blowouts and overheating because the sidewalls flex too much.

You might consider installing a real-time tire-pressure monitoring system. Such a system lets you watch tire pressure on your truck and trailer while you’re driving.

Beyond addressing tire pressure, check that they are radial tires labeled as trailer tires, and that all match in size. Look for any uneven tread wear, which can indicate that axles are out of alignment. Check that the tires run straight and true to avoid uneven wear. And avoid exceeding the load rating of your tires.

Also, realize that “tire failures are mostly on the right hand side. The crown of the road shifts weight to the right,” explains Podeyn.

He suggests increasing tire safety on a larger trailer by changing from 16-inch to 17.5-inch tires. “You have more weight capacity and can [help] eliminate blowouts,” he says.

Replace tires that are six years old or older, as the rubber can degrade even if it looks fine. “Even when a tire is sitting there, the compounds of the rubber are breaking down,” says Podeyn. “The tire is losing air every day. It just permeates through the rubber, because rubber is porous.”

Finally, Podeyn recommends checking the lug nuts for tightness.

Brakes Check your brakes before you haul horses. With your empty trailer hitched, Turnbow describes one way to do this. You’ll need to start on a straightaway, with 100 feet of room for a test in reverse.

“Get yourself a clear runway backwards. Adjust your brake control for the highest setting. In reverse, reach 10 mph, and squeeze that brake control lever to apply maximum power to your brakes when the trailer is going backward. It spreads your adjustors to set the brake shoes at the optimum.” What you’re doing is minimizing the space between brake drum and brake shoes.

He adds that the aim is to brake with “a high level of deceleration without sliding the tires, so you don’t ruin the tires. You’re not decelerating as well when your tires are sliding.”

Wheel Bearings and Axles “You need to keep them lubricated,” says Turnbow. “Most axles now have quick greasers on the outside. Don’t overgrease those, because the seal will fail, and grease loss lessens the life of the bearing.”

Turnbow advises having wheel bearings serviced by a professional. Annual servicing can prevent axle and wheel-bearing failures.

“We recommend once a year, or every 3,000 miles for wheel bearings,” says Podeyn. “When the axle is being serviced, the brakes are inspected.”

Coupler The trailer’s coupler (hitch) and jack must operate smoothly. Make sure your coupler matches the size of the ball. Many couplers are sized for a 2-5/16 ball.

You want the coupler to connect the trailer securely—to remain closed during hauling. “Check the hitch to see it is fully grabbing and locking on the ball,” says Turnbow. “Lower the jack to put a little pressure on the ball to check. Keep on top of that—you don’t want to find out it’s not locked when you’re going over a rough railroad track.”

Whether bumper pull or gooseneck, the jack should easily lift the coupler into position, and lower it without incident. Your gooseneck trailer may have an adjustable coupler, where parts of the coupler raise or lower to connect to the ball in the truck bed. A larger gooseneck trailer may have hydraulic landing gear, operated from the electrical power supply. In a newer trailer, this unit should be maintenance free. On an older model, you may need to add some grease. “Use one tablespoon on the jack,” suggests Turnbow.

When hitched, look to see how level your trailer rides. The trailer’s nose should be angled slightly upward so the trailer rides slightly above level.

Moving Parts Walk around all sides of your trailer to check the integrity of doors, windows and ramps. On doors, look at all hinges and latches. They should open and close securely.

Turnbow advises, “Don’t be afraid to take WD40 to lubricate everything. But keep oil out of your locks. Use dry graphite lubricant—don’t gum up your locks with oil.”

With swinging rear or side doors, check the exterior connectors that hold doors open for safe loading and unloading. Connectors should fasten firmly, to avoid a door swinging shut unexpectedly.

A ramp that’s spring-assisted is easier to handle. Maintain its condition by opening and closing it without slamming. If ramp hinges are exposed, clean them to be sure they’re not obstructed by hay, shavings or manure.

In a step-up trailer, inspect the bumper. A rubber bumper increases safety. Also, a wide lip over the top prevents debris from working between the bumper and the trailer frame.

On sliding windows, check that they easily open, close, and latch. With the drop-down windows, make sure that latches are secure on windows and grills. Check the safety of the bars on the grills, which can bend or crack. If you have screens on windows, replace any torn screen.

How Horseproof Is Your Trailer?

Interior Examine your trailer interior like you do a stall. Look for smooth interior surfaces, including walls, ceiling and floor. You want to identify and eliminate any protrusion that could injure your horse. Tighten or replace any broken or loose screws or bolts. Interior tie rings should be solidly fastened in place. A trailer designed for safety should have recessed latches on swinging dividers.

Floor Your floor should have no weak spots and should be kept clean by periodic washing.

Turnbow explains, “Cleaning depends on the amount of use.” He also notes, “Our floors have ½-inch gaps to allow drainage. That’s important, because urine eats aluminum.”

Stall Dividers Look for strong hinges on movable partitions. Spring-loaded dividers should swing back and forth with little effort, and latches easily close and release.

Turnbow says, “If a divider is creaky or tight, apply a little bit of grease, and open and close the divider. You only need to lubricate the contact points.”

Walls and Ceiling Look at wall padding. A newer trailer will probably have rubber lining bonded to the walls—check that the rubber isn’t torn. Vinyl padded breast bars and butt bars can also be torn.

Check roof vents to be sure they operate freely. Modern vents let you adjust air flow either forward or reverse. And don’t forget to scan the interior for wasp nests.

On exterior walls, look for any broken or missing rivets. Try to wiggle outside tie rings, which should be bolted securely. Check fenders for dents or sharp edges. Notice any corrosion—steel rusts, and steel parts on an aluminum trailer can lead to electrolysis and corrosion where the two metals join. Stainless steel fasteners on aluminum reduce electrolysis.

Checking Other Trailer Systems

Roof Your trailer’s roof can leak at a seam, or where the roof meets the walls. “There’s always going to be a seam somewhere, and there will always be some sort of penetration, such as roof vents,” says Podeyn. “So do a roof-sealant inspection. There’s nothing worse than opening up your tack room and finding everything wet.”

He adds that roof sealant does break down. “In any brand, the sealant compounds used require periodic maintenance. It dries, shrinks, and cracks.”

Electrical System With your trailer plugged into the tow vehicle, test all the exterior lights. Confirm that your taillights and all running lights illuminate when you turn on your truck headlights. Test for proper brake lights and turn signals. Look for corrosion around bulbs, unless your trailer has sealed beam lights.

Checking your trailer before you haul helps prevent roadside problems. By reducing trailer hazards, you improve the horses’ comfort and chances for a safe arrival.






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