How to Handle Horse Trailering Emergencies

Knowing what to do—and what not to do—in a horse transport incident can mean the difference between a positive outcome and tragic ending. Read more in this article from the Fall 2023 issue of The Horse.
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bumper pull trailer, 2 horse trailer, hauling horses
When hauling horses, emergencies—even relatively minor ones, like a flat tire—can take a dangerous turn if you’re not prepared to handle them quickly, safely, and logically. | Getty Images

When my family moved from Massachusetts to Michigan in 2002, it wasn’t a hard decision to hire a professional to ensure our two Appaloosas and one Miniature Horse arrived safely and comfortably at their new home, 14 hours and 720 miles away. For three late-teenaged horses that didn’t travel long distances frequently, a large, airy rig seemed like a better option than our two-horse bumper pull—while it was still well-maintained, safe, and hauling regularly, it was older than I was at the time. Instead, my father and I would take our trailer, packed with horse-care and stable supplies, and get the new barn set up while my mother stayed behind to see the horses off with the shipper a few days later.

Our trip to Michigan was interrupted when a tire on our small bumper pull rolled over debris on the New York State Thruway and all but disintegrated, sending an array of sparks flying into the night. Dad slowed to a crawl, limped the rig to the next rest area a few miles away, and stopped to inspect the damage. Somehow, nearly everything else on that old steel trailer remained intact and, fortunately, the horses weren’t on board. Area stores had closed for the night, so we inched the rig to a hotel at the next exit and got some rest before securing a new spare in the morning. We continued on our way and arrived with plenty of time to prepare the farm for its new residents.

In the end, “Erica and Dad’s Excellent Adventure” led to insignificant damage to the trailer and a story to tell every time we drive on the New York State Thruway. But when hauling horses, emergencies—even relatively minor ones, like a flat tire—can take a dangerous turn if you’re not prepared to handle them quickly, safely, and logically.

The good news? Planning how you would handle emergencies during shipping isn’t as daunting as it might sound. Just remember these do’s and don’ts from our experts: Rebecca Gimenez Husted, PhD, the primary instructor at her Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue Inc., in Macon, Georgia, and Ragan Adams, MA, DVM, the coordinator of the Veterinary Extension Specialist Group at the Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, in Fort ­Collins.

No Two Incidents Are Alike

“Most people don’t have time to prepare until it’s too late to prepare,” says Adams. “But, whether it’s a flat tire on your trailer or a major highway accident, once you’ve experienced an incident, you can’t believe that you never made time to prepare.”

supplies needed to change a trailer tire
Carry in your rig a simple tire-changing kit that might include a drive-on jack, an appropriate lug wrench, WD40 to loosen nuts, spray grease to lubricate them back on, and, of course, a spare tire. | Courtesy Dr. Rebecca Gimenez-Husted

Horse owners typically want a prescribed protocol for emergency scenarios. “But one of my favorite emergency managers once said, ‘No two incidents are alike. Each one poses different challenges.’ ” she adds. “Giving a prescribed list of things to do isn’t helpful (because) there’s no way to predict what’s going to happen.” You can, however, be as prepared as possible by ensuring your truck and trailer are in good condition and that you’ve packed all the essentials before hitting the road (TheHorse.com/137976).

And, our sources agree, owners should be ready to apply a variety of strategies when facing an emergency. “Being as prepared as you can be increases your ability to respond to any incident,” Adams says.

Husted also recommends considering the specifics of how you’d react to various emergency scenarios

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We at The Horse work to provide you with the latest and most reliable news and information on equine health, care, management, and welfare through our magazine and TheHorse.com. Our explanatory journalism provides an understandable resource on important and sometimes complex health issues. Your subscription will help The Horse continue to offer this vital resource to horse owners of all breeds, disciplines, and experience levels.

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Written by:

Erica Larson, former news editor for The Horse, holds a degree in journalism with an external specialty in equine science from Michigan State University in East Lansing. A Massachusetts native, she grew up in the saddle and has dabbled in a variety of disciplines including foxhunting, saddle seat, and mounted games. Currently, Erica competes in eventing with her OTTB, Dorado.

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