Compared to towing a trailer with goods in, towing a horse float is more difficult. Horses are unstable, top-heavy, and you need to consider them when you drive to ensure that you don’t injure them. When the horse moves, you will feel it and you have to be much smoother at driving.
Some horses travel very well and others hate it. If you are thinking of purchasing a horse float to tow your horse, the following tips will prepare you.
Get used to driving with an empty horse float first
Driving with a trailer changes the handling characteristics of your car. Take an empty horse float out for a drive to get used to how it feels – the way it pushes you as you brake, the way it slows your acceleration, and the way you have to take a wider line around corners to avoid the trailer wheels clipping the apex. Read our guide to towing a trailer.
Practice manoeuvring the trailer. You’ll need to be able to reverse using your mirrors and to understand how to steer the trailer. If you have someone to guide you, it’s much easier.
Towing a horse float with a horse in it
Everything you experienced with an empty trailer will be magnified with a horse in it.
Even though your trailer has brakes, it will take you longer to stop with a trailer than with no trailer. The trailer will push you. On downhill stretches, you are more at risk of brake fade so you will need to use your gears to maintain your speed. Brake fade is when your brake fluid boils and loses its effectiveness. In extreme cases, the heat of the brakes can crack a brake rotor. Changing down one or two gears instead reduces the stress and friction required of the brakes.
Increase your following distance to four seconds or more, and look at least 12 seconds up the road. Your anticipation and scanning must be much better so that you can begin braking sooner. The important thing is to avoid heavy braking as you could injure your horse. Practice braking to a smooth stop and remember that the trailer will push you slightly further than you are used to. The horse will step to balance as the g-forces change in the trailer and you will feel this.
The extra weight of the horse and trailer will reduce your acceleration (not that you want to be accelerating too quickly anyway as you could injure your horse). Horses can cope with moderate forward acceleration because they have a bar behind them that holds them.
Acceleration through corners is more difficult for them to cope with as they splay their legs and it’s more difficult for them to maintain their balance. If a corner has a marked advisory speed, keeping it a few miles per hour under will be more comfortable for the horse.
Avoid cutting corners. While this is always the smoothest line through the corners, you risk clipping something on the inside of the corner with your trailer. Cutting corners reduces your view of the road ahead due to the vanishing point, and it puts you at risk of running over debris such as sharp stones and nails that have washed down there.
On corners with adverse camber (i.e. a slope towards the outside of the corner), take extra care.
Gap selection when turning right across traffic or turning out of junctions is critical to get right. Your car plus trailer will be twice as long as you are used to. The acceleration through the turn can unbalance the horse. If you can use anticipation to maintain some speed as you approach the junction and use that speed to emerge, this is much better for the horse (and for your fuel economy). It can help to read this article on lorry fuel economy.
Driving with a horse float is more tiring than driving with no trailer. Your horse will also get tired and could need food or water (depending on how long your journey is). you can park and let the horse out to stretch its legs, but don’t park in an area that might frighten the horse.
Traffic calming measures are common in urban areas and are designed to slow drivers down using speed bumps, chicanes and other devices that make it more difficult to drive fast. Some of these make it more difficult for the horse to balance and should be taken slowly.
Horse placement in a two-horse float
If you have a two-horse float but are only transporting one horse, put your horse on the right-hand side. Roads are generally cambered to the left (i.e. they slope to the left) and therefore it’s better for handling if you have slightly more weight on the right-hand side as it flattens out the trailer suspension.
If you have two horses, put the heavier horse on the right-hand side.
Passengers are not legally permitted to ride in a horse float. There’s also the risk you could be kicked or crushed in the float. If your horse doesn’t travel well, do what you can to calm it before you set off.
Trailer sway can be caused by a gust of wind, the slipstream from a lorry, uneven tyre pressures, and poor weight distribution. It’s where your trailer starts to sway from one side to another and will get worse and worse until it drags your car around unless you can counter it. There are only three things you can do to stop it once it’s happened:
- Apply the trailer brakes independently
- Lift your foot off the accelerator
- Steer against the swaying
Never use the brakes unless you’re in danger of hitting something because using the brakes on the towing vehicle will make the sway worse. The trailer brakes will stabilise the sway, and the gradual slowing will give you more time to react and will reduce the stresses on the vehicle. Of course, your horse will also feel the sway and will add to it by trying to compensate for its motion.
You’ll be travelling more slowly than most traffic when you’re pulling a trailer, and you’ll be slowing down in corners and that means you’ll be holding other vehicles up. Check your mirrors frequently and let other vehicles pass you whenever possible.
- Mats – mats give the horse grip in the trailer. Check that the floorboards aren’t rotting under the mat.
- Interior dividers – if you have a double float, the interior divider separates the two horses. This shouldn’t go all the way to the floor otherwise it makes it more difficult for the horse to spread its feet to balance.
- Rump bars – these hold the horse in place under acceleration. You may need to adjust its height and position.
- Lights and reflectors – check that the lights work when you’ve plugged them into your car, and that your reflectors are clean.
- Door and ramp – the door must be secured before you leave. Check that the ramp is OK for the horse to use without risk of slipping.
- Towing system (tow bar and breakaway chain) – ensure that the trailer is securely fixed to the tow connection and that the breakaway chain is connected
- Brakes – check the trailer brakes are working
- Tyres – make sure you have the correct pressure in your tyres.