Trailering Accidents
Story Ingrid Edisen

HELPFUL TRAILERING HINTS

Pre-Trip Check

Kelvin Williams who operates KBW Horseshoeing out of Lockhart has also been a heavy equipment operator and advises that folks do what professional drivers call a “pre-trip check.” The first thing to look at is your tires. Are they aired up enough? If you haven’t used your trailer in a while, be sure they don’t have evidence of weather cracks (dry rot). Walk around your trailer, he said, and look at the frame. Are the lights and reflectors all working? Is the flooring inside the trailer sound and free of any cracked or rotten areas? Williams also noted that it’s far better to brake before you come to a turn and not within the turn itself.
“Hauling livestock is like hauling fluids,” he said, “it is more difficult than hauling dead weight because the weight shifts.” If you get into a tight spot, do not brake suddenly. So many people will slam on their brakes,” Williams said. “What can happen is then the tires may grab and take you somewhere you don’t want to go,” he added. Steer into the direction of a skid. Use your judgment on speed issues. Gauge your speed to the road, weather and vehicle conditions.

Distribute Your Load Weight

David Conway, who sold semi truck tires for a decade, noted that large truck drivers load up closer to the front of their trailers unless there are icy conditions. Then they put their loads closer to the back end of the trailers to help avoid fishtailing. (Of course none of us want to be hauling horses in icy conditions.) And, he observed that you always want to have easy access to the horses if you happen to have the trailer loaded with other things (camping gear, feed, tack) so that you can unload them easily should an emergency come up, so pack and load safely.

Check Your Bearings

Kathy Adams of Austin who has done much hauling across state lines recommends that you get the bearings of your trailer greased and serviced annually. The hazard here is that if your bearings get too dry, then the resulting friction at the end of the axle(s) can overheat the axleto the point of actually “crystallizing” and breaking. What she would do when she was hauling long distances is to feed the hub of each wheel when she made a stop and see if anything felt overly hot. She also has pointed out that doing a full sweep out of the trailer after ever use minimizes the damage done to the flooring by acidic manure. But don’t consider taking it to the local car wash without a rebuke. I’ve been reprimmanded by car wash owners to refrain from bringing a manure-laden trailer to their establishments because they have to pay extra for the septic pumping. Be considerate.

Check for Wasps & Bees

It never hurts to examine the inside of the trailer for wasps nests. I’ve heard stories of horses being loaded only to be stung by wasps that had decided to nests inside while the trailer sat unused.

Trailering Accident Survey

USrider of Lexington, KY, is working in congruence with Dr. Gimenez a large animal rescue expert and vet school professor at Clemson University in Clemson, SC, on a survey about trailering accidents. One hundred more responses are needed for the study, which began back in December 2003. Go to the USRider website: http://www.usrider.org/survey.html and fill out the survey.

I suppose my fascination with bad trailering stories started when I was in grade school, hanging out at a large boarding barn in New Orleans, LA. I had the unfortunate experience of seeing a three-year-old Saddlebred mare die from a loading accident. The horse trailer was a large one, designed to hold perhaps eight horses, and had one of those long side ramps that seem to stretch up to eternity. The mare reared just as she was supposed to enter the trailer and hit her poll on the top of the door. The blow was similar to a karate chop to the base of a human’s skull.

For the next three days, the red chestnut lay dying in the hot sun. The vet did what he could and the owners tried to save her. It was decided she would perhaps be a broodmare if she’d survived because she’d gone blind upon the impact. They built a small compound around her with a blue canvas wall and kept her cool with water compresses. But she did not make it. And I never forgot the incident.

Since then, I’ve collected various stories as they came my way. A few I created myself as readers will recall my desperate attempts in my story “How Not to Load a Baby” that appeared in this publication well over a year ago. And a couple of months ago, I did a story on the wonderful rehab one Houston horse owner, Monika Radwanska, did after her Arabian gelding was hit by a car while traveling in a trailer. Yet there are more stories. What follows is a compilation.

One trainer friend was elated when she was loaned an RV to go to a horse show. The ball seemed to fit the hitch just fine and off they went, towing her trailer behind them, loaded with two horses. On an overpass a freak strong wind hit them and pitched the horse trailer on its side. The personnel of the volunteer fire department that answered the emergency call wanted to use a blowtorch to cut a hole in the front of the trailer to slide the horses out from the front. My friend knew time was precious and could tell the two horses were going into shock by being forced to lie on top of one another; she convinced them to help her pull them out the back. However, a few months later one of the horses died and she thinks partially was due to the stress from the accident.

Another acquaintance had just bought a new truck and trailer except she had to drive up to Dallas to pick up the trailer and haul it back to Houston. She merrily went on her way and upon her arrival home, after making the “loop,” she was aghast to find her new bumper literally hanging by two screws (with the trailer miraculously still attached). She knew that if she’d had horses in the rig, that a horrible end would have resulted. She’d told the dealership and various mechanics of her plans but that was not insurance enough.

I saw two lady friends suffer mightily when they’d decided to trailer from Indiana to Houston with their huge warmbloods for a dressage clinic as part of their spring break vacation. They’d also asked the mechanic to check various truck and trailer details, as they knew they’d be going a long distance. The drive turned out to be a horrible odyssey because in Little Rock, Arkansas, they broke down right in the middle of the highway where three branches converged.

The driver of the truck knew something was wrong as she saw something sticking out from the rear wheel of the tire-it turned out to be the entire wheel was coming off. The lug nuts hadn’t been tightened enough. Even the cop who tried to help them had to spend almost an hour just trying to cross the highway at that point (with his lights on) as they were marooned on an island in the middle. After AAA, Arkansas mechanics, tow trucks, more police were called in; they were able to go on their way, half a day later. They had one hour of sleep. The trip, which was planned to be taken in a leisurely pace, ended up as almost sheer driving and agony. By the time they got to the clinic, they and their horses were too fatigued. They arrived one hour before their first ride was to begin. By the second day, one horse had started to colic and all four of them were too exhausted. The two women had to scratch. It turned out to be the vacation from hell.

Once we were on a group trip to the Smokey Mountains, in a four-rig caravan and connected communication-wise via CB radios. After two-and-a-half days of traveling, one of our party sent out a “may day” call over the radio. We all pulled over to the side of the highway in the blazing heat. She was driving her one Arab mare in a two-horse. Because she only had one horse and some space, it was decided that we would put bales of hay on the other side of the trailer, as we knew we’d need hay once we set up camp. The mare had worked her foot into the baling wire and it had wound itself all the way around her lower hind leg several times over. Our friend knew something had gone drastically wrong as the mare began hysterically kicking and swaying in the trailer. Using pliers and sedatives, and keeping the mare in the trailer, we were able to undo the wire without anyone getting kicked in the face. After that, though, the mare’s owner had to do major hydrotherapy and first aid once we got to camp.

On another camping trip, I saw a horse backing out of a trailer and because there was a knot at the end of her lead rope, it got wedged in deep on internal grates at the front of the trailer. The mare thought she was in the clear and kept backing until she came just short of the end of the trailer. The knot held the front half of her body inside the trailer and she began fighting it and slashed her face up before anyone could calm her down enough to cut the rope.

Also, a purebred Arabian stallion was given as a gift to a dignitary here in Texas. The stallion needed to be hauled to Dallas. He was put in the back of a semi along with another horse, a gelding, and the gelding got loose during the ride up there and ripped the stallion’s side to shreds. This was in the days before it was common to video-monitor inside horse trailers.

A top dressage rider was unloading her horse at a clinic and the horse did not expect the slick driveway pavement as it stepped off, but there was nowhere else for the pair to unload. The horse, a high level performer, basically did the splits with its hind legs and tore muscles and tendons, which took a long time to heal.

Down in Bandera at the equestrian state park, two friends of mine had tied their small, but excitable Thoroughbred mare up to their trailer while they set up camp. Because the trailer was unhitched and not stabilized, the mare pulled the trailer about 40 yards down a gentle incline until it gotlodged up against a large electric pole. No one was hurt.
Imagine the chagrin of one hauler who was driving a full rig in Houston during rush hour. She noticed several folks were honking and pointing at her rig and she then saw smoke pouring out of her trailer. Immediately she pulled over and began unloading horses. Office workers and executives pulled over to help her and stood there dressed in their business suits holding her horses on the side of the expressway while she put the fire out. What had happened, they surmised was that someone must have thrown a cigarette out and somehow it had landed in the hay that was inside the trailer.

Several years ago, Monika Glowe was shuttling various horses back and forth from her barn to a hunter/jumper show in Austin. On one of her trips back, she was proceeding at highway speed but was not aware, as she rounded a bend, that a semi truck lay stretched across the entire width of the highway. A new grocery store was being built and the semi was attempting to enter the parking lot. She knew she would not be able to stop and was going to crash into the semi. Fortunately, she’d encountered a similar problem when she was teaching at Kent State Unviersity and had safely slid her sports car into a snow bank with no ramifications. So, using that experience as a guide, she turned her truck hard to one side and spread the force of the impact along the entire side of her rig. Both she and the horses were unhurt Her truck was totaled, though. The police began arriving, and it was discovered that the driver of the rig had a criminal record and was wanted! Within minutes the accident was surrounded by six sheriff’s cars as the man was apprehended. The accident shook her up and for a few years she would ask her husband, Don, to drive the rig and eventually went back to doing her own driving.

Sherry Spielmaker, also of Austin, remembers once checking and rechecking her hitch before pulling out but still feeling something was amiss. Sure enough, while in transit, the trailer became unhitched and only the chains kept things relatively in order until she could stop the progression. For some reason the ball and socket had not properly “married.” I suppose that’s why I’ve seen fellows who haul boats sometimes stand on a hitch and jump up and down on it to ensure all is well before driving off.
Austin trainer Meshelle Rives recalled from her own youth the time she and a buddy were at a horse show and had tied the friend’s pony to their trailer. What they didn’t realized was the hazard caused by the spare tire holder which at that time was bare because the spare was in use. When they came back to their trailer, they found that the pony had gouged herself badly in the lower neck and chest from the sharp edges of the spare tire holder. The pony healed up, but Meshelle realizes it was an accident that could have been avoided if they’d just realized the situation’s severity and had thought to tie the animal to the other side.

The owner of a large boarding barn was taking a sale horse for a client to the vet for a prepurchase exam and had to stop to get gas. She went inside to pay up and came outside to find that a large store delivery truck had blocked her easy access. She was driving a gooseneck and thought she could manuver her rig to get out with the help of the delivery truck driver’s directions. As she angled and turned and slowly tried to back and circle to get out, she repeatedly asked the driver (who stood on the ground watching) if she was “going to hit the truck.” What she meant was was she going to have her trailer hit her own truck, but he interpreted it as was she going to hit his delivery truck. “No,” he kept on assuring her. Suddenly she heard a huge metallic boom and crash as the entire nose of her trailer popped off its hitch and slid full force through the interior of the cab side of her truck. The torque had proved to be too much.

The stories abound.  Every time you pull a trailer, you compound the gravity of safety issues by the sheer mass alone.  Slow time down.  Think. 

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