Fire services and vets are urging owners to check their trailer floors more carefully before travelling, after a spate of accidents in the past few months.

A Northumbria Veterinary Group has started offering sessions to check trailer floors and campaigning to raise awareness following several recent cases where floors have given way, resulting in at least one equine death.

“We can’t say how important it is to get your trailer floor checked on a regular basis,” said a vet from the group.

Surrey Fire and Rescue contacted H&H to help highlight the issue after firefighters were called out to Walton-on-Thames in August to help two horses that had just pulled a wedding carriage.

As they were being loaded, one of the horses put her near hind leg through the horsebox ramp, becoming trapped.

Firefighter Alan Daly, who used to be a professional jockey, helped rescue the horse.

“When we arrived the owners were obviously very upset, but we called the vet and the horse was sedated,” he said. “We then used a strop to lift her out and within minutes she was up and walking around, and was fine except some scratches. She was very lucky.”

He added that people need to be more aware.

“People don’t think to check, and it happens more than it should,” he said.

“They are carrying their valuable animals but not making sure the floors are safe. We urge owners to check before loading any horses — urine is very corrosive and rots the floors.”

Another horse was operated on at Arundel Equine Hospital in July after falling through a floor, but the owners did not want to comment.

“It is deeply saddening that we still see a handful of cases each year where a horse has put a leg through a trailer or horsebox floor, especially when the often fatal consequences could have been avoided through basic checks,” said Victoria Walton from rural insurers NFU Mutual.

“Remember, trailers in the UK are not required to undergo an MOT test, so ensuring they are roadworthy is entirely your responsibility.”

Jon Phillips of the Organisation of Horsebox and Trailer Owners said accidents like these are “far too common”.

“Floors out of sight under the rubber matting are so often out of mind,” he said.

“Calling the fire brigade and the vet is not at all unusual for us. The reason you don’t hear so much about it is because those who have experienced it don’t want to acknowledge that it happened to them.”

He advised lifting all matting and testing the whole floor area — including the ramp — for rotting using a screwdriver.

“If you find that it is damp under the matting then leave it to dry with the matting up,” he added.

“If you do not use your trailer through the winter then store it with the matting lifted so that the floor can breathe.

“Metal floors are just as liable to corrosion, especially with the acids to which they are subjected, so there is no reason to assume that they are safe either.”

This news story was first published in H&H magazine (16 October 2014).