Q&A: Avoiding trailer trauma

  • Expert advice from HORSE Magazine on learning to manoeuvre a trailer

    Q: I’ve just invested in a trailer so I can take my 15.2hh Thoroughbred mare to endurance rides.However, I just can’t get the hang of reversing the trailer. As I don’t have any competitions to go to for a couple of months I thought it would be a good opportunity to practise my reversing at home as I have a large, safe yard. Could you give me some tips?

    John Henderson replies: Firstly, it is important to note that if you have passed your driving test since January 1997, you will need to pass a towing test before you can legally tow a two-horse andsome one-horse trailers.

    For details of where to take your towing test, contact your local Driving Standards Agency, whose number you will find in your phone book.

    If you are unsure if you need to take the towing test, call the DVLA’sDriver Enquiry Unit on: (tel: 01792) 772 151.

    A horse trailer is probably the hardest trailer to reverse after an articulated lorry because it responds so slowly to steering movements, so you are not alone in finding it difficult.

    You need to get used to starting or stopping your steering earlier to give the trailer time to react.

    Everyone knows that to reverse a trailer you have to “steer the wrong way” but you only do this to start the trailer turning the way you want. Imagine looking down on the car and trailer from above – for the back of the trailer to go right, its front has to go left and, as its front is attached to the back of the car, the back of the car must go left too.

    But if you don’t stop steering left, the trailer will go further right so the trick is to spot at what point you stop asking for the movement you want.

    There’s no easy way to spot this “point”, which is why plenty of practise is vital. These tips may help:

    • Always watch the back of the trailer as this is where you will see the first sign of movement.
    • If you have trouble remembering to steer the opposite way, try holding the bottom of the steering wheel so your hand is moving the ‘right’ way.
    • Remember that steering movements only have an effect on the trailer if the outfit is moving.

    When you are practising, start with reversingthe trailer to the right because it’s the easiest manoeuvre.

    Once you have mastered the right turn, you can concentrate on straight line reversing, then when you’re confident, tackle going left, which is harder because you have to rely on your mirrors more. It may help to have someone experienced on hand to spot your mistakes.

    Find somewhere to practise which has lots of room and be careful not to overheat engines, clutches or automatic gearboxes. If necessary, take a break with the engine idling in neutral.

    If after lots of practise you are still experiencing problems, consider having lessons. Some driving schools offer towing tuition – you will find their numbers in your phone book.

    To find a teacher who will come to you, call the National Trailer and Towing Association on: (tel: 01926) 335 445.

    The principles behind reversing a caravan are the same as for a horse trailer, so if you have a friend with a caravan, you could enlist their help. Or call the Caravan Club on (tel: 01342 326 944) for lessons in caravan manoeuvring.

    Reversing made easy

    • Never reverse without checking behind because a trailer creates a huge blind spot. At busy shows always get someone to see you back – people thinking about their next class don’t always notice reversing vehicles.

    • Start with the outfit as straight as possible soyou don’t have to correct its line before you start turning.

    • Looking out of the driver’s window, In tight spaces, keep an eye on the front of your vehicle as it comes round in case it hits anything.

    • Eventually you have to steer the other way to bring the front of the car round, but keep an eye on the trailer in case it starts turning the wrong way.

      If it goes out of line, it’s often easier to pull straight forwards to straighten up rather than to try and correct it while going backwards.

    Take care not to jack-knife the trailer by getting it at such an acute angleto the car that the vehicle can no longer influence it in reverse. If this happens, the only thing to do is pull forwards.

    Reverse in a straight line by watching the trailer in the mirrors – when you see more of the trailer in one mirror, you need to straighten up by steering towards that mirror. You only need small steering corrections to keep the trailer straight and it’s easier to add more steering than to correct it because you used too much.

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