The prospect of hitching up, reversing a trailer and the fear of a breakdown can be enough to bring first-time towers out in a cold sweat. Andrea Oakes helps banish those trailer-driving demons with some top tips
1. Hitching-up — if the process becomes a bugbear, it might be worth investing in a hitching aid, such as a rear-view camera.
2. Practise without the horses — until you’re happy with how the trailer handles in motion, it’s probably a good idea to leave the horses at home and practise driving it empty.
3. Spacial awareness — because most trailers are wider than the towing vehicle, judging the correct road position can be challenging. While you need to allow enough kerbside space so the trailer is not bouncing along the pavement, you don’t want to be dangerously close to the centre white lines. Jon Phillips at the Organisation of Horsebox and Trailer Owners (OHTO) recommends using your wing mirrors to gauge positioning, fitting mirror extensions if you can’t see past the trailer sides.
4. Losing control — if trailer snaking occurs, resist the temptation to correct it with the steering wheel. “Hold the wheel straight and brake gently until the trailer comes back under control,” says Jon. “Don’t try to accelerate through it — the snaking might get worse before it gets better.”
5. Going uphill — engines work hard climbing hills, so be vigilant for overheating on an undulating road. Select a low gear for the descent and use the engine as a brake to maintain control.
6. Reversing — “Slow and steady is the rule,” advises Jon, who adds that there is no substitute for practice — preferably in a big empty field or car park.
7. Be prepared — keep relevant contact numbers, a hi-viz jacket and a warning triangle within easy reach, inside your towing vehicle, and don’t leave home without appropriate breakdown cover. Membership of a dedicated rescue scheme, such as the OHTO or Equine Rescue Services, is vital.
8. Breakdown — in the event of a breakdown switch your hazard warning lights on and try to pull over in as safe a place as possible — a lay-by, preferably, or the hard shoulder if you are on a motorway. Turn off the vehicle ignition and apply the handbrake before donning your hi-viz jacket and setting up your warning triangle 50m behind the trailer. Then call your recovery service, letting them know that you have horses on board. Check the horses and offer them feed and hay, but remember that unloading them is highly dangerous on a busy road and illegal on a motorway. Contact the police first if this becomes necessary.
9. And finally… — “The most important thing about driving with a trailer is to anticipate what’s ahead,” says Jon. “When fully loaded, the vehicle will not stop as quickly as you are used to. You also need more space, so dominate the road — don’t be afraid to assert your right of way.”
Read the full article about towing safely in this week’s issue of Horse & Hound magazine (23 October 2014)