Safety warning after horse fell out on to road as trailer ‘disintegrated’ around him

  • The owners of a trailer that “disintegrated” in transit, allowing their horse to fall out on to the road, is urging others to check their transport, to avoid a similar situation.

    Julie McMaster and her partner David Smilie were on their way back from a show last October when Julie’s horse Kalvin came out of their Equi-Trek. Julie told H&H she has only recently been able to speak about the incident.

    “It’s taken me this long to get my head round it, or put another horse in a trailer,” she said. “It was horrific.”

    David was driving, on the way back from a local venue, when Julie realised Kalvin was in trouble.

    “I saw his leg in the wing mirror, which will stay with me for ever,” Julie said. “We didn’t even hear him, but the first thing I saw was my saddle, flying out of the tack locker. I said to David ‘Stop, my saddle’s just fallen out’. I thought I must have left the locker open, then I looked in the mirror again and said ‘Oh my god. Stop now’. All I could see was his leg hanging out of the back of the trailer. I jumped out and ran round, and it was horrific; his bum and back leg were right down on the road.”

    Julie said 17hh Kalvin was lying as if he was cast.

    “His head was rotated behind the spare wheel, and his body stuck at the top of the trailer,” she said. “I went into scream mode because I couldn’t help him. I was on the phone to the fire brigade but they’re 20 minutes away and I don’t think he’d have survived that long. David went to the back of the trailer and moved something, and I saw the trailer moving. Calvin got his head round and stuck it out of the jockey door, and I don’t know how he managed it but he somehow got on his knees, and kind of rolled out on to the road. The noise will stay with me for ever; we heard the whole trailer crumpling.

    “Kalvin landed in a heap on the road while the trailer disintegrated.”

    Kalvin, who is now 11, needed stitches for a cut but was otherwise unhurt, and suffered no ill effects from the experience. Julie said he walked happily on to a lorry to go home, and was not lame.

    “I believe my other horse wouldn’t have survived but he wanted out; he wasn’t going to die in that trailer that day,” Julie said. “It shows his strength, to get out of that, and that makes me emotional. It’s a miracle he came out of it.”

    Julie and David have since spent thousands on repairing the trailer, including measures to mitigate what they believe are flaws in its building.

    “We’re not having a go at Equi-Trek but trying to tell people to check their panels, of trailers and 3.5t horseboxes,” David told H&H. “Make sure they’re sound and safe. The conclusion I’ve come to is that this trailer was built with safety secondary, which isn’t really acceptable.

    “The side panels are 14mm thick and the back one, where the door is, 11mm thick. That’s how it came from the factory, and structurally, there’s nothing holding the horses in.”

    David said the lack of vertical supports concerns him, as does the lack of any anti-roll precautions, such as bars. The couple have since had such a bar welded on.

    “The whole thing would have collapsed if it had rolled,” he said. “The [breast] bar is only retained by two bots through the 14mm side panels; if you’ve got two big horses leaning on it, that’s not robust at all.”

    David said he has also found out that the sealant used does not stop water seeping in, and “rotting the timber from the inside”.

    “It’s always going to rot and that’s what happened,” he said. “The panel came away from the chassis.”

    David said he tried repeatedly to contact Equi-Trek, to no avail.

    “Their customer relations are abominable, and they’ve got a duty of care,” he said. “If they know panels should be renewed within a period of time, they should put public notifications out, but there’s nothing. And this is about safety of animals. People need to be aware.”

    Both Julie and David said that had they been carrying two horses, or on a dual carriageway or motorway at the time, it would also have been people put at risk.

    “If it had happened on the bypass, we could have killed someone,” Julie said. “It’s not worth thinking about. Just check your panels, in trailers and lorries, as they’re the only thing between your horse and the road.”

    An Equi-Trek spokesman told H&H: “Equi-Trek trailers and horseboxes are incredibly safe, however, like all makes and models of road going vehicles or trailers they need to be maintained and serviced correctly. All second-generation Equi-Trek trailers and horseboxes have wood free composite panels, but this still doesn’t remove the need for servicing and maintenance.

    “Wooden panels are only compromised if left saturated for an extended period of time. When panel inspections are carried out they are not just visual as they include the use of a damp tester. Wooden panels are safe when correctly maintained.

    “We would always recommend purchasing any used horsebox or trailer from a reputable dealer to ensure that the trailer or horsebox is safe and that you are correctly advised on the schedule for essential maintenance and checks. In addition to this we also offer free safety checks on all makes and models of horseboxes and trailers, appointments for which can be made at the following national locations:

    • Equi-Trek Lincolnshire Tel: 01724 706900 Email: sales@equi-trek-epworth.com
      Equi-Trek Suffolk Tel: 01284 387000 Email: info@suffolktrailers.co.uk
      Equi-Trek Three Counties Tel: 01684 311811 Email: enquiries@equi-trek-worcester.co.uk
      Equi-Trek South Yorkshire Tel: 0114 288 4411 Email: sales@equi-trek.com

    “Trailer servicing is unfortunately not a legal requirement but is strongly advised by manufacturers and the National Trailer and Towing Association. Motorised vehicles must have an MoT but regrettably this isn’t the case for trailers, which are no different to other forms of transport on the road in terms of their potential to cause accident or injury when not maintained.

    “We implore anyone who is considering buying a trailer privately or not from a reputable dealer to check the age of the trailer by sending the chassis number to the manufacturer, to ask to see the service history and to have it checked by a suitably qualified professional, especially the brakes, flooring and panels.”

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