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Proactive driving skills will keep you and your horse safe on the road

Proactive driving for safe boxing

Proactive driving skills will keep you and your horse safe on the road
Proactive driving skills will keep you and your horse safe on the road

Most of us are competitive or at the very least have to transport our horses on the road at some point in their lives. As horse owners and lovers we are well aware of the dangers that we face when towing a horsebox and recent road reports of horse-related incidents have highlighted this issue. HQ spoke to several industry experts for tips for driving proactively to ensure safety.

Understanding your horsebox’s requirements

  • Towing capacity: The upper limit to the weight of a trailer a vehicle can tow, usually expressed in kilograms. There may be a requirement that a sign indicating the maximum trailer weight (and in some cases, length) be posted close to the coupling device.
  • Tongue weight: The weight with which the trailer presses down on the tow vehicle’s hitch. Insufficient tongue weight can cause the trailer to sway back and forth when towed. Too much tongue weight can cause problems with the tow vehicle.
  • Aggregate trailer mass: The total mass of the laden trailer when carrying the maximum load recommended by the manufacturer.
  • Gross trailer mass: The mass transmitted to the ground by the axle or axles of the trailer when coupled to a drawing vehicle and carrying its maximum load uniformly distributed over the load-bearing area.
  • Gross combination weight rating: The maximum weight of the trailer and tow vehicle combined is the gross combination weight rating (GCWR).
  • Braked towing capacity: The towing capacity of a vehicle if the trailer being towed has its own braking system, typically connected to the vehicle’s braking system via the trailer cable. Braked towing capacity is typically significantly greater than unbraked towing capacity.
  • Unbraked towing capacity: The towing capacity of a vehicle towing a trailer that does not have its own braking system.

Vehicle maintenance and safety

You can be the best driver in the world, but if your vehicles are not properly maintained or roadworthy, then you are risking an accident and possible death for you, your horse and other road users. We all tend to think of towing vehicles as having sufficient power to pull our horseboxes, when in actual fact we should be asking if they have enough braking power and road-holding to stop our horseboxes. Jack up the towing vehicle and horsebox to spin the wheels and listen for any odd noises which could indicate worn wheel bearings. Ensure that all doors and ramps close securely to prevent unplanned opening while in transit.

Defensive driving

Driving defensively to anticipate the worst and avoid it is probably the single biggest safety factor on the road. This doesn’t necessarily mean ‘driving Miss Daisy’, but rather being aware of everyone else on the road, anticipating their actions and knowing what you will do to avoid them. Wet roads, poor driver visibility, narrow roads with no hard shoulder, pot holes, dirt roads and no road markings all serve to increase your response time and the time needed to safely slow down or stop your vehicle. There is a fine line between driving so slowly that the trip takes too long for your horse to be comfortable in the box and driving so fast that he gets anxious as well as stiff and sore from constantly bracing himself to balance.

Tips for safety

  • Reflective tape should be applied to the front, back and sides of a box
    Reflective tape should be applied to the front, back and sides of a box

    Service towing vehicles and horseboxes regularly.

  • Maintain tyres at the correct inflation. Check tread and sidewalls, including the spare.
  • Check tow hitches and bars regularly.
  • Check the light connection and that all lights are working.
  • Check that hinges, ramps and floors are safe from rust and damage.
  • Always load the heaviest horse on the right.
  • Use reflective material on the back and sides of your horsebox to ensure visibility.
  • Carry a first aid kit.
  • Make sure that the horsebox is securely coupled.
  • Carry a basic toolbox and have the correct wheel spanner, hydraulic jack and wheel blocks for changing tyres.
  • Maintain a safe braking distance based on the speed and weight of the load.
  • Carry extra triangles (hazard markings) and a small fire extinguisher.

Potential dangers

Reckless drivers: When faced with reckless drivers, give way. There is no point endangering you and your horse. When travelling on the open road on a three-lane highway, it is often best to stay in the middle lane. In this way if there is a problem up ahead of you, you have the choice of the inside or outside lane to avoid it.

Road sway, crosswinds and fractious horses: When driving with strong crosswinds, reduce speed or accelerate to the point where the car and horsebox feel stable. Avoid sudden braking if the horsebox starts to sway (this could cause it to jackknife). Gently press down on the accelerator until the box straightens and then ease back into your speed again. The same applies to blowouts while driving.

Skidding: In the worst case scenario where your vehicle and horsebox start to skid, AVOID sudden braking. Turn into the skid and if necessary rapidly countersteer as the vehicle responds. Watch your horsebox in the rearview mirror to anticipate the drive and forces that your car will experience.

Modern technology

Trailer cams have greatly assisted drivers with regard to their horses’ comfort and stability while transporting. Land Rover’s new Transparent Trailer and Cargo Sense technology is a breakthrough in blind-spot removal, warnings of abnormal movement from the box during transit and while the box is stationary, and allows a camera feed to the towing vehicle.

Text: Mandy Schroder
The full article appears in the November issue of HQ.