It's wintertime and for many of us, the slack season for equestrian activities. It's time to plan the coming year's activities,
dream about that new saddle, and take care of horse equipment.
You can't have a safe trail ride if you don't get
safely to the trail, however one of the most commonly overlooked items on the "Winter Maintenance List" is the noble
horse trailer. There are many not-so- obvious things which need to be maintained... not-so-obvious until they fail! This article
should help you focus on your trailer's needs and help you organize a quick and efficient trailer inspection and maintenance
Whether you do all, part, or none of the work yourself, you should write up a checklist to cover every
item listed. (I prefer checklists as they help organize and streamline maintenance projects, and prevent something important
from being forgotten in the process.) Below are the items we go over at the Kickin' Back Ranch:
Aside from visual blemishes, the outside of the trailer can reveal evidence of more serious problems. Damage from horses
and simple wear and tear can leave sharp edges and other dangerous conditions.
Start at the tongue and perform a
visual inspection over the entire exterior of the body.
Check for loose, missing or broken screws, bolts and rivets.
Oftentimes aluminum rivets which hold trim plates and gutter strips get brittle and break. Catching these problems and repairing
them before you have a whole piece of trim torn off or a panel get bent will save several hours of work later.
Look for sharp metal edges which could cut horses or leadropes. File them off as necessary.
Look for other
horse and/or road caused damage to brackets, latches, tie rings, fenders, etc.
Oil all door hinges and latches.
Make sure all latches hold tight!
Look for rust starting. Depending on severity, rusty spots can be cleaned
up with rubbing compound or they may have to be lightly sanded. Seal seams with a thin bead of silicone sealer. Dull paint
can be brought back to life with white polishing compound. Finish with a good coat of paste wax.
Trailer interiors are under constant contact, and even attack, by horses. Inspect the interior for wear and damage which
may prove injurious to your horse.
Check the roof for broken bolts and rivets. These are common in steel roofs at
the point they are attached to the roof ribs. (We typically replace worn roof rivets with stainless steel aircraft screws
and nylon filled self-locking nuts.)
Look for sharp points and edges. File smooth and/or cover with duct tape.
Check the floors of hay mangers for wear and horse-caused damage. If they need repainting, we use industrial
or automotive grade lead-free paint. Inspect trailer ties, if used, for wear and make sure snaps on both ends work freely.
(Frozen or sticky snaps can be soaked in WD- 40.)
Check for worn vinyl pads. A small tear can be easily patched
or taped. If left to grow larger, an entire pad replacement may be in your future.
Check trailer mats for torn
edges which may curl up under horse's feet. Some loose flaps can be secured from the underside with heavy vinyl tape. (Duct
tape also works, but wears through more quickly.)
Check the trailer floor for rotten spots, particularly along
the edges and front corners. In older trailers, this may be your most critical inspection! Once the wood sealer wears through,
manure and urine can quickly start to rot the floor. You can probe with a large screwdriver to find soft spots. Replace soft
or rotten boards. Sand down discolored areas. Rinse with bleach and water to kill remaining fungus and bacteria. Allow to
thoroughly dry and apply two or more coats of water sealer. Check the underside of the floor. It may also need cleaning and
Interior sidewalls may start to show wear. They need to be protected from moisture damage. Wood
sidewalls may start to have chunks taken out by pawing or kicking horses. (We like to fill in the chunks, seal the wood, and
face the inside of the walls with good quality stall mats. The wood is protected from hooves and moisture and the stall mats
seem to last forever.)
Don't forget to inspect the tack compartment or dressing room. Be sure to look for leaks
and seal up holes and/or worn out door seals. Being sealed in a humid compartment is about as damaging to your tack as direct
contact by water drips.
The most often forgotten about area of trailer maintenance is the
trailer undercarriage... until something fails out on the road. Lack of maintenance in this area contributes to many tragic
We start at the tongue and go completely around the trailer. (Depending on your own automotive
knowledge, you may check these items yourself or hire an expert.)
Check the hitch mechanism. It should be free from
dirt and rust. the cap and jaws which attach around the hitch ball should be free from rust pockets, deep scores or cracks.
Oil it and make sure all the moving parts are working smoothly. Check hinge pins and fasteners for signs of loosening or excessive
wear. If the nosepiece is bolted onto the tongue, make sure bolts are tight and not wearing through.
safety chains. Two chains should be securely attached to each side of the tongue, long enough to crisscross and attach to
the towing vehicle. (Crossing the chains allows the chains to "cradle" the trailer tongue if it breaks loose, preventing
it from nose-diving into the roadway.) Attachment devices at the end of the chains should be undamaged and work easily.
For electric brakes, check the break-away brake mechanism. (The break-away mechanism engages the brakes on the trailer
if it ever comes unhitched so it won't ram you from behind and flip over. It consists of a small battery, break-away switch
and a "rip cord". If you don't have one, get one!!!) The rip cord should be long enough not to snag on hitch parts
when turning, but short enough to pop out of the break-away switch before the loose trailer can pull the safety chains taught.
Look under the front end of the trailer. All bracing, struts, etc. should be welded or bolted solidly in place.
Fenders should be bolted solidly in place and should not have any bent edges that could rub against tires when
the trailer bounces.
The axle springs should be solidly attached to anchor and pivot points. Spring leaves
should lie in alignment on top of each other. (Uneven springs could be a sign of trouble.) Many anchor points require annual
greasing to keep the bushings from wearing out. If they appear ungreased, have an expert check them for excessive wear.
Wheels should be unbent and tires in good condition. Look for signs of leaking grease from the wheel hubs. Check
tire pressure and look for signs of excessive tire wear. (Don't forget the spare tire!)
Grease the trailer.
Repack the wheel bearings. (Most wheel bearings are forgotten items until they go dry and "burn up" under a load!)
Wheel bearing repacking is a great time to have the brakes inspected. Usually the shop that repacks the bearings
is qualified to check the brakes which are accessible while the wheels are removed.
your trailer electrical cable and plug for excessive wear. The contacts in trailer plugs can be "cleaned up" with
a shot of WD-40.
Check trailer lights.
Tail and marker lights should be reasonably bright and
not dim significantly when signals or 4-way flashers are on. (Such dimming suggests a poor ground connection.)
Check to make sure the left and right turn signals are correct and equally bright. (A bright tail light and weak turn
signal means some wires are crossed up.)
Electric brakes can be checked by simply holding the electric brake
hand control while pulling forward. This test works best on sand or gravel. At least one wheel on each side of the trailer
should lock up and leave a drag mark.
Check emergency "break-away" brakes by pulling the rip-cord
and repeating the above test. Failure of the brakes to lock up on their own signifies a dead emergency brake battery or wiring
problem. Be sure to reinsert the rip-cord plunger all the way back into the break- away switch when done!
Check your hitch. It should be firmly attached to the vehicle frame. If your trailer ball is mounted directly
onto a utility bumper, check the security of the bumper. Tweaks and bends in hitches and bumpers can be signs of stress and
Check the trailer ball. It should be the proper size for the trailer, be smooth and be firmly
attached to the hitch. Scored or rusty balls should be replaced as they will cause excessive wear. Avoid using "2- piece"
balls. Also make sure the ball stem is the correct size for the hole it bolts through. (Some suppliers sell a "universal"
ball with a small threaded stem and a bushing to fill in the excess gap in the hitch hole. I can tell you from personal experience
that these devices can fail under a heavy load at the worst possible moment.)
Safety chain rings should be
solid and free from stress or wear marks.
Check the trailer plug receptacle. It should be clean and securely
Common causes of electrical failures include corroded light sockets and
worn "quick-splices". Light sockets can be coated with silica gel to protect them from the elements. Quick-splices
(plastic "flip-over" devices designed to piggyback an additional lead onto a wire) often fail over time when exposed
to the elements. Replace them with good quality solderless connectors, or solder the wires together and tape them up properly.
Also, household "wire nuts" are not designed to withstand the elements and roadway vibration.
your trailer first aid kit. We all tend to forget the supplies we use up over time until an emergency when we need them.
There are places you can have a flat tire where it is unsafe to unload your horses. Don't wait until then to
discover you don't have a jack capable of safely raising a trailer with horses inside, or you are missing the necessary wrench
to loosen lug nuts.
We also carry a couple of cans of aerosol tire sealer which are extremely useful when dealing
with small punctures, however they are no substitute for a good spare tire, jack and lug wrench.
many states, if your trailer is over 84" wide, you are required to carry a set of 3 triangle reflector stands to place
alongside your trailer if it ever becomes disabled on the roadway. (These are also much safer to use than fusee flares if
you become disabled during fire season!)
Each trailer is different so the tips presented here are
somewhat general. Specific care for some specific trailers may vary. Your owner's manual and/or the opinion of a qualified
trailer mechanic familiar with your type of trailer should be your primary source of advice and information.
important thing is to perform periodic inspections and maintenance on your horse hauling equipment. Failures can be tragic
and are usually preventable. Make inspections and maintenance part of your "horse routine"... and mark your calendar
for this task before you forget!
Do not forget to ALWAYS carry your Equine First Aid and Human First Aid Kits. Also your Utility Kit will prove priceless time
and time again.
Refer to your D Manual of Horsemanship for a full list of contents!!