© 1994, Willis Lamm, TrailBlazer Magazine
KBR / LRTC Survival School
By Willis Lamm
Reprinted with permission of TrailBlazer Magazine for
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
- 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
- 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
- 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 treatment.
- 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 trailer accidents.
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
- 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.
- Check 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. They are required equipment in most states and not having an operational break-away system can result in a nasty ticket.) 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
- 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.
- Check your trailer electrical cable and plug for excessive wear. The
contacts in trailer plugs can be "cleaned up" with a shot of WD-40, "Tri-FLow" lubricant or a similar product.
- 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 potential failure.
- 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
- Check your fire extinguisher. The needle must be in the green portion of
the pressure gauge. If it has bled down, most extingushers can be recharged
by a fire extinguisher service. If you don't have one, purchase a portable extinguisher with
at least a 2A,10B:C rating. If your tow vehicle catches fire it's usually
much easier to put the fire out than make an emergency evacuation of your
horses on the highway!
- Common causes of electrical failures include corroded light sockets
and worn "quick-splices." Light sockets can be coated with dielectric 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.
- Check 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.
- Finally, in 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.
The 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!
TRAILER FIRST AID KIT
You never know what you'll encounter when you trailer out, and
you shouldn't go out unprepared. Here's what we've found to be a
practical first aid kit to carry in our horse trailers (in addition to the
standard "automobile" first aid kit in the pickup). It all fits
nicely in a standard
|1. Pocket first aid kit
||10. 12cc bent tip catheter|
|2. Baggie of band-aids and towelettes
|3. 2X3 gauze pads
||12. Forceps & tweezers|
|4. Kotex (for bulk dressing)
|5. Clear bandaging tape
||14. Sewing kit|
||15. Insect sting swabs|
|7. Antibiotic ointment
||16. Eye pad|
|8. "DESITIN" ointment
|9. Zinc oxide ointment
|1. 2x2 gauze pads
|2. "KLING" dressing
||13. Nitrofurazone ointment|
|3. Kotex (for bulk dressing)
||14. "CUT HEAL"|
|4. Vet wrap
||15. "FURALL" spray|
|5. 36" latex bandage
||16. Leather belt|
|6. Leg wrap
||17. Hoof Pick w/ brush|
|7. Betadine solution (diluted)
||18. 12cc syringe w/o needle|
|8. Phenylbutazone ("BUTE") tabs or paste
||19. Duct tape|
|9. Velcro straps
||20. Small rubber bands|
|10. "B-KALM" paste
|11. "SWAT" fly repellant ointment
||22. 2) 5" pc. of garden hose*|
* Garden hose pieces can be used to keep nasal airways open in
the event of snake bite or anaphylactic shock.
Other items in the trailer should include an extra halter and
lead rope, clippers or grooming scissors, an old bath towel,
twitch, sponge, and a
Be sure to inspect your first aid supplies periodically,
particularly at the beginning and end of each "trailering"
Our thanks to TrailBlazer Magazine for permission to post this series on our web page.
You can visit the TrailBlazer website at www.horsetrails.com.
Email the author
Return to Safety Main Page