Whether camping with horses at trail rides, horse shows or on your next vacation, knowing how to travel safely is the first step to equine camping enjoyment. Here are six questions to ask yourself before traveling with horses.
How Will You Haul Your Horses?
Today’s horse-loving campers have so many options for hauling their four-legged friends. From first-class LQ (living quarters) horse trailers to simple bumper pull trailers towed behind a truck, motorhome or SUV, there’s a trailer for every type of horse camper.
Before you ever load your horse into a trailer, however, you’ll need to know whether it was built for your size of horse. Basically that means, “Is the trailer large and sturdy enough to safely haul the horse (or horses) you own?” Most horse trailer manufacturers offer specifications on the size of horse that can safely and comfortably be transported in each of their models.
How Much Does Your Trailer Weigh?
Knowing your trailer’s actual weight, both when loaded and when empty, is essential to choosing a safe tow vehicle, as well as the right hitch and ball mount. Weigh your trailer empty at a grain store or sand/gravel yard first and then calculate the Gross Vehicle (or Total) Weight by adding your horse’s weight and the weight of all tack, feed and water you’ll be carrying (don’t forget your own clothes and equipment if it’s going to be hauled in the trailer.)
The sum of all this, plus the loaded weight of your tow vehicle, cannot exceed your tow vehicle’s GCWR (gross combined weight rating), or the amount of weight it can safely haul. You also will not want to exceed the recommended maximum axle weight for your trailer. Knowing your trailer’s empty weight allows you to adjust your calculations if you bring different horses or equipment.
What Tow Vehicle is Best?
Wouldn’t it be nice if any vehicle with a tow package could safely haul our fellow equine campers? Unfortunately, it takes a little more preparation to choose a tow vehicle that will keep you out of trouble on the road.
Whether you’re going to tow your horses with a pickup truck, SUV or recreational vehicle, it has to pass certain requirements. As we mentioned, you’ll need a tow vehicle with a GCWR high enough to cover the weight of trailer, horses, human passengers and tow vehicle. This ensures that the tires, axles, transmission and engine are adequate to withstand the extra pressure of hauling your trailer.
Has Your Tow Vehicle Been Maintained?
Speaking of tires, transmissions and engines, it’s always a good idea to make sure your tow vehicle and trailer are in top shape before taking off on a horse camping excursion. Having to change a flat or deal with an overheated engine or transmission on the road is one thing; having to unload your horses to do it is something none of us wants to do.
How’s Your Hitch Rated?
Did you know that the person who sells you a tow vehicle may have no idea whether its hitch is safe to haul your horse trailer? That’s because there are several variables in choosing the right hitch and ball mount for your trailer. If they’re talking only about the maximum weight the hitch on their vehicle can carry (tow), that’s just one of the numbers you’ll need to know.
Safe towing requires a hitch and ball joint, each with an adequate rating, for both your horse trailer’s Gross Total Weight AND the trailer’s Tongue Weight. Tongue Weight is measured by setting the actual trailer tongue against the scale to learn how many pounds of pressure the tongue exerts on the hitch components. The weight distribution limit of a hitch is only used when weight distribution bars are actually part of your tow package.
Last Word on Hitches: If you aren’t sure how to safely hook up your trailer to the hitch (including proper use of safety chains and sway bars, equalizers and other safety equipment), have an expert help you. Your horses are precious cargo and you don’t want to endanger them, yourself or other drivers on the road by improperly connecting your horse trailer to the tow vehicle.
What Can You Expect at Your Destination?
Once you’ve traveled safely to your destination, you’ll want to unload and relax! Before you go, find out what facilities will be available for your horses. We’ve found there can be a wide variety when it comes to “horse-friendly” campsites. Whether you’re visiting a state park’s equine campground or traveling to a regional horse show, knowing what to expect makes it so much more enjoyable once you arrive.
A few questions to ask: What water source is available, is there a corral on-site and will there be hook-ups for your camping or LQ trailer? Be prepared to be flexible, as what’s advertised may have changed.
Traveling, and camping, with horses can be a rewarding experience, once you’ve chosen the right trailer, the right tow vehicle and equipment and the right place to stay. Use these six tips to travel safely to your next equine camping excursion.
Joe Laing is the Marketing Director for El Monte RV, a nationwide RV rental company. He has been on the road working within the travel industry for over 20 years, and greatly enjoys the outdoors. Joe has been camping across the United States, exploring its vast countryside, and finding the best travel deals along the way.