Time to tune up your trailer for summer's trail-riding adventures. A well-maintained trailer will be safer for both you and your horse than one in shoddy shape. Here's a handy checklist.
Note: Unless you're a truck/trailer-maintenance expert, ask a reputable trailer dealership or an experienced trailer-maintenance person to perform most of these tasks for you. With this information in hand, provide this person guidance, and check the trailer over when you pick it up.
[ ] Check all tires. Check all trailer tires and spares; they should have good tread (at least one-quarter inch) and filled with air to the tire manufacturer's recommendation; low tire pressure is a major cause of blowouts. They should also be free of dry rot and weak spots.
[ ] Invest in spares. You should have at least one, preferably two, spare tires for your trailer, according to USRider Equestrian Motor Plan (www.usrider.org, a sister company of The Trail Rider and EquiSearch.com). One blowout can damage other tires. And if your tires are heavy duty, they might be difficult to replace on the road.
[ ] Rotate your tires. Tire rotation will even out the tread wear. While the tires are off to be rotated, lubricate the wheel bearings. Also, make sure the axle ends have minimal signs of wear so that you don't lose a tire and wheel.
[ ] Check the brakes.The brake pads/shoes might need to be replaced. Turn (machined on a lathe) the drums/rotors at least every 10,000 miles; more often if they stick, make unusual noises, or aren't properly braking your trailer.
[ ] Tighten the lug nuts. When replacing the tires, tighten the lug nuts to the manufacturer's suggested level manually so that you can loosen them in an emergency with a lug wrench on the side of the road. Make sure they aren't rusted or stripped.
[ ] Enhance your tire kit. Add a proper-size lug wrench, a two- foot extension pipe, chocks, a proper drive-on jack, and some spray lubricant to your tire kit.
[ ] Remove the mats. Wrestle the mats out of the trailer. For mat-managing help, use an EZ-Grip Mat Mover (available from State Line Tack, www.statelinetack.com). Keep in mind that mats are usually cut to fit and have to go back in the same order as they come out.
[ ] Clean the mats. Scrape, sweep, and hose out the dust, sweat, and urine from the trailer mats. You can use any standard cleaning product to get down to a cleaned surface, then use a pH stabilizing product to finish the job. Some horsepeople put dry baking soda under the mats to minimize odors and the acidic effect of urine.
[ ] Check the floorboards. While the mats are out, make sure the floorboards are secured with screws, not just sitting on the metal channel. Use a screwdriver to check for weak places or rot in wood; those boards must be replaced. It's best to replace wooden floors every 10 to 15 years (depending on use, climate, and storage conditions) with treated wood. Or use Rumber (www.rumber.com/boards/horselivestocktrailer.html) for lifetime replacement. Even metal floors and frames can rust or corrode, so check the frame where the boards are attached to ensure there are no pinholes or weak spots that could fail under travel conditions.
[ ] Lubricate the metal.Withspray lubricant, lubricate every metal part in the trailer, such as latches, hinges, pins, etc. This minimizes rust development and makes it easier for you to remove these in an emergency. Lubrication also minimizes the noise your horse is exposed to in the trailer. For further noise reduction, tape down anything that hangs, bumps, jiggles, or swings.
[ ] Replace the mats. Now you can replace the trailer mats.
[ ] Check the lights. Make sure all the trailer lights work (parking, running, flashers, brake, and turn signals). Check for loose wires that need to be tied up inside and under the trailer, or any exposed or rubbed wires that might need a coat of electric tape or replacement. Brake and light problems are usually traced to wiring that's shorting out somewhere under the trailer.
[ ] Apply reflective tape.Purchase reflective tape at the hardware store, and place it all over your trailer's back and side panels. The little red-and-white stripe isn't enough to signal someone that you're stopped on the road in a rainstorm! Also apply the tape to the inside of the back doors and ramp. That way, if you have to open the doors, you can still be seen. Since brakes and lights are notorious for failing, this is your backup plan.
[ ] Check the emergency-brake-controller battery. It's best to have a system that bleeds power to the battery to charge it at all times. If you don't have this type of system, take the battery to an auto-parts center, and have them check it for power. This battery is crucial! If your towing vehicle and trailer separate, it initiates the brakes to stop your trailer. Also, make sure the plastic switch is in good condition and that the cable is connected to your towing vehicle's frame.
[ ] Check the break controller.Verify that your brake controller is working. To do so, check the manufacturer's instructions. They'll usually ask you to drive at a slow speed towing your empty trailer, then engage only the trailer brakes. That way, you can adjust the brakes to a setting that complements the action of your towing vehicle. When you load your horses, you'll need to adjust the setting to match the load.
[ ] Level your trailer.Is the trailer level? If your hitch is set too high or too low, you'll have difficulty controlling your trailer. Plus, your horse will be standing at an angle, which will stress his joints.
[ ] Replenish emergency supplies. Does your thermometer work? Can you locate your stethoscope? Is your EpiPen still good? Replenish all your emergency supplies, and add extra tack and tack-repair materials for those unexpected moments when something breaks.
Rebecca Gimenez, PhD (animal physiology), is a primary instructor for Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue. A Major in the United States Army Reserve, she's a decorated Iraq War veteran and a past Logistics Officer for VMAT-2. She's an invited lecturer on animal-rescue topics around the world and is a noted equine journalist.