For some of us, show season is a year-round activity. As I look out the window this morning (at sleet coming down, emergency vehicles whizzing by, lights and sirens blazing, and traffic on the highway at a crawl), I think of hauling to all those winter circuits. Sure, there are plenty to be found in warmer venues, if you can afford the trip, but what else should we be thinking about in winter months, that we wouldn’t normally during the rest of the year?
Since deciding to go to a horse show at the last minute is more the exception than the rule, before you hit the road, you’ve probably already mapped out your route, especially if it’s a location you’ve shown at before. In the event of inclimate weather, have you considered whether your route is the safest for a truck and trailer, with thousands of pounds of precious cargo? Modern technology allows us to check weather, traffic, and road conditions with just a tap or two on a smart screen. You have all the apps, put them to work! Having a plan B is never a bad thing. If you’re taking a longer trip, consider a safe stopping point between your departure and arrival locations. The bottom line is this, having a car skid on black ice or fishtail in slushy streets is unsettling enough, but fairly recoverable. Once your whole rig loses traction, there’s a lot to get under control, safely, and in a hurry. Why take chances?
Planning ahead should also factor in driving slower and more cautiously. Test the brakes before attempting a full stop, give yourself plenty of room for turns, and you always have to consider those people you’re sharing the road with, who may or may not be driving as safely as you.
Whenever possible, don’t drive alone. If for no other reason than the pleasure of their company, a second person who’s comfortable handling the rig or your horses can be invaluable.
The things we do to cater to our horse’s comfort in the other seasons, may need a little tweaking when the snow flies. They might be perfectly comfortable wearing full quilted blanket and hood, standing in a stall, but locked in a moving, metal box with other horses, regardless of the temperature outside, they might feel a little differently. Better to under-blanket than over, and cause them to be a sweaty mess by arrival. For longer trips, consider water stops for the same reason. Dehydration is common in cooler weather, simply because we aren’t thinking about it as much. Consider lining the trailer floor with sawdust/bedding. The rubber mats can build up condensation, making them slippery even for the most quiet of travelers. I’ve always been a proponent of shipping boots or wrapped legs in the trailer. All it takes is one little weight shift or accidental bump, and you could have a bigger problem by the time you pull in the showgrounds. A few minutes of prevention, can save you from a big vet bill.
Another tip I picked up from a fellow professional, is keeping a list of all horses, emergency contact numbers for you and them, and any special instructions, should disaster strike on the road, and you aren’t conscious to instruct emergency responders. Add anything you’d want a stranger to know, if you needed them to help you or your horses, and weren’t able to communicate it yourself. Update it for each trip, and keep it accessible. Keep stocked vet and medical kits in your rig as well, or all in one, since I know I’m not the only person who’s field-dressed her own injuries with Furizone and Vetwrap in a pinch!
Always give your truck and trailer a thorough once-over before any departure. If you’re unsure as to what, if any changes may need to be made, consult a trailer professional for advice. We had a motor home dealership near where I grew up, that proved to be a great resource when we had questions. Top off all the fluids, and keep an extra jug of washer fluid on hand. Find out if your car insurance company also covers your trailer (they may not), and if not, consider looking for additional coverage, like US Rider ( http://www.usrider.org/). It would also be smart to toss a snow shovel, some ice-melt, and maybe sand or kitty litter in the back of the truck. Sometimes getting out of trouble can actually be an easy fix, if you have the tools.
It might be a good time to look into a heavier-treaded tire or chains. If your truck doesn’t have day-time running lights, leave your regular lights on, even during daylight hours. Visibility is key. Additional strips of reflective material can be bought at your local truck stop, if your trailer doesn’t have enough marking all the way around. Don’t be fooled into thinking that because your truck is four-wheel drive, you’re immortal. That only helps if you’re in heavy snow or mud. If you’re on ice, it doesn’t matter how many drive wheels you have.
Ultimately, before you venture out in any less-than-ideal driving conditions, take a moment to decide just how important it is to you. Are those few extra points you might pick up, worth putting you and your horse’s safety at risk? Does that horse you just bought/sold really need to be delivered TODAY, or can it wait until the roads are clear again?
Just because you enjoy dashing through the snow, doesn’t guarantee your horse shares that opinion. Take everyone’s feelings into account, before heading out, and if you arrive at a winter show with an unhappy horse, make sure you know what’s got them all fuzzed up, even if it’s you, don’t punish them for not sharing your enthusiasm.