In the land of Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue (TLAER), we try to think a little differently about our approach to daily emergencies. This year, as you're considering New Year's resolutions, I encouage you to include disaster planning for your horses.

Prepare for the Little Emergencies

Everyone talks about the last minute preparation for big disasters, such as hurricanes and wildfires – but we try to articulate that ahead of time into details. It turns out that, if you prepare for the little emergencies (blowing a tire while driving, finding a horse in the paddock with a severe laceration, realizing the gate was left open and the horses are running down the road), by having equipment and planning in place for those eventualities – then you will have the tools in place to tackle big disasters as well.

The process of consideration of these details that specifically affect you is called “all-hazards” planning and is the focus of how the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends we think of our prevention and preparation for all types of disasters.

FEMA recommendations are based on solid science and excellent advice from professionals, with the agency offering good resources, relevant documents, and research related to human and animal scenarios. It even offers free online training resources, including certifications, for the public (available at http://training.fema.gov/IS/crslist.asp), including Animals in Disasters: Awareness and Preparedness, Animals in Disasters: Community Planning, and Livestock in Disasters. We consider these a prerequisite for our courses in TLAER. Please share these with your friends so that they can learn more about disaster preparedness and prevention.

One of the biggest personal New Year’s Resolutions to do right now is to update the documents in your horse trailer for emergency responders and a power of attorney. It really comes down to asking yourself one simple question: On a regular basis: “How bad could this get?” or rephrased, “What is the worst thing that could happen?” and then following up with proactively. As yourself, “Do I have a plan or resources or equipment to deal with it if the worst thing did happen?” Having these forms on hand and stocking your trailer with the tools you'd need during a roadside emergency can help.

horse trailer safety reflectors

Your trailer should be easily seen in the daytime if it's stopped on the side of the road. This trailer has plenty of reflectors to attract notice. At right is the same trailer at night. Notice only the reflectors are easy to see, and the rest of the trailer disappears into the darkness with the lights not working.

Real World Example

You trailer your two best show horses to an event 500 miles away. Half way there, you blow a tire on the trailer and are forced to pull over on the side of the Interstate. Getting out, you notice one of the truck tires on the driver side is extremely hot and bubbling on the sidewall.

The horses seem to be okay inside the trailer, but you notice that the traffic doesn’t slow down at all for you!

What would you do right now if you were in this situation? What equipment and resources do you have in your possession right now to deal safely with this situation?
A perfect result? You have:

  • Warning triangles and/or flares to put behind the trailer to warn oncoming traffic while you are changing the tires. (I am assuming you already have added additional reflective stickers to the back of your trailer before this situation occurred.
  • A reflective and bright colored vest for each person that will be working outside the vehicle.
  • Two jacks – a “roll on” type for the trailer and a bottle type for the towing vehicle to be able to change each tire safely.
  • Lumber pieces to use as chocks (to prevent the trailer from rolling).
  • Tire irons that fit BOTH sets of lug nuts, with a leverage bar that fits over the iron
  • Two spare tires with sufficient air, one for the trailer, and one for the towing vehicle.
  • Spray lubricant to loosen the lugs.

With these tools on hand, you move the trailer as far off the road as possible without getting stuck. (If possible – drive it to the next exit!) Call 911 to report your issue and ask them to send a police officer to warn traffic. Put on your reflective vest before getting out of the vehicle. Change the tire on the trailer first, then the truck. Do not unload the horses for any reason short of a fire inside the trailer.

An alternative solution could go like this: A wise choice for many people who don’t have these items and expertise to change the tires may instead choose to call their horse-trailering assistance company for roadside help.

Remember to keep the phone numbers and contact information for the trailering assistance company that you use inside the truck or loaded in your cell phone. (And, as a sidenote, please don’t wait until an emergency to find out that your current company will not offer to help with unloading and stabling your horses, fixing your trailer, finding a veterinarian in a strange town, overnight stabling, etc. Very few standard roadside assistance companies or towing companies will assist with the trailer and your horses, as many of us have discovered the hard way. You may want to consider one that specializes in horse trailers.)

The worst thing that could happen in this scenario? Another vehicle fails to see that you are stopped to change the tire, and slams into a person or into the back of the trailer, causing a fatality or total destruction of the towing combination and death of the animals and/or people.

This is particularly likely to happen in poor driving conditions, such as ice, snow, rain, and darkness, and is the reason professional towing companies and emergency responders use flashing lights and reflective to alert drivers of their presence.

I would like to hear your suggestions and experiences from your on-the-side-of-the-road emergencies.

Happy New Year and I hope that the new year brings good health and friendship to all of you!