Winter Driving Tips for Owners

With the change of seasons, USRider ? the national provider of roadside emergency assistancefor equestrians ? reminds those who travel with Horses to be careful when traveling and invest time doing routine preventive trailer maintenance to enhance their travel safety.

It is imperative to make sure your vehicle is ready for winter driving. Be sure to maintain your vehicle according to the manufacturer?s service schedule. It’s also important to take your vehicle to a trusted mechanic.

?When it comes to vehicle maintenance, especially heavy-duty vehicles towing precious cargo, it is better to be proactive than reactive,? said Bill Riss, general manager of USRider. ?If you have not already done so, establish a relationship with a trusted ASE ( mechanic. It is essential that you do this before your vehicle breaks down on the side of the highway while towing your horse trailer.?

USRider recommends that you check tire pressure before each trip. This is especially important with temperature changes. If you are traveling from a warm climate to a cold climate, air pressure in your tires will drop. On the other hand, when traveling from a cold climate into a warm climate, the air pressure will rise.

A weak battery will usually reveal itself during cold weather. If your battery is more than a couple of years old, be sure to check it prior to cold weather setting in. Otherwise, you will most likely be inconvenienced on some cold morning when the battery fails to start your vehicle.

When driving, a good rule of thumb to follow on the road is ?rain, ice & snow ? take it slow.? Before setting out on a trip, take the time to check weather reports and plan accordingly. Be sure to allow extra time for inclement weather. Mother Nature doesn’t care that you need to be somewhere at a certain time.

Always drive with your headlights on during inclement weather ? even if it is not dark. USRider recommends that Horse owners drive with headlights on anytime when trailering Horses, regardless of weather, because of increased visibility afforded by using headlights.

Also during inclement weather, be sure to increase distance between vehicles to allow more stopping time. USRider recommends that you double the normal distance between vehicles when towing a Horse trailer.

?Stopping on snow or ice without skidding and/or jackknifing takes extra distance. Use brakes very gently to avoid skidding,? added Riss. ?If you begin to skid or jackknife, ease up on the brake and steer into the skid to regain control.?

During winter months, traction tires are recommended. In order to qualify as a traction tire, tires must have at least an eighth of an inch of tread and be labeled Mud and Snow, M+S, All-Season, or have a Mountain/Snowflake symbol. Since tire performance can vary, a trusted area dealer may be able to advise you on the best tires for your vehicle.

Since it’s difficult to know what road conditions you may encounter during the winter, make it a practice to re-fuel when your vehicle fuel gauge drops below the halfway mark. In many states, you can dial 5-1-1 for travel conditions and road closures.

In some states, vehicles over 10,000 gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR), including some passenger trucks, SUVs, RVs, and vehicles towing trailers, must carry chains on certain highways November 1 through March 31. Check with the Department of Transportation or Department of Motor Vehicles for information on the states you will be traveling through.

USRider provides roadside assistance and towing services along with other travel-related benefits to its members through the Equestrian Motor Plan. Standard features include flat-tire repair, battery assistance and lockout services, towing up to 100 miles, roadside repairs for tow vehicles and trailers with Horses, emergency stabling, veterinary referrals and more. For more information about the USRider Equestrian Motor Plan, visit online or call (800) 844-1409.

For additional safety tips, visit the Equine Travel Safety Area on the USRider website at

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To blanket or not

One of the most confusing decisions when trailering in cold weather is whether to blanket your Horse, said Neva Kittrell Scheve, author and equine travel expert. Horses are very comfortable in cold conditions, and most will travel very well during the winter. Two important factors should be considered when making this decision, according to Scheve:

  • Ensure that the trailer is well ventilated because Horses are prone to respiratory illness. A trailer that is not properly ventilated becomes filled with toxic air from the hay dust, shavings, and any gases from urine and manure. The body heat produced by the Horses also builds up inside the trailer.
  • Keep Horses hydrated in the summer as well as during the winter. Dehydration is the most common cause of colic. Horses can become dehydrated even during the winter if they do not drink or they lose water through perspiration. If a Horse is dressed too warmly, it will tend to lose more fluids than it should.

Be sure to dress the Horse according to the situation. If the Horse has a full winter coat and does well in daily life, it will not need a blanket for the trailer trip. In this case, open the roof vents and a few windows in the back so the air does not blow directly on the Horse. If you have a stock trailer that does not have windows that close, a light sheet can protect the Horse from the wind. If the Horse is body clipped or does not have a heavy coat, it should wear the same weight blanket that it would normally wear, and vents and windows should be open.

Long-distance trips require a little more preparation. Be ready for driving through different temperatures. Pack blankets of different weights so you can change them as the weather changes during travel. Be sure the Horse does not sweat too much. It could get wet and get chilled. Also, the Horse can lose water through sweat and become dehydrated.