Horsebox safety warning as temperatures drop

When the weather starts to turn cooler, horse owners will naturally take stock of their horse’s winter rug selection – often ensuring they have a rug, or two, for every possible weather eventuality.

But will they pay as much attention to keeping their steed safe when travelling?

Winter heralds the start of competition, hunting and racing season but also brings new challenges for horsebox and trailer owners. Justine Simms-Gould, Equine Specialist at NFU Mutual, said: "We receive a large number of claims each year for horses injured, or worse, put to sleep, as a result of accidents on the roads.

"The wet and icy conditions that winter brings not only pose extra danger when driving on the road but can put extra strain on vehicle components too so it is vital to keep on top of maintenance."

Weather conditions to consider when transporting your horse over winter

Ice

Expect icy conditions any time. Although water freezes at 0˚C, ice can form on roads when the outside air temperature reaches 6˚C or lower. An important place to watch for this condition is on bridges.

Rain

The first few minutes of a rain storm can be extra dangerous because of the slippery road surface caused by oil and rubber build-up. Rain may also cause hydroplaning, which occurs when the tyres can't channel the water away fast enough, causing them to start running on top of the water instead of on the road.

Fog

Fog is usually found in low places or areas surrounded by trees, hills or mountains. Slow down and turn on your low-beam headlights wherever you encounter fog. Make sure you can stop within the distance that you can see ahead clearly.

Wind

The best advice for driving in windy conditions is to slow down. When passing trucks, move slightly away from them whenever possible, as this reduces gust effects.

"It is also important to point out that although horseboxes are required to pass an annual MOT or ministry plating, this does not check the vehicle for its suitability or safety for carrying horses," added Justine. 

"For example, they will not check floors or ramps for signs of rot. More worryingly, in the UK, trailers are not required to pass any form of annual safety check meaning problems can go undetected until an accident or breakdown occurs."

Pre-journey checks

  • Windscreen – check that there are no cracks, other damage or objects obscuring the driver’s view – this includes sat navs and rosettes attached to the windscreen. Also check that your washer fluid is topped up and your washers and wipers are working correctly.
  • Headlights – ensure that both dip and main beam are working and there are no cracks in the lens of the lamp unit. Don’t forget the sidelights and, on larger vehicles, top marker and side marker lights.
  • Brake lights and indicators – ask someone to check that the brake light and rear indicators are working.
  • Tyres – check the tread depth and the side walls for evidence of damage.
  • Floors and ramps – check for signs of rotting or any damage.
  • Latches – ensure all latches and bolts are well lubricated for ease of opening in an emergency but also that they are tight enough and will not fail.
  • Number plate – check that all number plates are clearly visible, clean and match the vehicle.

And when towing a trailer, it is important to remember to conduct these checks on both the towing vehicle and trailer:

  • You need to ensure that the hitch is correctly connected and secured onto the tow ball and that the breakaway cable is attached to a secure part of the towing vehicle chassis, independent of the tow ball – if yours is looped around the hitch, it’s time to switch.
  • The breakaway cable is designed to deploy the handbrake and stop your trailer safely should a part on the tow bar or hitch fail and disconnect the vehicle from the trailer.
  • If your cable is only looped around the tow bar and it will not deploy the handbrake and you could find your trailer overtakes.