A horsewoman told me that, at sixty-three, she was the proud owner of her very first horse trailer. I let out a congratulatory yell and I’ve been smiling all day. Trailers add a layer of independence to the freedom we feel with horses.
Do you remember your first horse trailer? Mine was a navy blue two-horse straight load. It was the late ’80s and no one I knew wanted to show their horse but me. I’d been preparing for years, buying spare buckets and hay nets and trailer gadgets. Finally, I talked a friend into buying one together. It weighed a bit more than my truck–without horses in it. The inside had rust that you couldn’t really see because it had been spray painted silver. There was a tiny dressing room up front with saddle racks at an impossible angle and I could not believe my wild luck.
Then came the day I grew up. I loaded my horse and my gear and headed off alone with Jerry Lee Lewis roaring from my tape deck. Driving with all the tense earnestness of a high school student with a learner’s permit, I made my way carefully to the fairgrounds in the next county. It might as well have been another country; I knew no one but it was my first Appaloosa show and I was sure it would be perfect.
There was also a goat show at the fairgrounds that weekend. Have you ever heard a few hundred goats bleating? No? Neither had my young horse. He visibly quivered–out and out vibrated–as I tacked him up. It was contagious. I’m always saying goats are the remedy for Type-A personalities, and this is where I learned it. Lucky we were a day early.
I wanted to quit and go home, but I’m no quitter. Quite a dilemma. So we worked a while and the best I could say was that I managed to stay on. Before dark I was laying on a camp cot in my trailer and wishing it was over. By morning my horse was a little better; no one can hold that level of adrenaline forever. I hosed off my head and felt awkward in my show clothes.
Naturally I’d entered every class I could because I didn’t know any better. It was probably more about persistence then riding well, but by the trail class Sunday afternoon, we counter-cantered, just on the other side of the fence from the goat pens. Intentionally counter-cantered. No blue ribbons, but I did win the reserve high-point award, I think just by sheer numbers. My prize was a purple plastic spray bottle–like the $1.29 ones at the drugstore. I was insufferable. After thousands of dollars in board, training, this trailer, and a truck to pull it, I won a prize!
In my years since that first haul, I’ve honed my skills. There have been sunny days at horse shows and trail rides with friends, but much more important trips, too. I’ve pulled horses from auctions in the nick of time and picked up rescues from people heartbroken to surrender them. I’ve hauled foals to vet schools for surgery and made midnight emergency colic runs with sick horses. A trailer buys safety for your own horse, but also the ability to help others. We’ve had some fires in recent years and I’ve gotten choked up seeing lines of trailers ready to help evacuate. It makes me proud.
The new trailer owner’s husband asked that the trailer be her responsibility. That’s good news. Husbands and wives tend to agree about trailering about as much as they do driving, I suspect. Beyond that, no one prioritizes horses like an owner does and the ability to not be dependent on others is priceless. With no objection, she soon hired a trainer to help sort out the details. She had to overcome some nervousness of her own, so she’s feeling pretty proud of herself now, I’ll bet. Enjoy the new layer of confidence, my friend, it’s never too late to hit the road, singing along with Born to be Wild.
I know owning a hauling rig is expensive, in ways you can’t imagine in the beginning. But at the same time, it isn’t really a luxury, either. I prefer a simple, affordable stock trailer. At the risk of sounding dramatic, lives do actually depend on it.
If it’s fear holding you back from hauling, maybe now is a good time to step up to the challenge. Yes, it’s traditionally been men’s territory, but it wouldn’t be the first time you’ve been stretched out of shape for your horse. Take a ride in back and figure out how slowly you should corner the thing. Spend some time pulling it empty at first. Head to a parking lot and take your time. Make a mess of backing until it gets easier because having people direct you is just crazy-making. Now head for a gas station and work on steering through narrow places. Notice that slight swagger as you walk back to check the latches? Take a breath; the whole thing is so much easier than learning to ride.
If a trailer isn’t possible, do you have an emergency plan for your horse? Does that trailer owner know she’s your emergency plan? Now might be a good time to consider asking that person for hauling lessons. Offer to be a back-up driver and learn to hook up. Trailer knowledge shouldn’t be limited to owners; in the worst case scenario, you could save the day.
Owning a horse requires an unusual and ever-growing skill set. Hang around a barn long enough and there is nothing you won’t be asked to do. It takes a fair range of courage out of the saddle, too, because horses depend on us in this messy world. We’re lucky we’re such hard-headed, relentlessly persevering folks.
And oh, one last thing. Practice your steering wheel wave. It’s like our secret handshake. Traditionalists like a subtle one finger lift, an acknowledgment of solidarity. It’s understated but the meaning is clear: I’ve got your back. You can count on me… and so can your horse.