Hauling horses is not for the faint of heart. Speeding down the highway with one’s most prized and beloved possessions in tow is stressful in and of itself, but when it comes to parking, fueling up, or backing into a tight spot (or worse, out of a tight spot), the ante is quickly upped. Recently, we had some giggles while discussing some of the hauling hiccups we’ve encountered over the years, so we reached out to some seasoned amateur drivers and friends of OR in the hopes that they would share some of their most memorable (slash embarrassing) mishaps, and share they did!
Hauling horses in the northeast can be problematic to say the least. The roads are narrow, driveways and parking lots tight, and then there’s the traffic…
I found myself in more truck-and-trailer trouble there than anywhere else that I’ve lived. I can definitively say that hauling horses with my large trailer back east was miserable, but since misery loves company, I was thrilled when my best friend (you may know her as the Courtney half of OR) came back from a horse show in the Midwest – land of wide roads and large parking lots – towing her very own misery wagon!
Resplendent with matching parkway-unfriendly sized trucks and living quarters horse trailers, we hit the road from North Salem, NY to a quaint town in Massachusetts for a weekend jumping clinic. The 1.5-hour drive through idyllic northeastern towns quickly degraded into a three-hour white-knuckle excursion complete with an [angry] police escort while backing off a one lane bridge, innumerable hand gestures from passersby, and the admiration of a group at a gas station who thought our horses were circus performers. We had never been more relieved to reach a destination as we were when we finally unloaded our horses at the clinic facility, and thinking the most difficult part of our journey was solidly behind us had us in a celebratory frame of mind. Traveling together with our geldings in tow, we concurred, was what it was all about!
Despite a couple of headaches, with the horses safely tucked into their stalls for the evening, we remained unscathed and ready for the most anticipated part of our weekend; camping out of our lovely living quarters trailers at a charming RV park described on the internet as a bucolic mountain lake. Never ones to be unprepared, we had called ahead to ensure there were two oversized RV spots next to one another. Letting the GPS take the reins, we dutifully followed as she instructed us to turn into a residential section of town. We continued to take her bad advice when told to blindly turn left onto the steepest hill we’d ever seen. By then, we were so committed that we dropped our trucks into first gear, pushed the pedals to the floor, said a prayer, and persevered through low power lines and rogue tree limbs. We did finally doubt the GPS when the road plateaued and we did not see a grand RV park, but rather what appeared to be a wooded campground. There was no possibility of turning around, so we parked and inquired with the gate attendant. “Oh, you’re in the right place,” she said (We were?), “Don’t worry, you can easily get turned around and parked once you’re inside.” Hungry, stressed, and – finally – relieved, we paid and headed into the abyss.
While there were, technically, many large campers inside the park, most had been parked there prior to the growth of the surrounding forest, and it would have taken nothing short of a full-blown logging expedition to extract any of them at that point. As we attempted to formulate a plan, we discovered that between us and our “extra large” parking slots were a series of impossibly tight turns, numerous trees with low branches, a fence, and a plethora of lawn ornaments (most notably, a friendly garden gnome). After hours of 30-point turns, a single tear of frustration, limbing a few trees, unearthing a tremendous ant’s nest, uprooting and moving a split-rail fence, rearranging some gnomes, becoming the evening entertainment for the trailer court residents, and politely declining several offers of help from well-meaning young men who had never pulled a trailer but could clearly do it better than us women even with no experience, we were home free. Finally, we found ourselves wedged into our respective spots well after dark. A glass of wine and a cold meal had never tasted so good, and it turned out we had even made some friends, as we were invited to the Saturday night pig roast by multiple neighbors the next day!
Alia, Show Jumper, Montana
I am a cursed horse hauler. The horses and vehicles always arrive safely, but the path from Point A to Point B is usually somewhat harried. From stop-and-go traffic on a steep mountain to an electric jack that blew a fuse when my trailer was halfway off my truck leaving me stranded at a show, I subscribe to the Murphy’s Law of hauling: if it can happen, it has happened or will happen to me…
But sometimes I do it to myself. In 2012, I purchased a brand new 36-foot living quarters horse trailer while at a three-week horse show in the Midwest. Near the end of the show, it became apparent that Hurricane Sandy was heading toward the east coast, and straight through my route back home. As soon as my last class was finished, I packed up and hit the road with the intent to beat the storm. Aside from my rig and the countless tree removal crews headed toward the northeast, the roads were fairly unpopulated and the drive was easy. Strangely, even with a hurricane barreling toward me, I was only concerned about one thing…
At the end of my long driveway in North Salem, New York, stood two large stone pillars, and I wasn’t convinced that physics would actually allow my truck and trailer entry. The twelve-hour drive felt like it only took three, as I dreaded arriving at 3am with no light, no help, and no idea if I would take the back end of my trailer off while pulling into my driveway. I planned my route so that I would make a left turn into the space between the pillars, allowing myself as much room as possible, and I drove by twice before finally taking the plunge. After a full day of showing followed by the long drive I was exhausted but anxious, and eventually I simply crossed my fingers, swung as wide as I could, and went for it. I cleared the left pillar by about three inches and continued up to the automated gate. With the hard part behind me, I drove through the gate without a thought, and then pulled my truck and trailer straight into a courtyard surrounded by a stone wall. Everyone was safe, I was exhausted, and would deal with the ramifications of that decision later.
And deal with them, I did. With my rig parked head-in in front of the garage, no one was coming or going until it moved, but after a lot of trial and error, it turned out that the only way to extricate the rig from the driveway was to drive into the back yard and swing it around on the lawn…during a hurricane. I shifted into 4-lo, crossed my fingers again, and promptly sunk both my truck and trailer in the backyard. It sat there until the ground froze a couple of weeks later and was firm enough to get some traction, and when I pulled the trailer back through the automated gate I realized that I was luckier than I thought that night, as in the daylight there was less than an inch of clearance between the gate motors and each side of my trailer. That was the first and last time it ever went through that gate!
Courtney, OR Co-Founder & Show Jumper, New York
I once (thankfully only once!) had to take the wheel at 75 miles an hour on the interstate because as we approached the agricultural inspection station, my colleague (and driver) realized she did not have her license, which would have caused all kinds of problems, as would attracting the suspicion of law enforcement by pulling over to change drivers before entering a checkpoint!
However, I was what you would call a “student driver” because I had never hauled a gooseneck before and this one was a twenty foot truck and a forty-four foot trailer loaded with international competition horses. On-the-job training, equestrian style!
Anonymous Groom, USA
I don’t love trail riding. Never have. However, I am well aware of the importance of getting a horse out of the arena every now and then. So several years ago I loaded up my very large F350,and my three-horse living quarters horse trailer with a lovely trail ride in mind. The plan was to take a friend and her horse with me to a local trail with waterfalls, wildlife, cows and beautiful scenery. Ahhhhh, a Zen moment for all of us. Until…after missing a turn on a twisty narrow road in the foothills of Northern California, I drove further looking for a place to turn around. And further. And further. Finally, we decided there wasn’t going to be any turn around and if we didn’t do something soon we were going to slip into the cracks of the forgotten. We decided to turn into a large driveway, and we pulled straight up to a home where surely there would be a place to turn around. There were cows on the hill, so there had to be a ranch with flat, wide space to maneuver…right? WRONG.
Thank goodness nobody was home. After maneuvering for 10 minutes (sweating bullets), I finally drove over a fire pit, a front lawn and through a rose bush (I still lose sleep over the guilt!). When we got to the bottom of the steep driveway, we realized we were on a very blind turn with a 34-foot trailer and long bed truck. My friend stood in the middle of the road, arms spread, while I took another ten minutes getting out of the driveway. We laughed all the way to the staging area of the trails, and needless to say that was our last trail riding adventure. If I want to see cows, I’ll say, “Open the gate guys, we’re ready!” and I will be safely in an arena with a spacious parking lot nearby. Bonus: there will be no snakes!
Denise, AQHA Ranch Rider, California
My daughter and I were riding at a farm up in Duchess County, New York and we were on our way back home with her grey pony, named At Last (because “At last I have a horse!”), in our two-horse bumper pull. We were on a winding, local route, cruising along, when all of a sudden, the horse trailer passes our SUV across the yellow line! We watched in horror as the pony went by in our trailer! One of the most heart-rate inducing incidents ever.
In a stroke of unbelievable luck, there was a curve in the road that worked in our favor. As we panicked not knowing what to do, the trailer just came to a slow rest at the turn. We were there for about five or ten minutes in total shock asking ourselves what to do next, when two guys drove up in a truck and helped us inspect the situation. The pin on our hitch had busted, creating a literal chain reaction of broken parts, and these guys miraculously had a pin to spare. They helped us fix the problem, re-hitch the trailer, and within half an hour we were back on the road.
Not long after, we ditched that trailer and went with something a bit more secure.
Nancy, Eventer, Aiken
One of the school horses at my old barn knew how to unhook himself in the trailer. He would unhook the clips and crawl under the bars on his knees. It was very exciting to open the doors to the six-horse gooseneck and find him free in the middle when we arrived at the show. It was also exciting for other drivers on the highway when he did this when the windows were open, since he stuck his head out like a happy dog.
Also, we had a commercial shipper take a big crew of us to a show when I was a kid. It had been a rainy spring week already and rained more at the show. The tractor trailer for our 10 horses sank impossibly into the mud during the day and it took 3 giant tractors pulling simultaneously to drag it out. Very memorable for all of us kids.
Danielle, Hunter, New York
My young, know-it-all self was convinced I did not need any special health papers for my horse when crossing over into Canada. I almost missed my first one-star event trying to find a vet near the border who could help. Thankfully my parents, while exasperated, were with me, because we had to drive all night to another border entry to get the necessary exams and paperwork.
David, Eventer, Detroit
I’ve eaten Ulcergard to stay awake, and hitchhiked for diesel fuel. You do not want me hauling your horses.
Avery, Eventer, Dallas
There is something special about slowly heading down your driveway with your horse trailer packed full of your squad on the way to an event. Maybe you’re reminded of those first trips you took with your family, or maybe you’re just happy to hit the road knowing you can leave chores behind and focus on the horse or horses you’re traveling with. This is, of course, failing to mention the simple fact that hitting the highway with a big diesel truck and a large trailer leaves you feeling that much more important than all other tiny car-driving motorists. As a teenager, the first time I flashed my lights to a semi so they knew they were clear to come back into my lane, I felt pure butterflies when they hit those axillary lights as a thank you. Road trip with horses…nothing better.
Of course this experience can have its ups and downs. The flat tire when you realize you haven’t broken loose a lug on your trailer wheel in four years, resulting in you in the parking lot physically jumping on your spare tire wrench. Who hasn’t had that stretch of road when you thank God for the gas station on the next turn off only to realize….no diesel? Or what could be better than finding that lovely family home that allows overnight boarding only to roll in at 5am the next day to see your four-legged buddies have eaten half the stall and broken three rails?
However, for those who have experienced the joys of living all over this beautiful country, there is a special place for those who have gone from the wide-open west to the people-crammed east coast with beasts in tow. Let’s just say the roads built in the 1700s were not designed for 4-horse living-quarter trailers and one ton diesel trucks. You realize very quickly why so many people don’t even own a trailer, but instead pay to have their horses hauled. After moving from Kansas to Connecticut to Montana, I can honestly say that this cowboy couldn’t be happier to finally be back home in the states where big rigs roam! Still, there is a special place in my heart for one quick weekend trip that my wife would never let me forget even if I could…
I used to travel from Connecticut to Pennsylvania to practice team roping on the weekends with friends. Well, one lovely sunny day started with the usual trek out of the driveway, then crossing the Hudson River over the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge. For those who’ve not had the pleasure of traveling northeastern roads, this is one of many bridges that crosses the Hudson, but it has a unique toll that only gets paid going one direction; in this case the toll was eastbound, which meant I would pay it on my way home at the end of the day. After a great day of roping practice with friends, we hit the local cafe where I offered to buy lunch. This cash-only establishment drained my wallet and I didn’t give it another thought…that is, until we headed back home over the lovely Newburgh-Beacon Bridge….
When you travel with a large trailer in the northeast, you are essentially stuck in the lane you’re in. There is simply not a lot of lane switching, especially on a weekend when all lanes can be packed with cars lined up bumper-to-bumper. But as I mentioned, this bridge is a toll bridge which means it expands to eight lanes just before the toll to help with traffic passing through. As I followed my buddy, we found ourselves stuck in the lane furthest to the left. I drove up to the window, cracked open the glove compartment where I always kept my trusty electronic toll payment tag, and low and behold…it was not there. Fortunately, there was a kind lady in the toll booth, who promptly said, “$6.50, please.” I whipped out my wallet…no cash.
“Ma’am, it looks like I’m shit out of luck!”
Meanwhile, cars were WHIZZING through all eight lanes on my right. The lady looked back at my truck and trailer, pointed over to the toll facility building located on the far side of eight lanes of traffic, and said, “Well, go over there and pay with your credit card then.”
I sat there thinking that I’d seen it all while hauling a trailer, but this one was going to really test my skills. Crossing eight busy lanes in one hundred yards would be a real accomplishment (the guy behind me blasting his horn was obviously being super helpful, as well). Anyway, with my boys in the back, I wasn’t about to put my trailer in harm’s way, so I put on my saddest eyes and said, “Ma’am, I’m really not sure I can get over there with this rig,” to which she promptly replied, “No problem, Honey. One minute.” She then proceeded to pick up the phone, yell loudly over the speakers, “HOLD ALL LANES!” and traffic on the entire bridge came to a complete standstill. I was speechless, but I tipped my hat, mumbled my thanks, and promptly crossed eight lanes of halted traffic while some very angry New York drivers expressed their distaste for me.
After paying the tolls I jumped back into my truck only to receive a phone call from my lovely road trip partner up ahead, who was desperately asking where I was and why all traffic had stopped. I could only think to myself, “Son of a bitch…a witness! Now it’s unavoidable, and I will have to admit to my wife that I’m the idiot traveling down the highway with a rig full of horses and zero cash.”
The lesson to all my fellow haulers out there: Tuck away that emergency twenty…you never know when you might need it to prevent a major highway shutdown.
Safe and happy trails.
Neal, Team Roper, Montana