Put a horse in a horse float and you’ve got a couple of tonnes of unstable weight behind your vehicle. It is not like towing a trailer with furniture in the back, because horses move around and you will feel it through the car. Each horse has its own character: some will travel well and others won’t. The following tips help your horse feel comfortable in the horse float while you’re driving.
If you have never driven with a horse float, take an empty one out for an hour and get used to manoeuvring and driving with it. Reversing will probably be the most challenging part of using the float. Having a person outside of the vehicle to help you with reversing makes it much easier.
Driving with a horse float
Different horses will cope with corners differently. As a good guideline, until you know your horse, start at 10kph under any advisory speed. Advisory speeds are marked with a yellow and black sign and the direction of the turn.
The camber is the slope of the road in a corner. Adverse camber is where the slope of the road is towards the outside of the bend; roads rarely have this type of camber because it’s dangerous, but it is frequently found on roundabouts. Positive camber, where the road slopes to the inside of the turn, provides more grip and stability.
When pulling out of a driveway with a kerb or gutter, go very slow as these will upset a horse’s balance.
Turning right or left at a t-intersection or crossroads
Use only very gentle acceleration from rest, or keep a consistent speed if you are making a turn without having to stop. Wait until the car and trailer are in a straight line until you apply more acceleration. Horses don’t mind acceleration in a straight line, but find it more difficult to deal with cornering and braking.
Even though there is the temptation to cut corners, don’t do it. You can use a racing line within your lane but bear in mind that that will put your inside wheels near the gutter or shoulder of the road where more road debris washes. Take extra care if your float is wider than your car as judging this will be difficult.
Following distances and braking
Four seconds in the dry is the minimum in case you need to brake suddenly. Braking should always be smooth, progressive and as gentle as possible right up until the float stops. You must look much further up the road to anticipate what will happen (at least 12 seconds), especially when you are approaching traffic lights that might change colour before you get there. Because of the weight of the trailer it will take you further to stop than usual
Traffic calming measures
Roading authorities install traffic calming measures to slow cars down, but it has the unfortunate side effect of making a horse’s journey less comfortable. Speed tables and speed bumps should be taken at a speed where the rise and fall are barely discernible. Chicanes should be treated like sharp corners.
Steering and cornering
A horse will have to constantly adjust its balance if you do not steer smoothly either in a straight line or around corners, and this will tire it out.
It’s the law that you must not unduly hold up other motorists. You will frequently find yourself with several other vehicles following you, wanting to get past. When it’s safe to do so, keep left and perhaps slow down a bit to help them get past.
Use your gears to help with braking otherwise you risk getting brake fade, even though the trailer has its own brakes. Change down early; it doesn’t matter if the engine is racing, as long as you don’t exceed the rev limit.
As the horse is a loose load in the back, its movement can initiate trailer sway which is where the trailer starts swinging from side-to-side. Many modern cars have an electronic system call trailer sway mitigation (or something similar) which will automatically stop this, but if your car doesn’t have it, the first thing to do is take your foot off the accelerator. Don’t brake unless you absolutely have to. If you can apply the float brakes, apply them separately. Keep a firm grip on the steering wheel. As the car slows down the swaying will stop. Pull over and check the horse and trailer – the sway might have been caused by a flat tyre or some other reason.
Take regular stops – at least every two hours. This keeps you more alert and it allows you to check the horse, give it some water, allow it to stretch its legs, etc.
Passengers must not ride in a horse float.
For more information about towing, read our complete guide to towing.
What type of car is best for towing a horse float?
The greater the towing capacity, the more flexibility you’ll have when towing. A four-wheel drive vehicle is essential, and a ute or SUV is preferable over a car. There are plenty of utes which will tow three tonnes such as the Holden Colorado, Ford Ranger, Toyota Hilux and Mazda BT-50.
If you need to tow two horses then you might want to look for a ute or SUV that tows 3.5 tonnes just to be safe as two horses will be around 1500kg and your float could be up to 2000kg.
Check the maximum towing capacity of your car to check you’re not exceeding it as this could invalidate your warranty, your insurance in the event of an accident, or even seriously damage the vehicle.
Should you buy a horse float?
If you’re using a float at least once a month then it’s a better investment to purchase your own float (assuming you have somewhere to store it).
Advantages of owning your own horse float
- You will save a lot of time because your float will be immediately accessible, and you won’t have to spend time picking it up and taking it back
- You will know the float will be available every time you need it
- There will be no time restrictions that might mean you would need leave an event early to take a hired float back
- You can ensure that the float you get is perfect for your requirements rather than relying on a suitable hire float being available
Disadvantages of buying a horse float
- You need to pay for the float up front, or finance it
- You will need to pay for horse float insurance and on-road costs
- Horse floats require maintenance
- You need room to store one securely
What to check on your horse float
Tyres – do they have enough pressure and sufficient tread depth. Fill to the recommended pressure when the tyres are cold (read more about tyre pressures here). Light truck tyres on heavy duty wheels are often used for horse floats. If you don’t use your float that frequently, check that the tyres aren’t perishing.
Lights and reflectors – the lights on the float should activate at the same time as the corresponding ones on your car.
Brakes – the maximum weight for a non-braked trailer is 750kg, so a horse float will have brakes and they should operate all four wheels on the float. The float will be fitted with a parking brake which will hold it on an incline.
Breakaway system – if your float has a fully loaded weight of more than 2000kg it must be fitted with a breakaway brake system. This means that if the float becomes detached from your car, it will brake itself using its own battery-backup.
Interior dividers – if you have a double float there will be a divider to separate the two horses. This should not go all the way to the floor otherwise it makes it difficult for the horses to spread their feet to maintain balance when going around corners.
Rump bars – check that the rump bar is in the right place for your horse before you set off.
Door/ramp – double-check that the door or ramp at the back of the float is secure and won’t come open while you are driving.
Safety chain and towbar – check it’s all connected properly