|Towing a horse
float requires additional driving skills and safety precautions over and above those
needed for everyday driving. In Australia, neither the Learner driver or the Probationary
driver are permitted to tow a float.
If you have never towed a horse float before, ask an experienced friend to assist you with some pointers and a trial run. This will not only give you confidence, but will help you identify any unforseen problems.
SOME HELPFUL DRIVING HINTS:
Allow extra space between your vehicle and the one in front while you are driving with a horse float attached. This will allow you to slow down gradually if the car in front stops unexpectedly.
For your horses sake, make a rule of never changing speed and direction at the same time - on other words, do not brake and go around corners simultaneously. First brake, then corner. Imagine that you are driving on ice or a very slippery gravel road - drive your horse in the same smooth, careful manner you would use on those surfaces.
Sudden heavy braking could cause your float to jacknife. In wet and slippery conditions, extra care must be taken to avoid this risk.
Keep in mind that your vehicle will behave quite differently while it is towing a heavy horse float. The power will be reduced, so do not try to overtake unless you are sure that it is safe to do so, and that your vehicle can do it!
The extra weight behind the vehicle will mean you need to allow longer distances when you are accelerating, such as when joining traffic. Most importantly, the extra weight will dramatically increase the required braking distance of your vehicle. It is especially critical that you allow extra distance between your car and the car in front.
To maximise the comfort of your horse and minimise the float sway, avoid sudden changes of speed or direction.
Look even further ahead than usual to gauge traffic and road conditions. This will help to avoid problems that could easily be caused by getting stuck behind a parked car, or having to brake suddenly to avoid traffic lights which turn red when you were not paying attention. Horses often become anxious and fidgety in a stationary vehicle, so it is wise to keep the car moving gently - if at all possible.
Keep an eye on your mirrors so that you are always aware of vehicles coming up behind you and trying to overtake. If there is room on the shoulder of the road, pull over (while still moving) so that faster traffic can overtake you in safety, that way, you can travel at the slower speed necessary for your horse, and other drivers will not get frustrated and angry with you. If they are tempted to toot their horn at close range, they could upset your equine passenger. If they are tempted to overtake - when it is not safe to do so - out of frustration - you could find yourself part of a head-on collision.
A very helpful piece of advise came from a sign on a truck that I was stuck behind in a traffic jam, it said, "If YOU cannot see MY mirror, I cannot see YOU." Trucks are large and take much more space on the road, particularly when manoeuvring, give them room to do their job, and they should pay you the same courtesy - most truckies are reasonably considerate.
If you are driving a manually geared vehicle, towing a loaded horse float necessitates
very careful gear changes in order to deliver a smooth ride to the horses. You need to
select and use your gears intelligently in order to avoid straining your engine. An
important rule is to try to adopt a gradual deceleration and acceleration technique and
gradual smooth braking. Jerky gear changes and inconsiderate driving are common causes of
problem horses, when it comes to travelling.
Horses handle the adjustment to their balance much better when cornering, if you slow down - almost to a stop, if the corner is very sharp - while you are still travelling in a straight line. Then you can go around the corner whilst very gently accelerating. If your horse becomes unbalanced and starts scrambling, his weight and movement can severely affect the stability of your vehicle.
Be sure to take corners wider than you would without the float on, as your turning
circle is made much wider by the float.
Use your mirrors to check the traffic flow, and then give plenty of warning of your
intentions to turn by using your indicator at least 50 meters from the turn (preferably
much more, say 100 meters or so). That way you can avoid the risk of following traffic
having to swerve and brake suddenly to avoid you. To make the turn, you pull into the
right hand lane with the nose of your vehicle level with the centre line of the road into
which you are turning. Turn when it is safe to do so, remembering that you cannot put your
foot to the floor in order to dive through a small gap in the traffic, as you
may to when not towing the float - your horse will suffer if you do. If you are in any
doubt about another motorists intention to give way to you, signal him to go ahead
and wait for a better opportunity to make your turn.
These can take your equine passengers by surprise! The horse has adjusted his balance for the long straight haul, and out of the blue you try to throw him off balance (this is almost certainly how most horses would view the situation)
Take roundabouts very slowly so that the long continuous turn has little affect on his
stability and balance.
FREEWAYS AND DUAL CARRIAGEWAYS
When driving on freeways, you will usually be one of the slower vehicles. Even though the laws applying to floats around Australia allow you to travel at the speed limit posted on that road, you will find that your horse will travel better at a slightly slower speed. Use your mirrors constantly to be sure that you have not blocked the cleat passage of another motorist.
Large vehicles which overtake you may cause a buffeting effect which can grab at your steering. Do not overcorrect as this will subside as quickly as it happened, and you could cause more of a problem with your correction.
Keep an eye on weather conditions as high winds on open freeways can affect the
handling of your vehicle and float. Fog can also take drivers by surprise, keep a generous
distance between yourself and the car ahead, especially if you have someone
tailgating your float.
Horses sometimes become a little restless if they are in the float during a lit of reversing. If possible, get the float positioned before your load the horses.
Reversing a trailer requires some practise, to make perfect. It is a good idea to get out of the car and make sure that you know exactly where you want to go. Having someone watching and directing you can sometimes help you avoid getting into a reversing jam, but be sure that you are both "talking the same language"! If the person directing you doesnt know anything about reversing floats, you can find yourself in trouble.
Most important of all - take your time! When you need to reverse your float, always give yourself time to assess the situation and think clearly about where you are and where you want the float to go. Get out of your vehicle and have a look - there is a large blind spot behind the float, which may hide a ditch or some obstruction.
Before you start the vehicle and get under way, go through the exercise in your mind. It is easy to become disoriented about which steering lock you will need, to go where you want to go.
Reversing your horse float with ease and confidence takes practise. The best idea is to find a large area, free of obstructions, in which you can set out some witches hats, and practise to your hearts content.
Make sure that your trailer brakes are not engaged. Some older models of float, in particular those with override brakes, need to have a reversing lock disengaged before you are able to back the float. Be careful to disengage this reversing lock as it disables override brakes which would make normal towing dangerous.
Always be sure that you have left yourself enough space to drive forward again while reversing. Reversing a vehicle and float takes a lot more space than most people would appreciate, and this extra space will enable you to make the necessary steering corrections without getting yourself jammed against a fence or wall and in a position where it is very difficult to get out without the need to take the float off the vehicle. Lack of consideration can leave the inexperienced driver in an impossible situation which only seems to get worse the harder they try to rectify it!
Try to commence your reversing manoeuvre with the tow vehicle as straight as possible. You should get the feeling that you are following the float into position, and not pushing it against the inclination of the direction of the vehicle. This feeling will take some practise, but will enable you to become an excellent practitioner of towing floats and trailers.
Many drivers find it easier to look out the window at the float to judge its position when reversing rather than use their side mirrors. Others prefer to look over their shoulder through the rear window to get a better view of how much the float has deviated from the line of the car. Whichever you come to prefer, the recommended practise with witches hats, reversing into small spaces, around corners and doing complete about-turns, will help you to find your preferred technique.
If someone else is giving you directions, be sure that they realise that the directions for backing a vehicle on its own is the exact opposite that for backing a vehicle with a float attached. An inexperienced helper can cause lots of confusion which can easily lead to positioning the vehicle and float very awkwardly. Think about the differences of your vehicle with and without the float - without the float - reversing with a right turn on the steering wheel will move the back of the vehicle to the left - with the float - reversing with the steering wheel turned to the right will move the back of the float to the right - and a little steering wheel action goes a very long way when reversing floats. Some people find it helpful to think about the rear wheels of your car as the steering wheels for your float. The direction the float will go depends on the direction of your rear wheels.
When you begin your reversing manoeuvre, straighten your vehicles front wheels as your float begins to turn and follow the float around the curve. It may be necessary to turn your float wheels onto the opposite lock to complete this straightening process. Most reversing problems are caused by oversteering - that is, failing to straighten your wheels early enough so that you can follow the float around the curve that you have initiated.
If you do oversteer, your float could jack-knife - in other words, the float and the vehicle end up at a very acute angle to each other. If you are in a small, tight area, it could be very difficult to drive forward and straighten up. If you do jack-knife the float, get out and carefully inspect your hitch and cable as you may have damaged them and your lights and or electric brakes may not be working.
It is wise to remember
just because you are reversing, you do not always have to
go backwards. It is much easier to go forward to straighten up than to try to correct the
FISHTAILING, SWAY AND SNAKING
Fishtailing or sway is a fairly common and very frightening occurrence when towing a horse float. It involves unexpected and uncommanded sideways swinging of the float. If this movement becomes severe enough to move the back of the towing vehicle, the phenomenon is known as snaking. Hayman Reese manufacture sway control devices which significantly reduce sway and snaking. (www.haymanreese.com.au).
The usual cause for sway is incorrect design of the vehicle/float combination, excess speed, incorrect positioning of the load, and jerky movements when braking or cornering. If you have followed the Guidelines in A Guide to Safe Towing, you should not experience sway caused by overloading.
Another causes of sway can be driving on a poor road surface such as one where heavy vehicles have left grooves, or on tram tracks. Careful driving helps to minimise most potential floating problems, and as speed is a major cause of sway, you can lessen the risk by travelling at an appropriate speed.
If you do find your float getting a up a sway while you are travelling at slower speeds, NRMA in NSW recommends that a light application of the accelerator will help to counteract it. However, if you are travelling at higher speeds and have electric brakes, you should lightly apply only the floats brakes (not the vehicles) from inside the cabin.
Do not fight the sway with the steering wheel as this usually makes the matter worse, try to keep your vehicle as steady and straight as possible.
When the sway is under control, and at your earliest (safe) chance, check your horse and also check for damage to either the vehicle or the float. If tis incident had necessitated plenty of use of the brakes, check all wheels for overheated brakes and wheel bearings.
This frightening occurrence can be almost completely eliminated by fitting a Hayman Reese Sway Control Device ( www.haymanreese.com.au). If you or someone you know has ever been in a float or caravan that has begun to fish-tail, the Hayman Reese solution will afford much peace of mind!