Horses often need to be transported on public highways.
At the BHS we want to make sure you are safe at all times and that you have the right licence for the vehicle you are driving and/or towing.
See our section on Driver Licensing Law for more information.
You may also find this VOSA leaflet (pdf) useful. Please note that it is intended only to offer general help and isn’t a legal document.
Horsebox and Trailer Rescue
DVSA and DEFRA now consider it illegal to transport horses on board a horsebox being either lifted or straight-bar towed behind a recovery vehicle. The only exception to this might be to move the vehicle a very short distance to enable safe transfer of the horses to fresh transport. Only DEFRA approved transporters may carry out this transport. All horses in transit must, by law, travel with their relevant passports.
However, it may be safer doing this than risking unloading and reloading horses on a busy motorway for example. Usually this would only happen short distance journey and/or to get the vehicle to a suitable and safe place to transfer the horses onto a new vehicle.
According to the Welfare of Animals (Transport) Order, 2006: “breakdown vehicle operators attending vehicles carrying animals that have broken down or been involved in a road traffic accident should not attempt to move the vehicle with animals on board if it cannot be repaired at roadside unless directed to do so by the police or other competent authority for reasons of public safety”. And “In the unlikely event that a vehicle has to be moved by a recovery operator to the nearest suitable place of destination, it is suggested that the recovery vehicle operator is accompanied (where possible) by the transporter and that the vehicle is not moved by means of a suspended tow.” Be aware of this legislation when choosing a breakdown operator and it is worth reading all the documentation and small print of your policy to make sure you are aware of any details that may affect you if you do need to call your breakdown service out.
For more information on the Welfare of Animals (Transport) Order 2006 please use this link.
Checks before you tow
Always have your trailer professionally serviced at least once a year and don’t take it for granted that they’ll look at the serviceability of the inside/ underside of the floor, always double check this will be examined. These checks are not exhaustive and you should refer to your manufacture handbook.
Ensure trailer body, floor, ramp, hitch/ jockey wheel, tyres, brakes/ bearings and lights are fit for purpose (in no particular order). Do not forget to check the vehicle that will be towing your trailer too. REMEMBER the anagram FLOWERS - Fuel, Lights, Oil, Water, Electrics, Rubber, Self - are you fit to drive?
Look around the outside for any obvious signs of damage. Have the trailer parked on level ground and if the trailer leans to one side, seek some professional advice.
Don’t forget to look inside the trailer for signs of damage starting at the top, signs might be daylight peering through areas that it shouldn’t be there. Look for water damage around any seals.
Partitions and breast/breech bars - check all pins are in place and there are no sharp edges or rips in the partition.
While checking pressures and tyre tread depth, give the rest of the tyre a visual inspection. Remove any stones and other objects embedded in the tread. Look out for any bulges, lumps or cuts. When not in use cover the wheels to help prevent the UV light from defecting the tyre wall. For further information have a look at the horsebox and trailer tyres advice leaflet plus look at your manufactures handbook for tyre pressures for both your vehicle and trailer.
Lightly grease the tow-bar roughly every 3 months or more often depending on use. It’s a good idea to check the security of the tow hitch by carefully winding down the jockey wheel and if secure, the rear of the vehicle will raise slightly. With the tow hitch connected, fully wind up the jockey wheel and secure. The jockey wheel must be secured when fully up with a safety pin to lock it into position.
Brakes and breakaway cable
If you’re leaving the trailer for a prolonged period, securely place wheel chocks either side of the wheels and then release the trailer parking brake (It may not be suitable if the ground is not level), remembering to pull the brake handle back on before you hitch up next time.
Breakaway cables are a legal requirement; activating the trailer brakes should the trailer become detached. The cable must be attached to a purpose made tow bar ring or a substantial part of the vehicle. Visual checks - make sure there is no wear and tear along the cable and the fixings is all in working order.
If your brakes are ceased or you have problems with the cable then contact a professional mechanic.
Electrics & Lights
Lift up the rubber matting to check the floor for any signs of rot, corrosion or damage and look from underneath the trailer. It may be obvious but do not travel your horse and pony until it’s been looked at by a professional. Don’t forget to look at the hinges and springs for rust or damage.
Essential pre-journey checks
- Check the trailer and towing vehicle are suitable and the combination doesn’t exceed the legal weight limits; always check your manufactures handbook for both your towing vehicle and trailer. Tip - Don’t forget to know the weight of your horse/pony including passengers and all the equipment you take with you, you could soon be over the allowed weight for towing. Although you need to carry spare water, feed and roughage in case of a breakdown or delay’s if you load this at the front of your trailer you could also exceed the nose weight.
Ensure you have the correct driving category on your license for towing your trailer. More information is available on the Government's website.
- Many people assume their car breakdown will be sufficient, but this is not the case. Ordinary car breakdown cover EXCLUDES recovery of a trailer with horses on-board, so you could be left stranded with your horses. It is possible to add horse trailer assistance and equine recovery to some policies.
Don’t forget to plan your route and check weather conditions. It will be good practise to start checking if there are any other events that may delay your journey. Tip - Check the route just before you load to make sure there haven’t been any last minute road closures. Carry emergency contacts (Next Of Kin, Vets)
Always carry a horse passport when transporting your horse, it is a legal requirement and you can be fined up to £5000 per passport
Once you have completed your vehicle and trailer safety checks consider where you park the trailer for (un)loading. It has to be in a safe, level and inviting location, think about the lighting conditions as most journeys start early and end of days when the light is reduced.
When lowering the ramp stand to one side in case it comes down quickly or the horse/pony breaks out.
If the trailer has a front ramp, it may be worth opening it, as it will make it more inviting to load from the rear but every horse is different, if not, open the jockey door for you to exit after loading
Ensure the breast bars are secure and at the correct height for your horse and open the partition from the rear to allow enough room for when you load.
Some horses/pony prefer to travel with some bedding down on the trailer floor, absorbing material is always best to use, as it assists by soaking up any urine when travelling.
Load and unloading trailer safety advice
Once you have completed your ‘before you tow’ and ‘essential pre-journey’ checks you will be ready for loading and unloading, not forgetting to do your vehicle (car, 4x4, truck) safety checks.
Allow plenty of time to load confidently, quietly and carefully and never lose your temper if the horse/ pony does not want to load.
Wear protective clothing – boots, hat, gloves, it’s always best to have a minimum of two people to assist throughout the loading and unloading process.
Protective travel equipment for you horse, head collar (Its always best to travel leather head collar as it will break under stress, whereas a nylon head collar may not and cause friction burns) poll guard, tail Bandage/ guard, travel boots. Depending on the weather you may consider a rug or day sheet as long as they can’t slip when travelling.
To have complete control it’s recommended to have a bridle over a head collar when loading and then remove it for the journey.
If travelling one horse/pony load on the right hand side of the trailer, it helps to balance as it corners. With two horses, the heavier should be on the right.
Once loaded, secure the horse/pony to the tie ring with use of bailing twine or something that will break if your horse/pony panics; make sure the rope is short enough it can’t lower its head under the breast bar.
Secure the back breech bar and raise the ramp carefully to avoid startling the horse.
Complete walk around ensuring all doors/ramps and fastenings are secure, not forgetting to close the front top door when travelling.
Untie and place the bridle back on before you undo the back breech bar if you have to reverse off the rear ramp or the front breast bar if unloading from the front. Do not allow the horse to rush off the transport.
Always clean the trailer after each use to help prevent any rot or corrosion as it will increase the trailers life.
Don’t forget to attach your security device to help prevent crime when you park up.