Wondering how to back up a horse trailer?
You have just bought your first trailer and towed it to your barn, and now you have to squeeze it into a tight space, which seems like an impossible task.
If you’re like me, after the first horse show I drove myself to, you will spend two hours with the rear of your trailer going the wrong way or jackknifed, then call for help from someone with better driving skills.
In my case, I phoned my father, who was not impressed.
However, there’s no need to wing it or get stuck. You can reverse into the smallest space with a few handy tips and some practice, like an accomplished trailer backer.
CHECK: Top 10 Horse Trailers Review
- Practice, practice, practice. Preferably in open spaces with cones.
- Be aware of everything around you. Make a note of all hazards.
- The trailer will always turn in the opposite direction of the truck wheels.
- Understand your trailer hitch setup. Goosenecks and bumper pulls are a little different from one another.
8 Tips to Back Up a Horse Trailer
When I was learning to back up a trailer, I took note of the most essential tips. Let’s take a look.
1. Access Your Space
Assess the space before you start maneuvering. Identify blind spots and hazards you don’t want to hit, such as trees, other vehicles, fences, buildings, or anything else.
That includes obstacles above the rig, such as branches and overhead wires, since many trailers are taller than pickup trucks. Professional truckers advise “taking a mental picture of your target area.” (1)
2. Check Lights and Brakes
Check that your trailer lights and brakes are working. These are essential to your and your horse’s safety on the road and when backing up a horse trailer.
3. Set Your Mirrors
Adjust the mirrors on your tow vehicle so you can see the rear of the trailer on both sides. With a horse trailer, you won’t be able to see your center rearview mirror, so you will be relying entirely on the side mirrors.
Try to set yourself up so you are mainly using the driver-side mirror. You will have a better view of the rig and the site.
It also means you can lean out the window to have a look.
4. Take Your Time
Drive slowly and be patient. The vehicle will be easier to control, and you will cause less damage if you hit something.
Check out more tips for driving with a trailer.
5. Place Your Hands Correctly
Place your hand on the bottom of the steering wheel at the six o’clock position. This makes it less confusing because your hand will move in the direction you want the trailer to go.
This video will help you visually see what to do.
6. Understand How The Wheels Move
The tricky part. The trailer wheels will turn in the opposite direction from the truck’s front wheels. Turn the steering wheel to the right in order to make the trailer go left, and turn it to the left to make the trailer go right.
Watch this video to understand better what’s happening.
Steer the back of the trailer slowly towards the corner. Once you have the correct turning angle (about 180 degrees), steer gently in the opposite direction to maintain your angle.
The front of the pickup truck will swing out, so you need to keep an eye out for anything that might be in the way.
If it feels like it’s going wrong or you’re not at the correct angle, pull forward, straightening out your truck and trailer. Then try again.
Adjusting your trailer’s position requires minor corrections. If you put your steering wheel on full lock or over-correct in any way, you might jackknife the trailer.
That means the towing vehicle and trailer fold up together at an acute angle, like a pocket knife, and the trailer pivots on its rear wheels.
With a bumper pull trailer, that’s usually just inconvenient, but a gooseneck trailer could potentially damage the rear windows of the tow vehicle.
To get out of a jackknife, turn the wheel in the opposite direction from where the trailer has pivoted. Then drive forwards.
7. Use Open Spaces
Practice in open spaces before squeezing into a tight spot at a horse show. Set up cones in an empty field or a parking lot and play with them.
8. Practice With A Toy
Buy a small toy semi-truck and get a feeling for how trailers behave. There are also trailer-simulator apps, which are fun, but in my experience, trickier than the real thing.
Is Backing Up a Trailer Hard?
Backing up a trailer seems daunting at first because you’re controlling two vehicles at once.
Until you’re familiar with how trailers behave, it seems like they have a mind of their own and don’t always go where you want.
But it becomes straightforward once you’ve practiced and understood how the trailer responds to the truck.
Of course, you should ensure that your driving license covers towing and your combined vehicle weight rating. Allowable tow weights vary depending on your country’s laws.
How To Sit When Backing up a Horse Trailer?
When learning how to back up a horse trailer, make sure you can turn your body and head to see the back of the trailer while keeping one hand on the wheel.
You will, however, be primarily relying on your side mirrors.
When Backing a Trailer, Should You Turn the Steering Wheel?
Yes, with your hand on the bottom of the steering wheel, move your hand in the direction you want the trailer to go.
How To Not Jackknife a Trailer While Backing Up?
Spinning the steering wheel too harshly causes the trailer to jackknife, so turn it gently. This is what a jackknife looks like.
If the angle between the truck and the trailer gets too sharp, drive forwards while straightening the tow vehicle’s front wheels.
As you reverse into the space, slowly turn your wheel in the other direction.
Backing Up Gooseneck Trailer Vs Bumper Pull: What’s The Difference
Knowing your hitch setup is essential. Bumper pull trailers are more responsive and maneuverable than goosenecks, so smaller movements of the steering wheel will have a more significant effect.
A larger trailer will take longer to respond to your steering, so you have more time to correct mistakes.
The hitch in the truck bed on a gooseneck makes it easier to control and more stable since its center of gravity is over the truck’s rear axle (2).
Is it difficult to hook up a bumper-pull horse trailer?
It feels difficult at first but improves with practice. Luckily, many modern trucks have reversing cameras, which make it easy to see your ball hitch. If your truck doesn’t have one, you can use a reference point on your truck window and front of the trailer to get the correct alignment.
Are double-axle trailers easier to back up?
Because they are longer, they are not as maneuverable as a single-axle trailer. However, they are more forgiving because they won’t respond as dramatically to minor steering wheel adjustments.
Do horse trailers have to stop at weigh stations?
It depends on the state. All commercial vehicles must stop, but sometimes non-commercial ones are also required to stop. (3)
If the signs direct all “trailers” or “vehicles with livestock” to pull in, you should pull in.
Reversing a horse trailer seems intimidating initially, but once you’re familiar with how the truck’s movements affect the trailer, it becomes just another part of driving.
No more complicated than learning how to parallel park.
Did you find the tips helpful? If you have any questions, please put them in the comments.
- 1. MacMillan C. How to Back Up a Tractor Trailer Like a Professional [Internet]. Smart Trucking. 2019 [cited 2022 Oct 24]. Available from: https://www.smart-trucking.com/backing-up-a-tractor-trailer/
- 2. Bumper Pull Trailers vs Gooseneck Trailers: Which is Right for You? [Internet]. Cimarron Trailers. [cited 2022 Oct 24]. Available from: https://www.cimarrontrailers.com/blog/bumper-pull-vs-gooseneck
- 3. Trailering horses in Minnesota: which laws affect you? [Internet]. extension.umn.edu. [cited 2022 Oct 24]. Available from: https://extension.umn.edu/horse-ownership/trailering-horses-minnesota-which-laws-affect-you
Emily is a native of Colorado, currently living in Glasgow, Scotland, working as a freelance writer. She is a long-time horsewoman, having started riding at the age of 6, then competing in dressage around Colorado and Massachusetts, where she finished her undergraduate degree in psychology.
Following a move to the UK and a PhD, she worked for a few years as a freelance horse trainer in Central Scotland. She’s interested in holistic horsemanship, fostering better communication and understanding between horses and humans, riding with lightness and softness, and she’s forever seeking out the newest research into equine behavior and psychology. When not writing, she can be found at the barn with her two equine partners, Foinavon, an ex-feral Highland pony, and Hermosa, a young Andalusian.
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