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How I Learnt to Back a Horse Trailer

Backing up can be one of the most confusing and intimidating things about hauling a horse trailer. Even though I grew up on a farm driving tractors and trailers, I never got the hang of backing a trailer without help.

That came back to bite me as an adult with my own horse trailer. It was my first horse trailer, a little old two-horse straight load, and my father in law's pickup. I was driving alone on the way to meet friends at a horse camp on a hot day in the middle of summer. I had country music on the radio, an unhelpful printed map, and no GPS signal. So of course, I took a wrong turn and wound up on a one-lane dead-end road. My only option was to back that horse trailer into a narrow driveway, all by myself, to get turned around. Yes, I jackknifed it. Several times. Yes, I got my tires off in the ditch. Several times. But my horse, my rig, and I all made it to camp in one embarrassed piece.

After that, I told myself I needed to put in the time and figure out how to back up my trailer, by myself, with my dignity, if I was going to keep hauling my horses. Here's how I learned:

Practice backing in a dry, flat, grassy field free of obstacles. (Or the yard.) Pull into the field and drive a wide curve, then continue straight forward for a piece. Stop and adjust your side mirrors so you can see the tires on both sides of your trailer, as well as the tracks they have left in the grass. 

Start with your truck and trailer straight, and watch the driver's side tires of your trailer in your side mirror. Start backing slowly with your truck tires straight, and try to keep the trailer tires following the tracks they left in the grass as you pulled in. You'll be going straight at first, then following in reverse the curve you made coming into the field. 

Maneuver the trailer slowly with tiny adjustments to the steering wheel. Steer right to send the trailer left and left to send the trailer right. This might be confusing at first, but it comes more naturally when you are looking in your side mirrors. The key is to go slowly and adjust your steering in small increments.  That way, you can see if your trailer is going the wrong way and steer the other direction before the trailer gets out of control. If you start to get too far off track, pull forward to get lined back up and try again. If you get to a spot where you can't see the driver's side trailer tires in your mirror, start looking at the passenger side trailer tires in your passenger-side mirror. 

And then practice. Practice this same exercise with a curve going the other direction. Practice backing into a box you've made on the ground with sticks (or other things that won't hurt your trailer if you accidentally run over them). Practice backing down the driveway. As you get better, practice going a little faster. Before you know it, you'll be whipping that trailer into your camping spot on the first try. 

I'm on Instagram @Dusty_Flame_and_River.

Sally Petty
Published on 2020-06-04