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Pulling trailer at high altitude

From: Greg

Dear Jessica, count me in as another devoted fan of your work. I learn something from every new HORSE-SENSE mail. Thank you! I've been getting conflicting advice about a trailering issue. I'm going to be taking my wife's horses out West to a friend's ranch for the summer. We live in Maryland, basically at sea level. I like the way my truck and trailer perform up and down the coast, but I've never taken two horses up to this kind of altitude before (6000 feet above sea level). Is there anything I should do differently to haul the horses? I do know about hauling on hills.

Greg


Hi Greg! Yes, there are a few key differences in sea-level and high-altitude hauling. Driver skill is one issue, of course; it's essential to know how to maintain a safe and predictable speed up and down hill and around turns. Another key issue is towing vehicle performance, because even the most skilled, experienced, and brilliant cdriver won't be able to compensate for a too-small engine or a too-heavy load.

You didn't say what kind of truck or trailer you are using, but you'll need to calculate your gross vehicle weight and gross combination weights with greater-than-usual care if you're going to be in the mountains. Elevation causes a reduction in gasoline engine power; you can estimate approximately 3% to 4% loss for each 1,000 feet elevation. By the time you've climbed from sea level to 6,000 feet, that's a power loss of 18% to 24% - a significant difference. Experts in high-altitude hauling usually suggest that drivers should compensate for this power loss by making a corresponding reduction in the weights mentioned above (GVW and GCW). If you can reduce the weights by 2% for each 1,000 feet of elevation, that should do the trick.

I'm sure you know to check your tires often and keep them suitably inflated. Plan to stop every couple of hours and double-check your hitch and chains, your lights and brakes, and your oil level. It will only take a moment to check the tightness of the lug nuts on the trailer wheels - do that, too. All of this will make you unfold your body and walk around a little, which is also helpful - and you can take advantage of the pause to check on the horses and offer them some water.

The bottom line with hauling horses in the mountains, really, is that when it comes to engine size, bigger is better. If your rig is satisfactory (read: adequate) at sea level, it may be much less than satisfactory when you're in the mountains. If you have ANY doubts at all, consider using a towing vehicle with a larger engine.

Good luck!

Jessica

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