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Trailering on the interstate

From: Kathy Remus

Dear Jessica,

At this time, I do not have a trailer but I like to read and save articles about how to purchase and how to pull. In a very recent article, the author said that trailered horses do not like it when you change lanes and that you should NOT move over for merging traffic. You should make merging vehicles wait until you pass by before they come onto the Interstate. I don't mind saying that this stuck a chord of fear in MY heart. I have seen so many drivers barrel onto the expressway with hardly a minimum look. Especially when the fast lane is free, others drivers just assume that you will move over. Is this really safe advice that I should take seriously?

Thank you for the dedication and great sacrifice of time you give to help us horselovers who feel that a lifetime isn't enough time to learn everything we want to know about our equine friends.

Sincerely, Kathy Remus in Michigan

Hi Kathy! Thanks for the kind words. This is something I enjoy doing, precisely because there are people like you who care so much about their horses, and want so much to learn more about horses and horse care.

It's an excellent idea to think about trailering on the interstate before you actually do it. The article you read sounds very sensible. Merging traffic is SUPPOSED to wait until there's a clear space, then merge with the main interstate traffic (that would be YOU and your truck and trailer). I agree with the author of the article -- it's better to stay in your lane and let the merging traffic wait until you have passed. Those cars are likely to be going much more slowly than you are -- they've just come up a ramp, and most ramps are marked at low mph, some as low as 15 or 25 mph, and all certainly much lower than typical interstate speeds of 55 or 65.

It's better for you to stay in your lane (generally the right lane, if you're pulling a trailer) for several reasons.

First, it's very true that the horses have trouble balancing if you shift from lane to lane. They can't read your mind, they can't see the traffic or the signs, and they have no way to prepare for a sudden sideways shift as the trailer follows the truck into another lane. It's your responsibility to give those horses as smooth a ride as you possibly can, and that means driving in a different way to the way you drive when it's just you and a car on the highway. When you're pulling a trailer, you drive more slowly, you spend most of your time in the right lane, you make SLOW, wide turns, and you allow yourself plenty of room and lots of time to make those turns, and to stop, and to start again. If you need to change lanes for some reason, you'll want to make a smooth, very gradual shift from one lane to the other -- if you whip your truck into the other lane, you will jar and unbalance your horses, perhaps slamming them into the trailer wall, or into the manger. This can injure them, it will almost certainly frighten them, and it isn't likely to inspire them to want to get back into that trailer on the way home! And even if NOTHING goes wrong, constant lane-changing requires constant, major balance shifts and adjustment from the horses in the trailer. This is physically exhausting -- you may well arrive at your event and find that your horse is too tired and sore to perform.

Second, it's always a bit risky to be changing lanes, back and forth, with a trailer behind you. There are a lot of conditions that can make it even riskier: driving in the mountains, in the wind, with trucks passing, on a bad road, on a slick surface, or any combination of the above. Add traffic, add the possibility of deer crossing the road, add the ever-present need for defensive driving, and you'll have quite enough to do just to stay in one lane and drive smoothly and quietly. Think about the fact that most roads are crowned -- the center is a bit higher than the sides -- and you'll see how the trailer will be constantly making major balance shifts if you cross from the right lane to the left and back again.

Third, the possibilities of causing or becoming involved in an accident are much greater if you are constantly changing lanes -- you spend a lot of time NOT moving straight along with your trailer right behind your truck. There's no good reason for you to shift from lane to lane just to be extra-courteous and allow other vehicles to merge a few seconds sooner. Be courteous to YOUR HORSES, and let the other drivers look after themselves. You're VERY visible when you're driving a truck with a trailer behind it -- the drivers of merging (and other) vehicles will notice that you are there, believe me. And it's actually easier for them if they can estimate where you will be at any given moment -- and THAT's easier to estimate if you simply maintain your speed and stay in your lane.

When you notice traffic coming up or down a ramp, ready to merge with the traffic on the interstate, keep going as you were, stay in YOUR lane, and let fast traffic pass you on the left, and merging traffic wait for an opening and merge onto the interstate behind you! You won't have to worry about someone coming up quickly and passing you on the right, you won't have to worry about getting back into your lane, and your horses will be grateful.


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