Dec 30, 2008

The Ride of Their Life

The temperatures were predicted to be in the forties yesterday. After living through winter hell lately, Julie and I couldn’t make plans fast enough to hit the trails. Sheila didn’t have enough time from her dog sitting job to fetch Cooper and trailer over, so I offered to bring Butter for her to ride. I told Julie I would meet her at 12:30, but left a little bit earlier than planned so Sheila would have some time fitting Butter with her tack.

I haven’t had the trailer hooked up since before Christmas and was annoyed with myself at how many times it took me backing up before I got the truck lined up with the hitch. Am I out of practice or what? When finally there, I got out and lowered the trailer onto the ball, plugged in the lights & brakes and hooked up the chains. Remembered again that John lost the hitch pin when he borrowed my trailer to take the calves to the sale and I still hadn’t replaced it. Case came out as I was finishing up. Chatted with him briefly and then got in the truck and pulled the trailer ahead to the driveway. Opened the doors and went and fetched my horses.

I love my little trailer. It is a 1994 Sundowner bumper pull, two-horse straight load. It is a well made steel trailer, big and roomy and just what I was ready to drive to Texas to buy when a friend found the identical trailer only 70 miles from me for half the price. And since I got it two years ago, I rarely pull my 4-horse trailer anymore unless we are camping or I’m hauling more than 2 horses. My plans when I got the Sundowner was to pull it with our Suburban, but John uses “the Burb” quite frequently for his work, so I pull my Sundowner with the one- ton Chevy truck. A lot of truck for a small trailer, but it’s all I have. If I can get 11 mpg diesel pulling that, I’m happy! Well, not happy but as I said, it’s all I have.

Butter and Windy load easily and start munching on the hay I had Case put in their mangers. Although I never tie my horses in my big slant load, I always hook them to trailer ties in this trailer. I don’t want them trying to get their heads over to the other stall. I closed up the bunk doors, got in the truck and headed down the highway. Two Rivers is about a 30-mile drive.

I’m about 10 miles from my destination and chatting with Robyn on the cell phone when I cross the railroad tracks just east of Mead. Those tracks are always misleading because it looks like they have been recently redone but still rougher than crap. The trailer hits them hard. I glance in the rearview mirror and it took me only a moment to realize that something isn’t right. Robyn said I started shouting "s-bombs” over and over and louder and louder and she knew something had to be wrong with the trailer. And she was right. Something was terribly wrong. It was too close, it was out of control, it was fishtailing, and I could see driver behind me each time it swerved. They were backing off. This wasn’t good….

I tapped the brakes and the trailer rammed the rear end of my truck. I knew then that my trailer was no longer on the truck and the safety chains were my mares' only lifeline to me. I couldn’t lose them. In a flash, I recalled recently reading a recount of a trailer accident on a Yahoo list group and how the husband kept the nose of the truck straight to get control of the trailer. I couldn’t let the trailer take control of the truck. I was scared to slam on my brakes for fear of locking the brakes to the trailer and flipping it, so only let off the gas and tapped the brakes lightly. I knew I had enough truck to stop the trailer but I had to have control first and bring it down slowly. I had no way of knowing that the trailer had already came unplugged from the truck – probably with the first big fishtail – so the trailer brakes were a mute point anyway.

I continued to lightly tap the brakes and let truck take the impact from the trailer to slow the trailer down. In hindsight, I should have known then I had no brakes on the trailer, but it didn't cross my mind until later. I was wondering at that time what the horses were feeling when they would hit and then get jerked back as the trailer hit the end of the chains. Luckily, I was going up a slight hill so that helped slow the rig down, too. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, we came to a stop on the side of the road. I got out and ran back to check on Windy and Butter. Windy looked no worse for the wear; she was standing, thank God! And no blood. Ran to Butter’s side & she had her head down munching on hay. Also standing and appeared unscathed.

The tongue of my trailer was under my pick-up and the jack of the trailer was hooked on the underside of my bumper. The chains were still intact. Julie came when I called her – I was worried I might have to unload and needed her help on this busy highway. And more than that, I just needed a friend. The pick-up that I had seen behind me passed and quickly pulled over to offer assistance. He evaluated the situation, left briefly to get more tools and returned with whom I assume was his son. They jacked up the truck to free the trailer and then got the trailer back onto the truck for me – all without unloading the girls. They would accept no payment – just said they hope someone stops to help their wives should they need it sometime. Was the right person following me or what?

I feel very blessed that my horses and I were not hurt. I am very lucky my truck and trailer are both fine. My heavy steel Sundowner took repeated impacts with the truck and kept my girls safe. And even though I complain about my big ol’ diesel burning POS, I am so very happy it is what it is. With that long wheel base, I never once felt like my truck couldn’t handle what the trailer was doing to it. My 1998 Silverado finally lived up to his name: Hi-Ho Silver!

Oh and why did the accident happen to begin with, you ask? It's John’s fault! Isn’t that what all wives say? Okay, it really isn’t. It was my own stupidity. I didn’t replace the lost $2.39 cent safety pin. It’s my trailer. They are my horses. It was my responsibility to fix it and I didn’t. Actually, I had kind of forgotten about it until I hooked it up.

The lack of the safety pin wasn't the issue as much as what that pin makes you accomplish. Under normal circumstances, the safety pin fits snugly into the hitch once the hitch is locked into place. The pin will not go in if the hitch is not locked. Great safety feature! But if you don’t have a pin, you have nothing to test the lock. It wasn't that my lock wasn't working -- I didn't engage the lock. I simply forgot to lock the hitch. I didn’t check or recheck. I just went on my merry way. When the trailer hit those railroad tracks, it simply bounced off the ball because I hadn't locked it down. (Head hits desk over and over!) Today I bought 3 new pins. I will never be pinless again!

Bet you think we never rode after that! Did I mention the temps were in the 40’s and it was a beautiful day? Pulled up to the trail head at 12:30 as planned. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world!

Drive safe!


  1. Wow, scary story! I am so glad everything and everyone was okay. Quick thinking on your part! Looked like a great sunny day ride!

  2. Oh my heart was in my throat reading this. Damn! I bet you shook like a leaf after that. Would have scared me to death!! GOOD JOB keeping it together. Bet you're glad you drove the one ton :) Those big old beasts are good for something!
    Amazing story. I have one like that too, but didn't end as well. People we know were trailing 40 miles to their favorite farrier (not us) got there and the trailer was gone. Gooseneck featherlite. How you lose that and don't know is beyond me, but they did. When they found it, one horse was dead, another impaled in the shoulder but lived. I cannot figure out how you lose a trailer in 40 miles and don't NOTICE.
    That said, we ran w/o lights the other day, since hubby didn't hear me when I said "Plug them in" and we didn't double check like we should have. Good lessons learned. Double and triple check it all.
    Man, I'm glad you and yours were ok. WAY lucky day!

  3. Pony Girl -- yes, the day did turn out okay. It was sunny and we had a good ride. We saw some really unusual tracks - my friend sent them to her college professor in the wildlife dept & he said black bear & asked where we were. Funny, because we thought they looked like bear, too, but as far as we know, they aren't in this area.

    Mikey: OMG, someone went 40 miles and didn't know their trailer was gone! Wow! Now I can be a space case, but good heavens! If you are towing your trailer, it's not like having it is an afterthought: "ah honey, do you recall if we brought the trailer or not?" Very sad for the horses!

  4. I am very embarrased to say that I have dropped my 4 horse once. I forgot the put the pin in the hitch on the truck, we made it all the way through town and part way up a hill, luckly our old truck didnt like hills and we were only going @15mph, and it fell out, I have never been so embarrased and scared in my life, only one horse in the trailer and she was fine. the guy who lived by there got a jack and we got it all hooked back up, I will say it will never happen again, now I check things 3 times over!!! not something I ever want to repeat.

  5. oh the other thing it taught me was always have wheel chalks of some kind and a jack in the trailer! We had to walk up and down the ditch to find rocks and logs to block the tires with. had to unhook the chains to get the hitch hooked back up. LOL that my confession for the day LOL

  6. Gosh. How lucky you were...with the way everything worked out, even the man and his son willing to help you out, too. Wow.

    What a good lesson for all of us who trailer our horses. Check and double check...and keep extra pins on hand.

    Whew. Glad you were all safe and that you still got to enjoy a nice ride.

    New Mexico

  7. A darn good reminder! That's for sure! A Happy Ending is the Best!


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