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Towing a Horse Float Safely & Legally

When it comes to towing a horse float safely and legally, understanding the best practices and legal requirements is essential. Gone are the days when horror stories of horse floats detaching on the highway or being abandoned in roundabouts were common. Thanks to advancements in modern transport, equipment, and education, such incidents have significantly decreased. Ensuring you follow these guidelines will help keep it that way.

No longer content to take our two horses, we want to take three, and our show accommodation, yards and water as well, and I don’t mean a mattress in the back of the float. It all of course adds up to extra weight. It is our responsibility to know the weight of what we are pulling and know also if our vehicle is legally able to tow it. The only way to know that is to put it over a weighbridge.

Regulations regarding towing have tightened up considerably and recently there has been quite a lot on social media about shackles that attach the trailer chains to the tow bar. I never gave a moment’s thought to the little D or Bow shackle that attached the chains to the tow bar. The rumour spread recently that police were issuing infringement notices to non-load rated shackles. In September 2020, according to the Caravan Industry Association of Australia, police have denied that they have issued such infringements and stated, “there are not specific requirements for D shackles. Our understanding is that there are currently no regulations re shackles used on trailer safety chains.”

There are of course guidelines that include: the tow bar must be fitted with safety chains capable of withstanding the rated load capacity of the tow bar. We have the big chains to attach to the vehicle and with what, a little unidentified shackle? What is it they say about the weakest link?

According to RV Daily, “the safest way to connect safety chains to a vehicle is with a rated shackle, tested and stamped with a Working Load Limit (WLL). A one tonne rated shackle will not break until it has a five to six-tonne pressure. In other words, you are safe to tow up to six tonnes with a one tonne rated shackle. The regulations state that the shackle must be fit for purpose and the WLL will give you an assurance of safety. The rated shackles, and they are not expensive, are stamped with WLL and a 1, 2, or 3 etc T(tonne). The colour of the pin has nothing to do with it.”

Left: An unrated D shackle. Right: A rated bow shackle that has a WLL of one tonne.

Left: An unrated D shackle. Right: A rated bow shackle that has a WLL of one tonne.

Back in the day, all horse floats had a hydraulic/surge braking system. There was a cylinder with a cap on the tow bar of the trailer, and that was regularly topped up with brake fluid which operated via the slowing pressure of the towing vehicle through the brake lines to the brakes on the float. Given that the float, even with two large horses (500kg-750kg), would probably not add up to more than 2,000kg, we were good to go and we still are if the weight of the float and horses does not exceed 2,000kg.

However, as the size of the floats has increased to include everything including the kitchen sink, the weight with the two horses is more than likely to exceed 2,000kg. The law states if the GTM (gross trailer mass, the weight of the trailer and its payload) is over 2,000kg, the vehicle must be fitted with an electric braking system and a breakaway system.

Breakaway Systems
They are activated if and whenever the trailer/float becomes separated from the vehicle. There is a wire lanyard from the drawbar of the trailer to the tow vehicle, not the tow hitch. If pulled free, it will activate the trailer brakes independently of the vehicle brakes, via a battery on the trailer. This stops the trailer from careering off on its own and the brakes must stay on for 15 minutes. With this system, it is important to check the battery charge and that it is charging via the trailer plug. Ideally, this should be checked before every trip. In NSW it is mandatory to have an in-vehicle battery monitor.

The breakway unit. If the float detaches from the vehicle, the wire pulls a pin out of the unit, activating the float’s brakes.

The breakway unit. If the float detaches from the vehicle, the wire pulls a pin out of the unit, activating the float’s brakes.

Electric Braking System
There are a number of electric brake controllers on the market. They are controlled from the inside of the cab to offer more or less trailer braking via wires connected to the trailer braking system. With the system adjusted correctly, the car and trailer will pull up nice and straight and prevent the trailer from pushing the car forward. They are very helpful when stop means stop. The system can be easily adjusted from the car and it is a useful system, especially when going down a steep hill. It is important that the driver learns how to use this system before departing on a towing trip.

Just one of many brands of electric brake control unit.

Just one of many brands of electric brake control unit.

It is important that we are legally on the road and know how to use all the equipment safely, as it is very important that we do everything to keep our equine passengers safe.

Article: Anna Sharpley

If you are in need of an upgrade then check out these tow vehicles for sale and tow packages.

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