The answer is, unless you are a commercial shipper, nothing. Well, maybe you can split the gas, but I’d check with your insurance agent first.
With gas prices creeping up, I know how appealing it is to find a friend to help share the cost of trailering. But many people aren’t aware of the potential liabilities they take on if they accept money for loading, wear and tear on your trailer, etc.
The biggest issue is that by accepting payment, you can be viewed commercial shipper by your insurance agent. This could mean that your regular insurance would not cover damages if you are in an accident.
In addition, if the horse you are hauling is not your own and you are in an accident or the horse gets hurt in the trailer, the owner could sue you in both civil and criminal courts! Remember, even if your insurance covers your truck and trailer, it likely does not cover the contents of your trailer — such as the horses and tack.
This kinda takes the fun out trying to recover some of your trailering costs!
Most people I know don’t seem to worry about this. They happily share their trailers with friends and assume that everyone is on the same page about the risk. It certainly makes it more fun to have a friend along. But it’s one of those things that’s fine . . . until it isn’t. And then it’s really not fine.
I’ve had my own horse trailer since about 1995. I bought it mostly because of the convenience factor. Having a trailer gave me the flexibility to come and go as I pleased and not have to wait around at a show or an event. Sharing my first trailer wasn’t much of an issue because I was towing with a smaller SUV and it just didn’t have the towing capacity to take two horses on a long trip.
Now that I foxhunt, trailer sharing is more common. A friend from my barn also hunts and it’s just easier and more fun to go together. We both have trailers so we can switch off. The rides are usually pretty short, too – half an hour or less on back roads. Our horses get along great and both trailer without issues.
However, two incidents have made me wary. First, my own horse fell in the trailer on the way home from a hunt. It was a ten minute ride and he went under the dividing bar and ended up on the right hand side of the trailer, not hurt but shaken. He was the only horse in the trailer.
Then, last year, I was trailering a horse for a friend (back from the same hunt!) and she started to lose her footing and collapse. We were going about 15 miles an hour on back roads but she just couldn’t keep herself upright, not even on the straight aways. I had Freedom next to her and was worried she’d go down. The rider had stayed at the tea and I was on my own. Luckily we were close to a farm where I knew the owner and so I stopped there and left the mare to get her bearings. We never figured out exactly why the horse was having problems but I decided I wouldn’t trailer her again in the future and that I would never trailer a horse without the owner either with me in the car or driving behind me.
After the latest incident I’ve been less sanguine about trailering other people’s horses. I don’t like to trailer a horse that I don’t know because I don’t want to have problems en route. I am also somewhat limited by Freedom’s issues with separation: while he trailers fine by himself or with another horse, he’s most definitely not fine if we drop a horse off at a barn and then continue on. He goes into a full blown separation anxiety attack when that happens and while he generally settles after a few minutes, it’s not pretty.
I’m also much less comfortable taking other people’s horses on longer trips that involve highway driving. The risk is higher and the potential consequences more severe. If something happened when I was driving another person’s horse and that horse was injured or killed, I don’t know how I could live with the guilt. The stress of potentially facing a lawsuit would make a bad situation even worse.
So how can you protect yourself?
If you don’t feel comfortable about trailering for other people, remember that “No” is a complete sentence. You do not need to provide an explanation. Of course, that’s easier said than done. I sometimes decide that it’s easier to stay home compared to saying I won’t trailer someone – which kind of defeats the purpose of having my own trailer!
Ask people who trailer with you to sign a liability release. It may feel awkward to ask a friend to sign a release but it’s a lot less awkward than trying to sort it out if there’s a problem.
Purchase Care, Custody & Control Insurance. This protects you in case of the injury or death of a horse that you do not own while it’s in your care. But be careful here because some policies limit the number/miles of trailering trips. And, if you have to buy insurance, that adds to your expenses.
Check with your insurance agent to find out specifically what your automobile insurance will cover and make sure you play by the rules.
So, I’d like to hear what everyone else does when it comes to trailering?