As the days begin to lengthen and the show schedules are confirmed, it’s time to make plans for how exactly you’re going to get your horse to that show and win a frilly! Before you drive or tow, the most important thing to check is that you comply with legislation governing driving a lorry or towing a trailer, and that you are insured and safe for your journey.
The first step is to find out the maximum authorised mass (MAM) of your vehicle. MAM is the weight of a vehicle or trailer including the maximum load that can be carried safely when used on the road. It is also referred to as gross vehicle weight (GVW), and determines the kind of driving licence you must hold. Finding out your vehicle’s MAM should be straightforward. It will be listed in the owner’s manual and is normally shown on a plate or sticker fitted to the vehicle. If you’re unsure where to look, speak to your mechanic, who should be able to show you the location.
Another important figure to know if you’re towing is the gross train weight (GTW), also called gross combination weight (GCW). This is the total weight of the towing vehicle plus its trailer and its load. Any vehicle with a GTW of more than 3.5t would normally be considered a regulated load and therefore require an operator’s license and be governed by all related regulations involved in this. It can include 4×4 vehicles towing horse trailers, so it’s important to check this out.
Driving licence legislation changed in 1997, so the type of vehicle you can drive on your car licence depends on when you passed your test – but we’ve explored the most common scenarios to guide you.
Fines for driving without the correct licence can be up to £5,000, in addition to disqualification and also invalidation of your insurance. So how do you know what transport you can legally drive and tow?
If you passed your test before 1 January 1997 and hold a car licence, you can drive…
➤ a motor vehicle not exceeding
➤ a vehicle and trailer combination up to 8.25t.
Practically, this means that you can drive a horsebox with a MAM of up to 7.5t or a car and trailer combination, dependent on its weight limitations (refer to the vehicle operator’s manual for further information).
If you passed your test on or after
1 January 1997 and hold a Category B (car) licence, you can…
➤ drive a vehicle not exceeding 3.5t MAM towing a trailer up to 750kg MAM.
➤ tow a trailer over 750kg MAM as long as the combined weight of the trailer and towing vehicle is no more than 3.5t.
Practically, this means that you can drive a horsebox with a MAM of up to 3.5t, but not in most circumstances a car pulling a trailer with horses. For more information, see VOSA’s guide to towing small trailers and the vehicle operator’s manual.
Further driving tests
If you passed your test after 1 January 1997 and want to drive or tow more than your standard Category B licence permits, you’ll need to take additional tests. The main ones of interest to horse owners are…
Category B+E this is the test that allows you to drive a vehicle with a horse trailer and horses (again, subject to the vehicle and trailer being compliant with regulations governing towing weight). You will have to pass a practical trailer towing test, which you can take at any point once you have passed your Category B (car) test.
Category C1 this test allows you to drive a horsebox up to 7.5t. You will have to pass a medical examination as well as an additional driving theory test, and also a driving test in a vehicle of the appropriate size. You must be 18 years to take
Category C you can drive any rigid-bodied goods vehicle (not an articulated lorry). You’ll need to pass the same tests as for the Category C1, but the vehicle you drive for the test will be larger than 7.5t. You must be 21 or over to take this test unless you have completed further recognised training relating to Driver CPC (see below). More information can be obtained from Skills for Logistics.
Don’t assume that, because you don’t earn your living from driving, you will not be classed as driving professionally. It is all too easy for horse owners to end up in a position where they are classed as professional drivers. For example, if you drive a horsebox as part of your job (for example, as a groom), then you will be classed as a professional driver.
Since 10 September 2009, anyone driving a horsebox professionally is governed by new legislation requiring commercial drivers using vehicles weighing over 3.5t to have the new Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC). This means drivers must undertake 35 hours of periodic training in five seven-hour sessions, and the training must be completed within every five-yearly cycle. However, if you acquired your category C or C1 licence after 10 September 2009, you must have completed the Driver CPC initial qualification by passing module 2 (case study) and module 4 (vehicle safety demonstration) to get your Driver Qualification Card.
So what does this mean for you as a horsebox or trailer owner? If you only use your vehicle to drive your own horse for amateur activities, you may not need an operator’s licence, or to undertake the CPC. However, if there is a commercial element involved and horses are transported in return for financial payment (for example, work as a groom, being paid to ride or compete the horses being transported, or for reward – including transporting friends’ horses if they are paying you), then you will need an operator’s licence and probably a driver CPC. If you are in any doubt, refer to the VOSA guide for Horsebox and Trailer Owners.
Ensure you’re insured
UK law states that all vehicles must be insured at all times, unless the legal owner has made a Statutory Off Road Notification (SORN). If you only use your horsebox or trailer seasonally, it is theoretically possible to cancel your insurance during the time the vehicle isn’t being used, but you are required to have a SORN from the date the insurance is cancelled, which can be reasonably complicated to arrange.
The legal minimum insurance is third party cover, which means you are covered for accidents where you cause damage or injury to another person, vehicle, animal or property. This is the limit of the cover, and your vehicle and damage to you or your property are not covered. When transporting horses, it is always advisable to ensure you have the most comprehensive you can afford. Choose a policy that covers you, your vehicle and possessions within the vehicle – but be aware that policies vary and the services that you receive will depend on the company you use, and the level of cover you take out.
Trailer insurance is slightly different, because you have two vehicles (your car and your trailer) to consider. Firstly, it’s essential to check that your car policy isn’t invalidated by towing a trailer with livestock on board. Then check the small print – it’s quite likely that the trailer will only be covered third party on a normal car policy, and only while you are driving it (not when it is unhitched at home or an event). So although it’s not a legal requirement, properly insuring your trailer is a very good idea, because they are expensive pieces of equipment that are often targeted by thieves.
You can make sure your horse trailer is fully covered either by extending the insurance cover on your towing vehicle or by taking out a separate horse trailer insurance policy. The type of wheel lock you fit and where the trailer is kept can affect your premium. If you decide to take out separate insurance for your trailer, as with everything, shop around and ensure the policy offers all the cover you want.
Being fully covered is one thing, but there are some simple steps you can take to reduce the stress of a breakdown or problem…
➤ Programme the breakdown and insurance company phone numbers into your phone. Keep a note of your policy numbers in your phone, too.
➤ Install a hands-free kit or keep a bluetooth headset in the vehicle.
➤ Print out all the contact details, including phone and policy numbers, and keep them in the glove box of your car or horsebox, just in case.
➤ Ensure your mobile phone is fully charged before setting out.
➤ Carry a charger in your car or horsebox that plugs into the lighter socket – if you are on hold to the breakdown company, a dying battery is the last thing you need.
➤ Make sure someone knows where you’re going, what time you’re due to arrive at your destination and what time you’re expected to arrive back at the yard – especially if travelling alone.
Who can drive your vehicle?
While it might sound like a simple question, it’s worth considering who else may need to drive your horsebox. There are two options for this – either include more named drivers on the policy, or select an ‘any driver policy’, which covers any driver with the correct licence and permission to drive the vehicle. This is very useful should the worst happen when you are out and about, and someone else needs to drive your horse home.
In terms of trailer insurance, providing you have specific trailer insurance, it should be covered no matter who is towing it (providing they have your permission, their vehicle is
insured correctly and the towing weight is within the regulations).
Nervous about a breakdown?
Unfortunately, breakdowns and accidents happen and, in the event of an emergency, you will want to get your horses back on the road or home as quickly and as safely as possible. It’s therefore essential to have comprehensive breakdown cover in place.
Most insurance doesn’t automatically include breakdown cover, however many companies offer it as an add-on. Before agreeing to this, it’s worth shopping around for other quotes to ensure you get the best value for money.
The elements to consider in breakdown cover include…
➤ emergency road assistance.
➤ home start.
➤ long-distance recovery.
➤ alternative transport for horses and people. This can be a pricey add-on, but if your trailer or horsebox cannot be swiftly repaired, it offers you the peace of mind to know that your horses will be transported home.