Choosing a Good Carrier
Is That Carrier Legal?
Many carriers claim to be "licensed & insured"; let's take a close look at what that really means. Any motor vehicle used for business or commercial use is subject to enforcement under the National Safety Code of Canada; a "code of conduct" for motor carriers enacted to help make our roads safer. This applies not only to haulers, but could encompass a trainer moving clients' horses, coaches taking students' mounts to & from shows, breeders delivering sold stock & anyone transporting horses to & from a public sale or auction. The pivotal word in the Act is "commerce"; any time a vehicle is used in conjunction with "commerce" (whenever the owner is compensated in any way for any service in connection with the move under way at the time), the vehicle used must be commercially licensed & insured.
Every carrier who hauls for hire must first apply for & receive an NSC Carrier number, which must be quoted on the registration of all motor vehicles used for the transport of goods on behalf of that carrier. The truck must also be correctly licensed for the work it is doing. Here is a simple example:
A properly outfitted commercial truck & trailer will tip the scales between 6,000 - 8,000 kilograms, putting the combination above the 5,500 kilogram limit which separates "commercial" from "business" use; that combination must be licensed appropriately. The tow vehicle must have a GVW (Gross Vehicle Weight) of own weight plus that of the trailer & any load it might carry. So our sample truck should reasonably be licensed for at least 9,000 kilograms; the 7,000 kilogram empty weight, plus 500 kilos each for 4 average-sized horses. An experienced carrier is realistic about the varying loads they handle & will allow for larger horses, extra tack, feed, water tanks, etc. A reasonably anticipated GVW for this combination would be at least 10,000 kilograms, putting it well within the realm of a "commercial vehicle". There are also specific limits placed on light-duty trucks (those licensed under 11,000 kgs) as to how much they can legally carry. For instance, a 1-ton must be equipped with dual rear wheels to legally tow any trailer designed to carry 5 horses or more on any public road in Canada.
All commercial motor vehicles must be regularly inspected according to a strict set of conditions & bear a valid inspection sticker, the number of which must be quoted on the current registration along with the NSC number. If a properly licensed tow vehicle does not have that safety sticker in plain view, it cannot legally tow that trailer on any public road anywhere in North America, even if it is not loaded. There is NO exception to this law, anywhere, for any reason. Have you ever noticed those signs preceding a big hill; the ones that read "Trucks, Stop Here, Check Brakes, Steep Hill Ahead"? This directive applies to all commercial vehicles licensed for 5,500 kilograms or more; so every responsible carrier should be able to tell you about what they do at brake checks. They are also required to stop at every open weigh scale anywhere in North America.
With the exception of a house/RV unit or one solely designed as such, every trailer that exceeds 4,600 kilos, loaded or not, is considered a commercial vehicle in BC, and the tow vehicle must be driven by a commercially licensed driver. It is very easy to go over this limit and pretty much any 4-horse or larger gooseneck falls into this weight class even when it's only half loaded. Regardless of this stipulation, the preceding paragraphs clearly show the driver must be commercially licensed anyway. Whenever a motor vehicle is operated on a public road by a person not properly licensed that person is doing so illegally, and if the vehicle is involved in an incident all insurance coverage is void; this could apply to coverage you put on your own horse, as no insurance provider is obligated to cover losses resulting from or involving illegal activities. Even if the incident was not the drivers' fault, the entire costs can be levied against that person; so by not licensing & insuring correctly many "carriers" are irresponsibly putting the general public at risk. They could be financially ruined if they were ever hit; the owners would be on their own for any costs associated with their horse, and could actually be seen as partially liable when the case goes to court (any incident like this is going to court, that's a given!). If there are injuries involved, the liability could be staggering. So an improperly licensed carrier is not going out on that limb alone; anyone who contracts them to haul their horse could be seen at risk too.
Commercial vehicles are required by law to carry Motor Truck Cargo insurance; however the law is woefully inadequate where horses are concerned. The minimum policy must be $32,000, but the payout for livestock essentially equates to the value if the animal were sold for meat, or at best limited to "tariff"; which is $2.20 per kilogram. Only a very specific General Liability policy will address risks not covered by the cargo policy, and even then there are clauses that will severely limit payouts to horse owners. In short, most GL policies protect the carrier, not the horse owner. The ones that do offer coverage with the horse owner in mind bear extremely high premiums. Take out your own policy on any horse worth more than $2,500 as most GL policies won't pay out any more than that.
All this coverage & licensing is expensive; add the cost of comprehensive vehicle maintenance to ensure the safety of your horse & it's easy to see why transport rates seem so high. It's not much of a stretch to understand then why that "good deal" may not really be so great after all, when you consider the risks a careless hauler puts the public at.
Some Tips on Choosing a Responsible Carrier
I’d like to think that most of us prefer to make sound decisions on behalf of our horses, and that we are vigilant to potential threats to their safety & comfort. However, one cannot always identify issues unless we are suitably informed. To that end, I offer a peek behind the scenes of horse transportation, and how you can use this knowledge in the best interests of your horse.
Experience is my principal consideration when shopping for any professional service. At the very least, their longevity is a good yardstick by which to measure the level of service they provide. Above all else, a carrier must first be a “horse person”. It’s one thing to be a good driver, but that is of little comfort if someone lacks the confidence & understanding to properly care for your horse. This type of experience is not always easy to detect, but there are a few traits that typify a seasoned handler. The level of comfort around horses is usually a reliable indicator; if the driver is nervous, edgy or irritable when handling the horse, chances are they may not be the right person for the job. Uncertainty is another giveaway to inexperience; with time comes confidence. Horses respond positively to confident authority, so when confronted with a hesitant or uncertain handler many horses will revert to becoming the “boss hoss”, effectively eliminating any control the handler may hope to have. This is not only a dangerous situation for the handler, but exposes the horse to unnecessary risk as well.
It should be easier to gather good stories about a hauler than bad ones. Successful carriers provide prospective clients with solid references from knowledgeable individuals, reputable trainers, barns, breeders, etc. It takes time to reach the upper echelons of these branches of the horse industry, so the more prestigious the contacts, the longer it likely took to get there.
The most common shortcoming of those lacking in experience in this business seems to lay in their choice of equipment. While some spend considerable sums of money, the equipment is often ill-prepared or inadequately spec’d for commercial service. Many will try to “make do” by improperly matching trucks to trailers; for instance, pulling a 5-horse trailer with a truck on single rear tires. Regardless of trailer weight, a 5-horse & up must be pulled by no less than a 1-ton “dually”; anything less overloads the rear tires of the truck, compromising the horses’ safety. These days video monitoring is a given, as is on-board water & feed storage, offering a variety of stall arrangements & the ability to properly accommodate special-needs horses (such as stallions, ill/injured horses or those of exceptional value, mare & foal, etc). Asking questions about arrangements such as these can give you some insight as to the breadth of the haulers experience. I’m going to share something every established carrier already knows; angle-haul trailers were never designed for horses’ comfort (they were made to cram more horses into a smaller space). Few allow for easy access to the horses at the front or in the middle, & the horses in the rear must often be unloaded to let others off or on during a trip, thereby elevating both their risk of injury & stress level. The “old pros” have known for generations that horses fare better facing forward or backwards, or best of all moving freely in a box stall; which is why reputable transport companies refrain from using angle-hauls for anything but short hops.
Next to initial purchase of equipment (& those insatiable fuel tanks!), maintenance is the highest cost of any transport company. If you have a chance to actually see the equipment, the mechanical state & cleanliness will tell you how conscientious they are about their rig. True professionals know that image & appearance are the best advertising they can buy.
Another measure of competence is the insurance coverage they carry. Cargo & liability policies are relatively easy to get, but the more reputable underwriters prefer to insure based on clean driving records, late-model equipment & most importantly length of claim-free service. The better-known the insurer, the better the chances that hauler has “made the grade”.
The “good deal” or “fast response” may not always be what it seems. Those trying to gain a foothold will often reduce rates or make unusual concessions to get your business. If a rate sounds too good to be true, it probably is. The unaware or less scrupulous haulers try to reduce costs by using inferior equipment, scrimping on repairs & maintenance, or eliminating other crucial overhead costs; all of which serve to compromise your horse’s safety in the long run. Another tactic is to grab whatever horses they can in order to make a trip. In doing so, many will take horses far out of their way in an effort to connect disparate stops. Horses can spend several days on a trailer because they were picked up close to the beginning of a circuitous trip before arriving at their destination. When shopping around for a ride for your horse, ask specific questions about the haulers intended route & get an estimate of how long they expect to have your horse on board. That cheap ride may end up costing you more than you think if you’re faced with an ill or injured horse at the end of the trip. Remember; quality doesn’t cost, it pays.
Disputes are inevitable, and even the best hauler is going to have some “events”. Having a dispute is less important to me than how it’s handled. So if you discover an unhappy client, find out why, then ask how it was resolved (if at all).
Here are few things that would make me lose a hauler’s number real fast:
- Striking a horse … get thee GONE!
- Yelling, swearing or otherwise losing one’s temper … don’t come back, ever.
- Reckless or incompetent driving … not with MY horse on board you don’t!
- Ill-kept equipment. Clean ‘n shiny means proud …
- Obvious defects or poorly equipped rigs. ½-ton trucks pulling 4-horse trailers, poor or improper tires, inadequate safety equipment (more common than you might think!) … bye-bye.
And you thought picking someone to haul your horse was easy!