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Yikes - the Final and Scary Chapter of Cross Country Travel

Published: 5/3/2010
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Editor's Note:
Many thanks to Mara Miles for submitting this series of guest columns. This account provides many subtle and not-so-subtle suggestions for being prepared when traveling long-distance with horses.

By Mara Miles

It was supposed to be the last day of our trip. 
We woke early and went through our morning feedings and buttoned things up for the trip.  We decided to time our passage through Hartford such that we would miss the rush hour traffic which meant leaving Moodna Ranch around 9 AM.  With everything done, we 'killed time' by take the dogs for a longer walk.  Finally, it was time to load up and we were on the road. 
Cruising through Danbury, CT, we were amazed at the intensity of the traffic and glad we had decided to wait till after rush hour.  Believe me, folks, they do NOT have traffic like that west of the Mississippi.  So it was a little nerve-racking to find ourselves pinned in between these big rigs going close to 70 mph.  I tried to distract myself listening to music without much success. 
I felt our truck 'burp' and looked nervously in Ted's direction.  He had felt it too, but had no explanation.  Then, without warning, the engine quit. 
This was not one of those "I-think-I would-like-to-slow-down-for-bit" energy lapses.  This was 'dead-in-the-water', 20,000 pounds of truck, trailer and horses without ANY power coasting in the middle of Danbury traffic. 
Fortunately we were in the right hand lane and Ted was able to maneuver the rig onto the breakdown lane.  That's when the full realization of how serious things were really hit home.  Ahead of us about 100 yards in the breakdown lane was one of those yellow highway repair trucks.  Mechanical brakes don't do squat to bring things to a halt when there is that much weight, and there was no way we were going to stop in time to avoid plowing into that vehicle. 
Traffic on the left was whizzing past with little opportunity for an opening, and there was enough of a drop off to the right that, were we to try to swing to the right around the highway truck, we stood a good chance of rolling the trailer.
Things went into slow motion for a while.  Neither of us panicked, but I do remember feeling very alert--the kind of "alert" one wishes a strong cup of coffee would provide but never seems to deliver.
...brain chemistry is a wonderful thing...

This is when the "angels" started appearing.  Now I'm not one to gravitate to visions of angels hanging around here on earth to help us "unevolved" beings dig our way out of the messes we get ourselves into. 

Nonetheless there we were, interacting with a series of "angels," the first of which appeared in the form of a driver of a yellow repair truck.  He tapped on the passenger side window just about the time our brains had caught up to us and we were wondering what to do next. 
How do I know he was an angel? 
Well, for one thing, he had one of those soul-embracing grins that just made you feel everything, and I mean everything, was just hunky dory.  In fact, it wasn't only hunky dory, it was downright amusing and we were all here just to have fun.  Good thing too, because we were about to start looking for the PANIC button and his grin distracted us long enough for us to figure out the next step: find the little card with the phone number for US Rider--the towing service we had joined before leaving for our trip. 
We made the call and US Rider soon located two towing trucks to send to our rescue (one for the truck and one for the horse trailer).   Once he determined that we had tow trucks on the way, the first "Angel" left us. 
Not to worry, the second "Angel" arrived shortly.  This one was disguised as a dog-loving Highway Patrolman.  He stopped and chatted with us like he was the next door neighbor dropping by for a cup of coffee.  He also seemed to think everything was just fine, great place to take a break, how did we like New Mexico etc. and he made a fuss over the dogs who were absolutely positive that he had dog biscuits somewhere in one of those pockets.  As he left us he told us that the first Angel should be back shortly.....

NOTE:  For those of you who have not had the great good fortune to find yourself in this kind of situation, here is some information you might want to know: most tow companies will not tow horse trailers, and those that do will not haul trailers that have horses in them. 
For this reason, nearly all of the towing services like AAA will not help you if you are in this kind of a jam.  In fact, I believe US Rider is currently the only one out there who will do this. For this reason they seem to feel that they have earned the right to charge a lot of money for their membership and will only do things on their terms.  This means that that they will NOT speak to you if you are not the member and if you are not with the vehicle in question when you call. 
You do have the option of adding another associate member to the tune of an additional $89.  That way if the "member" is the one who opts to leave the vehicle to go get help, gas or whatever, US Rider will deign to speak with the Associate Member.  But if you have decided that one membership should be sufficient and not bothered to sign up, then you will just have to sit there and wait until the "Member" returns to the truck.  The reason I know this is another story which I won't go into here.  But we nearly did not renew our membership before leaving for this trip because of it. 
Sitting there on the outskirts of Danbury, we were feeling very glad we had renewed our membership and that the "Member" himself was at the wheel.

I will give credit where credit is due.
US Rider came through for us.  And while we waited, Ted and our first Angel  (who had, by this time, reappeared) tried to figure out what had happened to the truck.  Ted had to climb out over me instead of going out the driver side door to prevent getting hit by the passing traffic.  The two of them changed the fuel filter (Ted had a new one just in case.) added 5 gallons of fuel (which Ted also had for just such occasions in case the fuel gauge was faulty), cranked the engine a lot, added another 5 gallons of fuel which our Angel donated to our cause, cranked the engine again and still NOTHING happened.  Throughout this process we were frequently bestowed with that wonderful, warm, "isn't-life-a-hoot" grin.

The next two Angels arrived dressed as tow truck drivers.  I wasn't sure they were angels at first.  They really did have a good disguise--kind of burly looking men with the sort of faces that seemed to project a total absence of humor.  All business sort of guys.
They went to work barely acknowledging us and seemingly oblivious to the traffic whipping past us.   The truck was hauled up onto a flat bed with poor Chester looking out at me from the back seat wondering what was happening.  Rodney (dog) and I were assigned a seat in the cab with one of the truck drivers.  Ted stayed behind with the second tow truck which was to pull the trailer.  
I had to close my eyes when he pulled out into the traffic, but he did it smoothly and like it was no big deal.  Once we were underway, the disguise came down and his 'wings' appeared.  He started asking me about Rodney and told me all about his puppy, a Chow who usually accompanies him on all his jobs.  Before long I felt at ease and the time passed quickly.  Rodney decided that as long as he was in my lap, all this weirdness was "just another day on the road..."

We arrived at a GMC dealership with the second tow truck pulling the horse trailer right behind us.  Ted later told me that his driver was very quiet, but drove 'softly', carefully respecting the fact there there were live horses in his care. 
I found myself wondering how long we would have to stay and what we going to do with the horses while we got the truck repaired.  It was mid day Friday -- what were the chances that we would be stuck there for the weekend?.....We sat in the trucks while the drivers disappeared into the dealership.  They reappeared shortly to tell us that the horse trailer could stay there with us (whew!) and proceeded to park it along side a nice big field adjacent to the dealership. 

"Angel Four" emerged from the dealership and came right towards us looking very official.  He was the owner of the dealership and wanted to have the horse trailer moved further back into a spot at the end of his car lot right next to the field.  I thought for sure that he was going to tell us that we had to have the trailer towed elsewhere. 
But instead he told us the boys could stay there and if we wanted we could take them out and let them graze on his field.  He further reassured us that no poisons or fertilizers had been used on the grass and that it was safe for the boys.   Now, come on--get real--how likely is this to happen? 
We end up at a GMC dealership with a big grassy field and the owner invites us to graze our horses there??!!  I swear I could see a halo bouncing around his head. 
And, get this, once we were settled inside, he brought us fresh coffee, and gave Ted the wifi password so he could work on his computer while we waited for his assistant angels to figure out what was wrong with our truck. 

While we waited, a woman came in with her beautiful 4 month old baby daughter.  Somehow I found myself having a wonderful 'baby fix' with that little girl sitting happily in my lap while her mother told me all about her.  I totally lost track of time. 
Angel assistants stopped by often to inform us of their progress with the truck and even checked on the horses.  Before we knew it, it was 5 PM.  The owner appeared and told us that the truck was fixed, but since it was late, we were welcome to stay overnight in his lot if we wanted which he assured us was a very safe place as it was patrolled regularly. (The problem with the truck was the wiring harness to the control module of the injection system which had shorted out the electrical system because the insulation got too close to the engine and had burned through.)

Eager to get home, we opted to have dinner in our trailer and leave for Maine after rush hour traffic.  But once on the road, it started to rain and there was SNOW forecasted for Maine.   We were not comfortable with the idea of traveling home in the dark in rain and snow, with a truck we were not sure we trusted.  I consulted our  Nationwide Overnight Stabling directory to no avail.  I did a search on line and found a place in Spencer, Mass--just outside of Worcester. 
Although it was short notice, the folks there agreed to take us in and gave us directions for how to find their place.  By the time we arrived there, it was pitch black and raining.  We drove right past our turn (thanks to Magellan which had a different idea of how to get there). 
A man in a car flagged us down and told us to follow him.  (Another Angel?)  We reversed direction and followed him through the rapidly deteriorating weather.  A turn onto a dirt road and the very bumpy winding drive left us with some nagging doubts about the wisdom of this decision.   As we completed the last sharp curve, up a steep, rutted, narrow driveway and came to a stop, we had serious concerns about the feasibility of backing out of there. 
One thing for sure, we were committed for the night.  Several folks appeared to greet us--we could barely make out anything more than their dark shapes in the night.  One of them shone a flashlight up ahead of us so we could see the barn perched on the hill above our trailer.  I was both relieved and surprised to see that it looked like a fairly nice metal barn. 
The horses unloaded with more equanimity than I felt, and we led them the rest of the way up the steep drive and into a very spacious barn with HUGE 12 by 14 stalls, freshly bedded with shavings.  The proud owners were part of the motley crew who had gathered in the dark to meet us. 
Sad story: the husband and wife couple had invested a lot of money setting up their place to board horses.  But then the wife became ill with something (she was walking with obvious difficulty and the help of a cane.)  So things came to a halt and they seemed to be just getting by.  They had 3 horses, one of which (a very large thoroughbred/ draft cross) had been abandoned by its owner, one of which was 40 years old (looked pretty good for her age), and an appy. 
Oh yes, a couple of goats were also living there having been abandoned by the same person.  Anyway--these were salt of the earth folks and very generous--even offered to let us stay in their house, but we explained that we were very comfortable in our little quarters in the front of the horse trailer. 

After the horses were fed and watered, we turned in for the night.  Ted had some sleepless hours worrying about how to get the trailer out of there in the morning.  We awakened early, eager to get on the road and get home.  We decided to try backing out without the horses in the trailer.  It took a couple of tries, but Ted managed to get the rig down to where he could just barely turn it around.  Another few feet of trailer length and we would still be there!  We returned to the barn to get the horses, loaded them up and were on our way. 

The rest of our journey was uneventful.  We arrived home around around 2 PM and horses, dogs and humans were all very happy to set hoof, paw, and foot on home turf.   I think I speak for all of us when I say it is SO good to be here!  We feel very grateful to be home safe and sound, and are really looking forward to getting together with friends and neighbors.

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5/4/2010 Sandy Porter-Bean
Hey Mara, actually AAA has helped me out more than once even with horses in tow. Last year my truck lost it's transmission half way up over a mountain outside of Strafford Vermont. They towed both truck and trailer to my location. The horses were unloaded and got rides from other competitors at the event(horse people look after each other). The towing company and all others were fantastic.I had to pay extra to get the horse trailer to my destination, but no problem.
5/4/2010 Mara Miles
Great to hear from you, Sandy!. I'm so glad that to learn that AAA came through for you. Because I was reluctant to sign up with US Rider again, I called AAA several times before our trip to ask if they would be able to help us in an emergency and was repeatedly told they could not deal with a horse trailer. It probably depends on who they send out and what part of the country you are in. We just didn't want to take a chance on it, since we were traveling to NM. Have a great summer!

"There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man." - Winston Churchill