How to Back a Trailer
|March 28, 2017||Posted by Melinda under Equine Endurance, Trailer|
Backing a trailer is an essential skill as I was reminded over and over and OVER this year. Whether you have to put your trailer into a back-in only angled parking spot at the barn, make a “U” turn at a T intersection, navigate a tight ride camp, or turn around in your best friends driveway – knowing how to back a trailer is something you can’t afford to put off any longer.
There is 1 simple trick and 2 skills you need to master NOW.
I’m not going to lie. Certain truck and trailer combinations are easier to maneuver and back-up than others. My standard-cab, long-bed pickup combined with a bumper-pull horse trailer was an absolute dream. I could wriggle my three-horse trailer anywhere. The Dodge mega-cab, 4-door, turns-like-a-cruise-liner truck paired with any-sized trailer is an exercise in patience and near misses. I constantly misjudge the semi-truck room it needs to maneuver, but the concepts are exactly the same for both. You are going to have to practice to get a feel of your particular rig, but my “trick” and the execution of the two basic skills are exactly the same whether you have a goose-neck, bumper pull, long-bed truck, or short-bed truck.
Don’t try to figure out the physics of why the truck is doing X while the trailer is doing Y. Just do this.
Put your hand at the bottom of the steering wheel.
As you are backing up, move your hand in the direction you want the back of the trailer to go.
If you need the back of the trailer to move towards your driver’s side door, move your hand in that direction.
If you need the trailer to move towards the passenger side door, move your hand in that direction.
Congrats. You now have all the knowledge you need to do the two basic skills that make you look like a bad-ass in 99% of the situations.
By the way, this works whether you are looking over your shoulder or using your mirrors. Keep your hand at the bottom of the wheel and move it towards the direction you want the trailer to go. That’s it!
Now let’s talk about the two skills you need to master.
This post is included in “Go Ride Far.” Don’t worry, I’ve decided to keep this post available on the blog in its entirety, because I felt like this information was something that should be readily assessable. Scroll down to keep reading.
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For the price of the fru-fru coffee ($3.99) the ebook covers:
- How to easily and intuitively back a trailer
- Take control of your conditioning and training
- Recognize and fix a “bonk”
- The never before told story of Dr. Mel’s first endurance ride
…and more from the running, riding, writing veterinarian and Singletrack Press!
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Now for the rest of the post…..
Skill 1: Backing Up in a Straight Line
The goal is to do this:
Invariably, this ends up happening:
To correct the trailer and continue moving in a straight line just move your hand in the opposite direction of the trailer to bring the trailer back into line. In the drawing above the trailer is being naughty and is going towards the driver’s side. I want it to go straight, so I move my hand towards the passenger side to make the back of the trailer move that direction.
Continue to make little corrections to counteract the trailer’s goal of running itself off the road. Voila! You can now drive the trailer forwards AND backwards.
Skill 2: Backing the Trailer Around a Corner
If you can back around a 90-degree turn, you can do anything. You can turn around on a residential street at any intersection while staying in your own lane and minimally disrupting traffic. You can back into a parking spot at the barn, even if you only have a foot of clearance on either side between other trailers. You can position yourself at the trailhead so that you are less likely to be blocked in, and you can leave quickly if needed.
Backing the trailer around a turn is exactly like backing up in a straight line, except you are going to let the trailer turn gradually before correcting it back into a straight line.
Here’s our plan for what we want to happen.
Now let’s do it.
First you are going to back in a straight line making small adjustments until you come to the corner.
The exact moment you need to start your corner depends on your truck-trailer combination. That’s why you need to practice. However, if you waited too late to start making the turn just stop, pull forward, and try again.
In this scenario you need to make a turn towards the passenger side, so move your hand towards the passenger side and allow the trailer to move in that direction.
If the trailer is turning too fast or too sharply, move your hand the other way to move the back of the trailer towards the other direction.
In the picture above, the trailer is moving too sharply towards the passenger side. I correct this by moving my hand towards the driver’s side. This will slightly straighten the trailer and keep it from jack-knifing.
At some point the trailer is going to complete the turn and be oriented in the right direction. Yay!!!!!!! You don’t need the trailer to keep moving towards the passenger side. Now it’s time to move the trailer back towards the driver side until everything is straight behind the truck again.
Remember how to move the trailer towards the driver side? Move your hand towards the driver side.
This is why you can’t think about it too hard. You are actually straightening out the truck and trailer. By doing this, the truck is actually moving around the turn to come into line with the trailer, but you don’t have to worry about that. All you have to remember is that you don’t need the trailer to move any further towards the passenger door; now you need the trailer to move towards your driver door so that everything is straight again. So just move your hand towards the driver door while backing up. Like magic, everything will come into line.
As you bring the trailer back into line towards the driver door, you will eventually end up straight, with the trailer in line with the truck. Now you don’t need to bring the back of the trailer towards the driver door any more, so bring your hand back to center. If the trailer tries to come too far towards the driver side and you have to counteract it (what usually happens), move it back to the passenger side.
Now it’s time to go find a big open area and practice.
What if none of this makes sense?
Even if it’s hard for you to visualize on paper, I want you to go out and just try it. Don’t think about it. Put your hand on the bottom of the wheel and start backing up. Move your hand towards the passenger door so it’s in the 3 o’clock position. Watch how the trailer moved the same direction. Move your hand towards the driver door in the 9 o’clock position. Watch how the trailer starts to move in the other direction. The trailer straightens behind your truck and then continues to move towards the driver’s side door. Don’t crank the wheel wildly back and forth, and don’t move your hand from the bottom as you swing it from one direction to the other.
You can do it!!!!!!!!!
Love this guide! Don’t forget to watch the truck and make sure you don’t HIT anything while watching the trailer, though!
Yeah, I decided to not even go there. I figured this could get people started.
I pull trailers daily for a living. Two things to add to your post. I’ve found it super helpful – before you begin to back up – straight or turning, for the tow vehicle’s front wheels to already be pointed in the direction you want the trailer to end up going. Start the turn ever so slightly with the truck before you begin to back. Also – never put your nose where your a$$ can’t go. ;D
BwahahahahA. Literally laughing out loud on your last one.
Before I ever pulled the trailer I was the lead driver of a six up artillery team where reverse was not an option. Running around the battlefield pulling a canon taught me very quickly how to turn, where not to go and how to have an escape route.
I’m still in awe that you can back up doubles
Should have said “a trailer” above, although it is technically two different trailers, but not at the same time lol. Everything changes somewhat with different length trailers, different length hitches and different trucks. In awe of you pulling a canon. Shorter trailers are unforgiving since they respond so quickly.
You get this nailed down…and, then you buy a gooseneck 🙂
I will admit when I got a different truck of different proportions I felt like I was starting completely from scratch again.
I really appreciate your timing for this. After being away from the unit & hauling the trailers for the last 4 years I really needed this. Looks like I’ll be getting some practice going to Moorpark this weekend! Take care! Teri
Thanks for the informative article! So, I learned the direction to turn the wheel years ago, but I still have so much trouble. It seems like when I turn the wheel to get the trailer going the right direction, the front of my car ends up facing the wrong direction, if that makes sense??
Yep, that makes perfect sense. It’s one reason I stuck to backing in a straight line and going around a 90° turn. In the situations you don’t have to think about your vehicle separate from the trailer because although the front end of the vehicle is doing some things different in the trailer, everything ends up straightening out. In other situations where you’re trying to maneuver around objects or do more complicated patterns while backing up, with the vehicle is doing becomes problematic even if you are controlling the back end of the trailer. That’s why I say that the track in the two skills here. The majority of your trailer back issues but it certainly won’t cover everything. The only advice that I can offer in those more complicated situations is to position yourself as I Deleigh as possible before you begin to back up and remember that it’s easier to go forward in curves and squiggles then it is to back up and curves and squiggles so make a plan.
Your drawings are delightful! I’ve heard about putting your hand at the bottom of the steering wheel, but thinking about driver side and passenger side directions is MUCH easier to remember. Thank you!
That was extremely helpful! Thank you!
[…] How to Back a Trailer March 28, 2017 – The running, riding, writing veterinarian Blog created by Melinda Faubel Newton, certified AERC control judge […]
This popped up as a recommendation and I realized I never put two and two together (probably because of sleep deprivation) and realized that little infographic I found on the internet was from you.
You taught me how to back a trailer via the internet.
I’d go on and on about how useful this is, and how grateful I am…. But I feel like as a horseperson and a woman, you already know. The other day I backd up a trailer into the slot at the dump, and a guy came over to help me back in, and then just stood there and watched me back it up into this teeny tiny slot on the first try.
Now, between you and me, that was a total fluke – I can back up, but I’m no guru and usually it would take at least one pull forward and then re-back up….
But when I got out of the car, his eyebrows lifted and he said, “That was a FANTASTIC back up job” with a lot of respect in his voice, and that was totally due to you and your little drawing.
So thank you!
WOOT!!!!!!! Way to be a bad ass. That is AWESOME. I think I said it in the post but I read an article in equuus YEARS ago that basically was this post and that’s the only reason I can back a trailer and it was so helpful I HAD to share the concept when I realized I couldn’t find the article and reshare .
I watched a young girl struggle at my stable a couple months ago and I went up and asked if she needed help. She sorta whispered yes and told me that she was trying to get it done before her boyfriend and dad came back. I told her to hop into the passenger seat and said “I’m going to show you what none of the guys in your life have probably showed you and in ten minutes you will be able to back a trailer better then them”. It felt so good to empower another young women, and I feel like the fact it came from me – another female – made it easier to listen to me and learn without anxiety? I wish I could secretly teach every girl and women I know to back a trailer. It’s such a good feeling.
I love you girls….my wonderful husband makes me so nervous!!!
I’d love to share your article on Facebook but Facebook says some people have reported the article as abusive and it won’t let me share it because it goes against facebooks community standards. I had no idea I’ve been abusing my truck and trailer! 😳
Unfortunately facebook’s blocking of certain links makes absolutely no sense sometimes. The appeals process is basically a black box. I know there are certain groups that are trying to get references to animals in general taken off facebook. Take you for considering sharing this article. I really appreciate the thought :).
I’ve been towing for quite a few years and I’m slightly ashamed to say never knew how to backup… I’d always check out a show venue and park so that I could just drive out straight. I remember at one show venue, I drove into a lane that turned out to be blocked by some cattle farmers showing their livestock. They indicated that I’d have to do a U-turn and go back. I had to go over and ask one of them to turn my horse box… So humiliating… Then your simple explanation changed me from helpless female equestrian to badass backer-upper! Thank you! Explained as you have, it’s easy!! Thanks a million.
You are very welcome :). I’m so glad I could help.