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Reversing A Trailer – Foolproof Method to Learn an Essential Skill.

Two recent posts on social media convinced me that the perennial ‘driver who can’t reverse their horse trailer at a show’ problem is still very much alive and kicking.
When my mother (a very competent driver) used to drive my pony to competitions, she couldn’t reverse the trailer. If we had to park somewhere requiring reversing, she would immediately, with no shame, ask someone else to do it. In her defence, we only hired the trailer every few weeks, plus we didn’t have a field or big car park to practice in (either at home or at the livery yard) so the opportunity to practice was not really there.
Later, we had our own trailer, but the pattern of ‘it’s easier to ask a man to do it’ was already established. My mother was One of Those Women…

Someone once told me of watching a driver parallel park a 42 tonne articulated lorry into a ridiculously small space on a ferry, first time, perfectly, with inches to spare on each side. An appreciative crowd gathered to watch… a very surprised crowd, apparently, when a diminuitive woman climbed out of the cab.
There’s absolutely no reason why women can’t manoeuvre vehicles accurately. No real balls are required at all for this one (as for 99% of things in life!) If this post seems sexist, I can only apologise… I’m as equalitist as anyone on earth, but I don’t think I have ever seen a man who couldn’t reverse a trailer. They keep at it until they can do it. They couldn’t stand the embarrassment of having to hand over to someone else, I guess!

If you have the trailer to practice with, and a big enough space, there’s absolutely NO excuse. None. If you can reverse the towing vehicle to where you want, you can learn to control the trailer too. It’s just a question of learning the knack.

Stepping out and getting someone else to do it is an enormous failure, in my opinion. And if you are a woman, to be frank, you are MASSIVELY letting the side down. So many men are already so revoltingly dismissive about women’s driving abilities… please, let’s not give them any more ammunition!

Many of the women driving trailers at competitions are mothers, generously driving their kids’ ponies. So, they were brave enough to go through pregnancy and willingly try to push something the size of a honeydew melon out of their vajayay (shudder… far far braver than me, then!) sometimes more than once. Gulp. But they’re not brave enough to spend an hour learning to back up a trailer competently? Really?!?!

So, on to the solution:

When I was a teenager on a yard (long before I could drive a car), the muck trailer sometimes needed emptying by a livery. One day the task fell to me. I could drive the tractor… so, how hard could it be? I stepped up confidently… Uh oh.
Even though it was decades ago now, I clearly remember getting very hot and bothered, and eventually the tears of frustration and mortification as various people gathered to shout increasingly heated ‘helpful’ (but mostly contradictory) instructions, as I tried and tried to make the effing thing go in the direction I wanted.
Until… the yard owner strolled up, shut them all up, effortlessly straightened and reversed the trailer to exactly where he wanted it, emptied the trailer, and (kindly) ordered me to take the tractor and trailer to a far field, and practice on my own until I could do it. No audience. No advice. To go and take the time it takes, with no external pressure at all. He said to give it about an hour. (I suspect this was to take the pressure off me even more.)

It took about 20 minutes, as I recall, before the penny dropped, for good, forever. I had the knack. I realised which way I needed to turn the steering wheel in order to straighten/control the trailer (and it felt SO illogical at first.) I learnt exactly how to manoeuvre the towing vehicle to make the trailer go in the desired direction, how to straighten it a bit, or increase the angle of the turn (while still backing up smoothly), and exactly where the “just pull forward again, it’s hopeless from here, it’s definitely going to jack-knife” point was.

There is a Definite Point of No Return and at that stage ALL you can do is pull forward to straighten the towing vehicle and trailer up, and start again from there. There’s no shame at all in that, and at that point the sooner you do it, the better! Don’t risk jack-knifing the trailer in temper/mortification and then trying to push it further with the towing vehicle while jack-knifed, in an illogical furious attempt to shove the bloody thing where you want it to go SOMEHOW, that never ends well. (I wonder how I know that? It might possibly have involved turning a very large trailer over on a muckheap and nearly flipping the tractor too, having to do a flying leap off it to safety as the tractor tilted to 45 degrees until the loop snapped off the tow hook, and then having to call my JCB man to and beg him to come and pick the trailer back up before the early morning fog lifted and the neighbours could see what I’d done. Ooops. Yeah, don’t do that. Honestly. It’s REALLY embarrassing.) Also, I happen to know from frustrated experience that unhitching a jack-knifed trailer is usually pretty impossible (except by the above non-recommended method). So, stay calm. Take the time it takes.

The other penny that dropped was that I needed to turn the steering wheel a tiny bit left, right, left, right when reversing, to make the trailer carry on in a dead straight line (keeping the towing vehicle perfectly straight doesn’t work, I have no idea why, but it absolutely doesn’t. You have to wiggle it, just a little bit.)

Anyway… I’D GOT IT!!!

Fast forward a few decades…

Last year a friend’s son, about 12 years old, so not exactly an experienced driver, was driving our ‘gator’ and small muck trailer in the fields. He was getting frustrated at being unable to reverse it competently up to the muckheap and having to ask me to do it every time, and when I attempted to tell him how to manoeuvre backwards to control the trailer, it didn’t help at all. When I said to turn the steering wheel to the left, he did the opposite (I suppose it depends whether you are thinking about moving your left or your right hand to the left?!) After a few minutes of increasing exasperation with each other, I recognised the problem. The problem was the advice. It’s a bit like learning the ‘bite point’ with a clutch. It doesn’t matter how well it is explained, or how often, or at what volume… one day it is difficult, and then suddenly A-ha! The penny drops, your brain has got it, forever, and it’s easy.

So I sent him off on his own, just as I had been sent off, to sort it out for himself. About 20 minutes later he came back wreathed in smiles, totally in control of the trailer and very proud of his new skill, and reversed it perfectly from that moment onwards. So, age is not a barrier. Well, at least it isn’t in that direction.

So, my advice is, if your reversing skills are non-existent, please, for the love of whatever you hold sacred, just take yourself and your trailer off somewhere, all alone, for an hour, with no ‘helpful’ advice or embarrassing audience, and no pressure at all, and, calmly and patiently, play around with it until you have got it. It’s a knack that never leaves you.That’s it. It’s that easy.



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