Follow these three steps to selecting a safe and comfortable trailer you and your horse will love.
With riding season upon us, many people are hauling horses to shows and out to trails. Having your own horse trailer is convenient, and allows you to be independent and control your horse’s trailering experience. But buying a trailer is a significant investment, and there are so many to choose from. How do you know where to start?
Three basic steps, taken in order, will ensure you end up with the right trailer. To begin, you must consider the horses first, the trailer second, and the tow vehicle third. Simply put, your horses should fit properly in the trailer, and the trailer should fit your own needs. Then a correctly rated tow vehicle should be chosen to haul it. You might think this is obvious, but you’d be amazed how many horse owners shop for a tow vehicle with little consideration for the weight and size of their loaded horse trailer – a dangerous and costly mistake.
Three Important Questions
In preparation for selecting the right trailer, you’ll need to ask yourself these questions:
What is the weight and size of the horse/s I own now, and will own in the future?
Having this information before starting your search will help ensure your horses have the right amount of space in the stall area to balance, stretch, eat comfortably and travel well.
How many horses do I want to carry?
When trailer shoppers call us to say they’re looking for a two- or three-horse trailer, we strongly suggest we talk seriously about which one they really need before going any further. The jump from a two-horse to a three-horse trailer requires a different direction in tow vehicle choice, trailer options, costs and hauling risks. If you have three horses and three avid riders in your family, then a three-horse trailer makes sense. If you want space for a third horse for a friend who only goes once in a while, do you really want to spend the extra money just to oblige him/her?
What equipment do I want to carry in the trailer?
Space for tack is important to most riders. If you’re taking your horse somewhere, you will most likely need saddles, bridles, halters, grooming equipment, blankets and other tack. A separate tack/dressing area will be important. If you’re staying overnight, you may need extra camping equipment and a place to sleep, so a gooseneck could be a good option. For longer camping trips, a trailer with living quarters might be the key.
Finding the Perfect Fit
Now that you have a general idea of what you want and need in a trailer, the following information will help you specifically fit it to your horse.
Height: Adequate height in the stall and head areas lets your horses balance well, eat more naturally and reduces claustrophobia. Horses should be able to hold their heads naturally and still have the roof well clear.
• For horses 14 to 15.2 hands, 7’4” is a good inside height.
• For horses 15.2 to 16.2 hands, I suggest 7’6” inside height.
• For horses 16.2 to 18.3 hands, 7’ 8” inside height is a good idea. • And for 19 hands plus, a height of 8’ may be necessary.
Taller trailers generally have raised butt and breast bars to fit taller horses – make sure your smaller horse can’t get under the butt bar and that the breast bar is not pushing into the neck area.
Head area: Horses need to eat naturally and be able to stretch their necks to cough out any dust or hay that may lodge in their respiratory systems. At least 3’ of head area (or 4’ if possible) is recommended, depending on your horse’s size. This is not easily done in slant style models because stall length is measured from side to side, and the width is limited by the Department of Transportation. A well-designed two-horse straight load walk-through model with an open head area and front walk-through doors can more easily fit the bill. Manufacturers can easily add footage from the front of the trailer to the back.
Stall length: Choose a trailer that won’t squeeze your horses between the butt and breast bar, but not so long that that if you stop quickly they will fall some distance forward before hitting the breast bar. Horses will lean on the breast bar and plant their feet for balance. They will also rock back on the butt bar and plant their hind legs when you accelerate. Horses should be able to stand in a natural position so they can use their heads and necks for balance.
Stall width: Horses don’t mind touching the trailer dividers with their sides while in transit. This gives them a sense of boundary and helps them balance and stand. If they are squished between the wall and the center divider, the trailer is too narrow. It’s better to have too much width than not enough. Avoid lower center dividers – by doing so, you literally widen it by about 2’. This gives each horse about a foot more room towards the center to use for balancing. Except in special situations (hauling a stallion and mare, for example), horses rarely kick each other in the trailer.
Tack area: I highly recommend one that includes a separate tack area. When hauling horses, you not only need tack but also grooming equipment, emergency supplies and water to take care of your horses in case of an accident. Many first-time buyers believe a smaller tag-along is easier to maneuver and handle. But the extra 4’ of length on a dressing room model actually helps the trailer track better because it adds more tongue weight. New trailer owners are often surprised that the extra length doesn’t feel very different from a shorter non dressing room model when behind the tow vehicle.
Specific design features: If ordering your trailer new, you can opt for specific features. If you are a trail rider, you might want to order a water tank, extra footage for hay and perhaps an extra saddle rack and bridle hook. If you are camping with your horses, you may want a small weekender package for the front that includes a bed, closet, microwave and sink. For longer stays, a trailer with living quarters that include a shower, stove, toilet, TV, radio, refrigerator and other amenities might be more your style. But even for day trips to shows or clinics, options like additional footage for hay, built-in tack trunks and extra saddle racks can make things a lot easier and more enjoyable. If you are buying a used trailer, or one from a lot, you will pretty much have to settle for whatever options are available.
Now that you’ve chosen the best trailer for your horse, you can accurately determine the weight of it loaded and start shopping for a tow vehicle that will safely haul your precious cargo. Remember, the more comfortable and less stressed you and your horses are when you arrive at your destination, the happier and safer you’ll be.
Neva Kittrell Scheve and her husband Tom are the authors of the nationally recognized textbook The Complete Guide to Buying, Maintaining, and Servicing a Horse Trailer. Neva also has two other horse trailer books to her credit, including Equine Emergencies On The Road with Jim Hamilton, DVM. Besides being authors, clinicians and writers of numerous published articles on horse trailer safety, Tom and Neva have designed and developed the EquiSpirit and EquiBreeze line of horse trailers manufactured in Kinston, North Carolina. equispirit.com