towing vehicle

A good tow vehicle provides peace of mind and helps keep your precious cargo safe during hauling.

Road safety is important at all times, especially when you’re transporting your horses. The perfect tow vehicle is one you can trust to deliver your horses to and from your destination safely and without stress.

One of the most common reasons riders end up with the wrong tow vehicle is because they buy it before they get the trailer. A common example is when someone needs a new everyday vehicle but would also like it to double as a tow vehicle for their future trailer. They end up on a car lot with a salesman who claims a Ford Bronco or Toyota 4 Runner will “pull a house down”. You say, “Wow! I’ll take it!” only to find s/he was must have been talking about a dollhouse.

Top 5 Questions To Ask Yourself

If you don’t already have your trailer, think about which one will meet the needs of you and your horses.

1)How big – or small – are my horses now, and am I planning to buy something larger in the future?
2)How many horses do I want to carry at one time?
3) Will I be hauling a tag-along (bumper pull) or a gooseneck?
4) Will it have a tack compartment, or living quarters?
5) I already have a trailer. Will I be getting a different trailer in the future, and what will it likely be?

How Much Am I Towing?

Just like a truck, a horse trailer has a “curb weight” (CW). It’s what the trailer weighs empty. The weight of a trailer fully loaded with horses and tack is the “gross vehicle weight” (GVW). The trailer will also have a maximum weight at which it can be fully loaded and still safe – this is the “gross vehicle weight rating” (GVWR). The GVWR is determined by the manufacturer, based on the axle and coupler rating.

The GVWR is stamped on the trailer, usually on the inside of the door or on the tongue. This is not the actual weight of the trailer. Sometimes the curb weight is stated on the MSO, but in order to get the real weight, it is best to take the trailer to a scale and have it weighed. Then add the weight of your horses, and any tack, feed, water and other cargo. Alternatively, just load the trailer up and take it to the scale. Once you know the GVW and the GVWR, you can intelligently shop for the right tow vehicle.

There are three important things to consider when choosing the right tow vehicle: towing capacity (how much the tow vehicle is rated to pull); wheelbase (the distance between the front and rear axles); and curb weight (how much the tow vehicle weighs).

1. Towing Capacity

SUVs and trucks are rated to pull a certain weight, which can usually be found in the specific model’s brochure or a manufacturer’s towing guide. The capacity can vary on the same model depending on the size of the engine and the rear axle size. For example, a Ford 1500 truck with a 5.2 liter engine and a 3.72 rear axle can tow 8,600 pounds, whereas the same model with a 4.6 litre engine and a 3.5 rear axle ratio will pull 7,700 pounds.

The best and easiest scenario for determining the towing capacity necessary to pull your horse trailer is to work with the trailer’s GVWR. For example, if the GVWR is 7,000 pounds then the trailer’s GVW will never be more than that, and will probably be less. By using this number you will have a safety margin – which we recommend since towing a horse trailer is more demanding than towing a boat or cargo trailer. If you decide you want to be as accurate as possible with your weights, you can determine the actual GVW and choose a tow vehicle rated to pull about 20% more. This will also give you a safety margin.

2. Wheelbase

The longer your tow vehicle’s wheelbase, the more stable it will be from front to back. Whether you’re towing a gooseneck or tag-along, the nose of a horse trailer (tongue weight) will put a certain amount of weight over or in back of the rear axles. Since the tongue weight of a tag-along trailer puts more weight behind the axles, it pushes down on the rear of the tow vehicle. This creates an action like a teeter-totter, pushing the front end up. The longer the wheelbase, the less this is likely to happen.

Weight distribution hitches will correct this. These should definitely be used for short wheelbase SUVs. Gooseneck trailers put the tongue weight right over the rear axles or a few inches forward so the teeter-totter effect is considerably reduced.

3. Curb Weight

Weight is good. A tow vehicle is less likely to be pushed around by the trailer if it has substantial weight. It will give you greater control, especially in emergency situations such as sway. There are some lightweight vehicles out there with very high rear axle ratios on smaller engines that will give them more towing capability. But you don’t want a 4,000-pound vehicle pulling 6,500 pounds of live weight when you need to stop quickly or swerve to avoid hitting something.

To be more specific, if you’re looking to pull a two-horse tag-along with or without a tack compartment, you should be looking at fuller size SUVs such as the Ford Expedition or Excursion, Chevy Tahoe, Toyota Sequoia, Lincoln Navigator, Cadillac Escalade or Escalade EXT. If you are looking for a truck to pull your two-horse tag-along, all full size American half-ton trucks and up will do the job, as will Toyota Tundra as long as the towing capacity (engine size and axle ratio) matches or exceeds the GVWR of your trailer.

If you are looking at a two-horse gooseneck with a tack room, you will need to scrutinize the 1500s a little more closely for towing capacity, wheelbase and curb weight, but some will work. As you get into larger trailers that carry more horses, you should look at the 3/4 ton and one ton trucks (2500/3500/250/350).

Whichever tow vehicle you choose, it should always be kept in top running condition with good tires. If you buy used, make sure it’s in A-1 condition so you won’t have to worry about breaking down on the road. Safe hauling!

Neva Kittrell Scheve, along with her husband Tom, is the author 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, both Tom and Neva have designed and developed the EquiSpirit and EquiBreeze line of horse trailers manufactured in Kinston North Carolina. For more info, contact Tom: 1-877-575-1771, or visit them on line at