Buying a horse trailer is a major decision. It’s not just the cost of the trailer, it’s the potential safey of your precious cargo. I’ve always thought that trailering is one of the riskiest things you can do with your horse (mostly because of other drivers). But selecting the best trailer for your needs can help ensure lots of safe and fun outings.
While you’re at the decision tree stage, you are probably overwhelmed by the numerous options of horse trailers and enclosed cargo trailers available. Beyond the price, there are lots of things you should consider when choosing your horse trailer, such as the number of horses you will be taking with you and whether you want to have living quarters or a dressing room as part of the setup.
Safety is another major concern you should consider. It doesn’t matter how fancy the trailer looks on the inside or outside. If it isn’t safe, then you should reconsider buying it.
Here are five things you should look for when you’re hunting for a trailer.
1. The Construction
Horse trailers made from steel, aluminum or hybrid options that combine both materials. Each of these has its upside and downside.
Steel is the strongest construction material. The downside is that it’s pretty heavy to tow, so if you have a smaller truck and/or are hauling more than one horse, it might not be the best choice. Aluminum construction is immune to rust but isn’t as strong as steel.
The hybrid trailer may be the most suitable since it combines the best of both worlds. The best-constructed horse trailers have steel frames and aluminum skin on the outside. They’re not too heavy and immune to rust.
2. The Hitch
When it comes to the hitch, they come in two flavors: bumper pull ― also known as tag-along ― or gooseneck. Each has an upside and downside. If you have many horses to haul, the gooseneck is your best option. The biggest advantage of a gooseneck trailer over a bumper pull is its stability. Trailer sway is minimized because the tongue of the trailer is over the truck’s rear axle, not at the back of the frame. This increased stability means that gooseneck trailers can accommodate more weight and be larger than a bumper pull. The downside is that these tend to be pricier than bumper pull and require a special towing setup in the bed of the truck. You also have to keep an eye on your trailer weight — in many states, over 10,001 pounds is when a trailer is declared commercial and requires a special license to haul.
The bumper pull is best for when you’re hauling three horses of fewer. These are cheaper than goosenecks and can be attached to just about any truck or SUV as long as the towing capacity matches that of the horse trailer. Adding a weight distributing hitch and anti-sway bars can make a huge difference in how solidly your trailer rides. I’ve used an Equalizer Hitch since 2008 and my trailer never moves.
3. The Flooring
Aluminum floors are known for being quite light. However, they don’t do especially well
after a lot of contact with horse urine and dung since they can rot.
Wood floors are usually made of Douglas fir or other very high-density wood. If the gapping is good enough, then the airflow will be enough to make the floor quite durable. They also hold up better to horse droppings. The major disadvantage is the give. Depending on how far apart the cross members are, they can have more give than aluminum floors. It’s a good idea to pull your mats out every year and check the integrity of your floors. Don’t forget to look at the ramps, too. Although my floors have been fine, my ramp rotted through a few years ago and needed to be replaced.
4. The Exterior
This is also an important thing to consider since what your horse trailer looks like on the outside is a significant factor in your choice of which horse trailer to buy. It’s all about aesthetics. For a high-gloss finish, you should go for aluminum covered in primer and paint. The primer should be of automotive quality, and the paint should be polyurethane for the best results. On the other hand, you could have mill-finished sheets with nothing more than paint on them. If you put any graphics on your trailer, then make sure they are timeless.
5. The Loading Type
There are slant load and straight load horse trailers available. Many owners find the slant load easier to use and less stressful since horses have a preference to stand on an incline. You also want to go for a loading type that gives your horse balance when you’re braking or taking a turn, and the slant load does that best. Straight load trailers give the best access to your horses and also have more wiggle room.
6. Dressing Room . . . or Not
A dressing room/tack room is nice to have, otherwise, you need to story your tack and supplies in your truck. My first trailer didn’t have one — I was pulling it with a smaller SUV and it worked best with a smaller aluminum trailer without the weight a dressing room adds. My current trailer has a full dressing room. During hunt season I keep it fully stocked with “spare parts” so that if I have a tack problem (or forget something), I have a back up. I also keep a drive on trailer jack, a tack trunk and a broom and shovel.
Finally, once you buy a trailer, don’t skimp on maintenance. Stay tuned for a future article on keeping your trailer riding safely.