Equine Crash Test Dummy will make Horse Trailers Safer

Equine Crash Test Dummy

For as long as I can remember, horse trailer designs have been essentially the same — boxes that hold your horse while you pray that nothing terrible happens while you’re hauling them. A company in Australia has a mission to make trailers safer for horses and they come up with a novel way to test their designs: an equine crash test dummy.

“We want to make the trip more comfortable and less stressful for the horse,” he said. “We are designing this float around the horse and not the trailer.

We have patented a seatbelt that goes around the horse so if the trailer or truck rolls it will hold them where they’re supposed to be.”

TOM Hotchkin, engineer and director at Ballarat-based Areion Equestrian

“Tippy” was created from rubber gym mats. He stands 18 hands high and weighs 750 kg (about 1650 pounds). “We will use the crash test dummy horse so we can test horse trailers to actually know what happens in an accident rather than guessing,” Hotchkin said. “Once we know what the horse does in a crash we can develop technology to protect the horse.”

The prototype trailer that Areion Equestrian founder and engineer Tom Hotchkin is working on has safety features that include rear-facing bays, meaning the horse would impact its rump in an accident rather than its head and neck. A study completed at the University of Sydney in 2017 which looked at transportation of horses and the implications for health and welfare found that horses facing backwards in a trailer had fewer side impacts and loss of balance compared to forward-facing horses. Horses traveling facing backwards in a truck also had a significantly lower heart rate, moved less frequently, and would rest their rumps on a partition.

Areion’s prototype trailer is made from plastic rather than steel or aluminum, creating a softer and smoother surface. All structures and latches have been structurally tested to contain the horse during an impact. The suspension used in the Areion Equestrian crash-safe float offers a 30% smoother ride compared to the best suspension on the market today and instead of using ramps, the trailer lowers for the horse to load, eliminating the possibility of the horse slipping off them while loading. The company is also incorporating patented restraint technology similar to seatbelts in its trailer design.

Areion Equestrian, based in Ballarat, Victoria, was founded by Hotchkin in 2019, in partnership with his father Darren Hotchkin, who has almost 30 years’ experience in the road safety industry. The pair are combining the knowledge they have gained from working in the road safety industry and from the family’s equestrian business. Its first range of trailers is expected to be available next year.

I think it’s a terrific idea to find better ways of transporting our horses. I’m humbled by the trust our animals put in us when we lead them into steel boxes and then hurtle down highways with them at high speeds.

What features would you like to see to make horse trailers safer?

14 thoughts on “Equine Crash Test Dummy will make Horse Trailers Safer

  1. Not being an engineer, I can’t really guess at the moment what I’d like to see in a new trailer design. But I can attest that horses prefer riding ‘backward’. A friend of mine had a big Dutch Warmblood mare that was always scrambling and rocking in the trailer. One day, somehow, after loading and during the trip, she managed to get unhitched and turned around. My friend had noticed earlier that the mare wasn’t rocking the trailer during the drive. When she opened the back doors of the trailer, she freaked when the mare came face to face with her with an expression that said, ‘that’s more like it!” From that day forward she would back the mare into the trailer and leave her unhitched, and she didn’t rock or scramble a bit. SO…I would say that if possible, make it so that a horse can load from the SIDE and ride backwards.

    And, I think, after watching the video on your website of the mustangs being released…it looked to me as if all those horses rode backwards.

    1. I have always heard that horses travel better in slant load trailers and I have had a horse turn around in my two horse. Not sure how she did it! Sure surprised the heck out of me when I opened the door. (Not Zelda, she’s too big to do that). I still think trailering is by far the most dangerous thing we do with our horses.

    2. Thanks for featuring us Liz! We’ve had very good feedback on the reverse facing design, and to answer the above question the horses will load from the side and exit through the rear doors. No need to turn around or reverse out!

  2. Oh, and may I add something: I spent 21 years in the military and on several deployments, was flown to the war on military cargo aircraft. The seats were all backwards, for the same reason that the Aussie trailer designers made…safety. Since USAF cargo jets have no windows and the passenger seats are removable (and very uncomfortable), you really can’t tell which way you’re going once you’re airborne. Honestly…commercial aircraft builders like Boeing or Airbus would prefer to put their passenger seats facing the back….but we won’t tolerate it. We want windows and we want to be facing forward. Surprising that the aircraft builders give us that…they’ve cut everything else, making flying nothing more than an expensive trip in a freaking cattle car. They refer to us passengers as “Self Loading Cargo’ and treat us accordingly.

    1. Self loading cargo! That’s a good one. I do like having a window but once you’re in the air what difference does it make if you are facing forwards or backwards?

  3. ….rear-facing trailers are already on the market..
    ….I’ve owned my “Balanced Ride” 2-horse gooseneck over 5 years…. still love every feature (even the most finicky loader never refused – and my nervous travelers arrived dry instead of sweaty) (do wish I had known to incorporate an insulated ceiling in the fiberglass roof)
    ….also, after discussions w/professional haulers, slant-load trailers fit a smaller breed of horse but anything of warmblood/thoroughbred size are not comfortable (I owned a slant once….little did I recognize that the skuff marks on the rump wall were indicators that she was trying to fit)

    1. I had no idea that rear-facing trailers were available. I will need to look into that. Never knew that about slant loads. Zelda would never fit. I actually prefer to trailer her along just because she’s so big she makes my trailer look small.

    2. We are definitely not the first rear facing trailer on the market, but that is just one of the features we’re including to improve safety. As far as we know it will be the only trailer with full scale crash testing to prove its safety!

      While our initial trailer is straight load only, we also have an angle load in development which features over-the-wheel bays which is significantly longer than most other angle load trailers, and is only slightly shorter than the straight load layout.

      1. Your over-the-wheel concept solves this short-stall issue of slant-load trailers. Would this make the trailer ride higher with the floor decking now over the wheel ? The only manufacturer (stateside) that claims to have a slant-load accommodating warmbloods (Double D) still have the stalls sitting between-the-wheels, so their slant angle must be more acute, making the trailer a bit longer.

      2. Only the horses head can go over the wheels, so the floor is at the same height as usual. As you’ve mentioned we can also adjust the angle of the dividers to adjust the length of the bays. For example both our two horse straight load and two horse angle load will have the same outer dimensions, but the angle load bays will be approximately 100-200mm (4-8″) shorter. However both of these are quiet spacious at 3000mm (118″) and 2800-2900mm (110-114″) respectively.

  4. Nice! Yes, there are rear facing and reverse slant trailers. My dog crate I think is the only crash tested and rated crate. I am still working on the way my horse prefers to haul. He is so big…does not fit in my slant load with the divider closed. I mostly haul him with the divider open (secured that way). At the moment, I have the dividers out. I hauled him untied in there the other day and he moved quite a bit. Every time I stopped he was facing a different way. However it seems he was mostly facing in the reverse slant direction.

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