Guide To Buying A Horse Trailer

You’ve got your own horse and using a friends trailer is no longer an option so you’ve decided to invest in your own. This is can be a great thing but it’s often difficult to know where to start and what to look out for. I’ve bought many different trailers in my life, from tiny single horse bumper-towed ones to massive multi-horse trailers with modest living facilities so thought I’d pass on some of the things I’ve learnt over the years.

Why buy a trailer for my horss?

Why you’re buying a trailer should be given some serious consideration before rushing out and buying the biggest, shiniest trailer you find. If you’re transporting one horse then a gooseneck trailer isn’t going to be worth buying. Whereas if you’re likely to be transporting four horses regularly then a bumper-towed trailer isn’t going to be useful. Likewise if you’re traveling across the country, spending days away at a time, a trailer with living quarters is going to be a good investment.

Which loader?

When buying a trailer the style of loader is often the last thing people consider, if at all. Which loader you opt for will to some extend be dependant on your budget and requirements but it’s worth taking into account the types of loaders. Both slant and straight loaders have their merits and the jury is out as to which is definitively the best.

Slant loader

Inside a slant loader

In slant loader trailers the horses stand side by side but are diagonal and facing the middle of the road. This layout creates a lot of empty space which is often utilised for tack storage. Dividers are often used to separate the horses and because these can be pushed to the sides it gives the appearance of a bigger space which is less daunting the horse. The moveable dividers also make it easier to turn horses round and lead them out head first, this design though does have the disadvantage of handlers sometimes finding it difficult to get out after loading the horse. A study by the famous horse whisperer, Monty Roberts, found that given the choice horses will choose to stand this way rather than facing forward.

Straight loader

A straight loader

A straight loader is where the horses walk straight into the trailer and stand side by side, usually with a door (or doors) at the front for the handler to walk straight out of rather than walking back past the horse. Straight loading trailers tend to be smaller and less expensive than slant loaders and are usually for one or two horses. These can be good because as well as being cheaper the door(s) at the front can be left open while the horse is be loaded so it doesn’t feel like it’s walking into the darkness which can often scare them.

Should I be loading my horse from the rear or the side?

Most trailers offer rear loading although some of the larger trailers only have the ability to load from the side. Which option you go for is largely down to personal preference but it’s worth noting that usually rear trailers have side openings too which allow you to walk the horse out forwards whereas side loading trailers often require you to turn horses around before unloading them.

Ramp or step up?

As a rule ramp trailers are more expensive than step up trailers and which one you opt for is largely dependant on your budget but also what your horse is comfortable with. Some horses don’t like to step up into a trailer and prefer to just walk up a ramp. That said if the ramp isn’t strong enough it can flex as the horse is walking in which will undoubtable make a sudden noise and could potentially scare your horse.

Types of trailer

Bumper Towed or European-Style Horse Box

Bumper-towed or European style horse box

Sometimes called tag-alongs, these small trailers usually hold up to three horses and can be hitched to most vehicles without too much difficultly. They’re often the least expensive and most popular option. Their small size can also be a disadvantage because there’s little or no room for tack. If you do go for a bumper-towed trailer then I would also suggest having a lesson or two on how to tow them properly. A lot of trailer dealers will offer this service and I would personally recommend it, after all don’t forget it’s your horse that your towing.

Gooseneck

So called because of the overhang which attaches to a towing truck these types of trailers offer a lot more space than bumper-towed ones. Gooseneck trailers are designed to carry at least three horses and have extra space for tack. Depending on the size of the trailer it may also be called a fifth wheel trailer, this refers to the type of connector and although it won’t look any different to a regular gooseneck it does mean that you’ll need a vehicle with a fifth wheel connector to tow it.

Living Quarters

A gooseneck trailer with living quarters

Usually the most expensive type of trailer these are large enough to not only transport horses but they also have the ability to live it them. Most commonly with a small kitchen/diner, bathroom and bedroom, bigger trailers though are similar to high-end motorhomes in that that have fully fitted kitchens, fireplaces, multiple bedrooms and even lounges too. For some this would be much more than they need but if you’re travelling long distances with your horses it can cost effective in the long run because you’re not having to pay for additional accommodation.

Horsebox or Horse Van

Horse van

Popular in Europe these motorised trailers are fully contained and don’t need to be towed. They’re similar to gooseneck or living quarters trailers and will transport multiple horses with extra space for tack and depending on size will also have decent living quarters too. Horseboxes are more popular in Europe, in America they’re generally known as horse vans.

What’s the best material for a horse trailer?

These days trailers can be made from a variety of different materials such as aluminium, steel, fiberglass, wood or even a combination of materials but which one is the best? Each material has its advantages and disadvantages and in an ideal world the best option would be to have a trailer made out of a combination of all of them. You would then get the benefits of each material whilst reducing the some of the drawbacks. That said there’s no such thing as an ideal world so we’re back to the same dilemma, which material! There’s an element of what will suit you best, for example are you able to keep it clean and relatively dry most of the time, or do you get a lot of rain that will make this difficult?

Aluminum 

This is by far the most popular option because of its durability, it also requires little maintenance and is less likely to rust. As a rule aluminium trailer hold their value pretty well so are a good investment.  If you decide to go for an aluminium trailer it’s important to make sure it’s all-aluminium. Some trailers claim they’re made of aluminium but actually have a steel frame and are just covered in aluminium. The disadvantage of aluminium though is that to be as strong as steel it needs to be three times the thickness, this often leads to a much heavier trailer.

Steel

Steel trailers are extremely tough and hard wearing. They’re also relatively easy to repair if they do get damaged during use. In recent years the durability of the steel used has been greatly improved by galvanisation which has done a lot to prevent rust. That said the main disadvantage of steel is that it if it’s left to the elements for prolonged periods it can encourage rust to develop. It can also flex over time and this will create weakness that again can be prone to rusting.

Fiberglass

Despite by very easy to maintenance fiberglass is relatively light weight so can succumb to damage quite quickly. That said it is possible to have a lined fiberglass trailer which will make it tougher and more hard wearing but this will of course add extra weight to it.

What’s the best flooring for a horse trailer?

Traditionally flooring was made from wood and although it’s still very popular these days there are a number of other options such as aluminium and rumber.

Wood

One of the main advantages of wood is that’s its natural which helps it to breathe better, this in turn can help gases and smells to escape. Wood can also act as a shock absorber which will help to reduce the risk of stress to your horse’s legs and hooves. If you do opt for a trailer with a wooden floor then make sure the boards are laid front to back and not side to side. This is especially important in straight loaders as if laid side to side it’s likely that the horse or horses will have all feet standing on the same board. This over time will weaken the board which could eventually give way, this often happens while the horses are in transit.

Aluminium

Despite being easy to clean I wouldn’t really recommend aluminium flooring. I’m sure that some people swear by it but I’m afraid I’m not one of them. Yes its durable but over time urine and manure will help to corrode the flooring. On top of that it can be quite noisy and doesn’t allow the heat to dissipate at all, this is particularly a problem in hotter areas. If you do want to have an aluminium floor then I would suggest having some matting too. This will make it more comfortable on your horse’s hooves and will help the flooring to last longer too. Research has shown that without being kept clean an aluminium floor will only last around eight years, this obviously is greatly improved upon with proper cleaning and maintenance.

Rumber

Made from recycled tires, rumber is fast becoming the most popular choice of flooring and in my mind rightly so. It helps to regulate the temperature by letting the heat escape, reduces noise and vibration and is extremely durable. They can also be easily washed down after use and left to dry. I would recommend using them with rubber mats though, it’ll give extra comfort to your horse but also over time, as it wears, rumber can become slippery and matting to give extra grip.

Have you ever wondered?

As a side note have you ever wondered when horse trailers, as we know them today, where first used? You may be surprised to know that the very first ‘horse trailers’ where actually horse drawn. Now that may sound silly but they were in fact horse drawn ambulances used by fire departments. They were used to take horses that had been involved in accidents (a common thing in those days) to the vets for treatment. It wasn’t until 1918 though that the horse trailer we know and love to day made an appearance. Race horses where originally transported by railroad but this was problematic because of endless delays so a new solution was needed. In its December 1918 issue Popular Science reported on the solution – a specially modified ‘motor truck’ that was to become forerunner to many of today’s trailers. For then onwards they’ve evolved into the many varieties we have today.

Now you’re ready to buy a trailer

The best single piece of advice I can give when it comes to purchasing a horse trailer is do your research. It’s a lot of money to spend so spending a little bit of time deciding what you want and what you need is time very well spent in my opinion.

So you’ve now done your research and are armed with the necessary knowledge to make sure you get the right trailer for your budget but also for your horse’s happiness and well-being. So what are you waiting for, get out there and get that trailer!

I hope you found this article helpful, if you did I’d be grateful if you could share it please as it would really help me.