This article reviews the different types of horse trailers, along with the advantages and disadvantages of each type. It also discusses the various things to take into consideration when buying a horse trailer.
Horse trailers can be very heavy, especially when loaded. Before starting your search for a horse trailer, you should check that the total weight (trailer plus your horses) do not exceed the capacity of your car. You should also check that they do not exceed the maximum pulling capacity of your driver's license.
Your driver's license will have a maximum trailer capacity, usually expressed in weight. It is important to check this as in most countries you cannot pull a loaded horse trailer on a standard driving license (you need a 'heavy goods' license). In some countries the maximum weight is written on the license itself, in others you would need to contact the local government department for car licenses to check. You may find that you cannot legally pull a horse trailer without upgrading your driving license (which will likely involve a test, a test fee, perhaps an annual fee and perhaps courses). Alternatively, you may find that you can pull a small horse trailer (e.g. for 1 horse) but not a large one (multiple horses).
The other thing to check is your car's maximum pulling capacity. This information should be in your car's user manual, but your local car dealer or garage should be able to help you as well. Keep in mind that the pulling capacity of a fully loaded car (e.g. passengers and luggage) is less than that of an empty car, so be careful when looking up your car's capacity that you keep this in mind. Once you have the maximum pulling weight for your car, subtract from this the weight of the horse or horses that you will want to transport; the amount left over is the maximum weight of your horse trailer. If you don't know the weight of your horse, your veterinarian can probably give you a good estimate. An average riding-horse weight is about 500kg (1100 pounds) but a large draft horse can be close to double this, while a pony would be substantially less.
Number of Horses
Horse trailers come in various sizes, normally measured in terms of the number of horses they can carry. A single trailer can carry 1 horse, a double trailer carries two, a mother and foal is big enough for just that (or perhaps 2 ponies). There there are the bigger trailers that can carry 3 horses, 4 horses and so on.
When buying a trailer, it is worth considering not only your current requirements but your possible future ones. For example, you may just have one horse today but if you might have 2 horses in future, it may be worth considering buying a double trailer.
On the other hand, the bigger the trailer, the more it weighs not only in terms of the trailer itself but also in terms of the weight of the horses. So, if you have a double trailer which weighs 500 kg., once you add two horses you might be looking at 1500kg or more total weight. This may be beyond the weight capacity of your car or of your driving license (see above discussion on weight).
A related concern is fuel consumption. A heavier trailer obviously consumes more fuel to pull it from one place to another. More importantly, the air drag increases with the size of the trailer, which has a big effect on fuel consumption. Consequently, in the interest of minimizing fuel consumption, you do not want to get a trailer bigger than necessary.
There is also no need to buy a bigger trailer to give your horse more space. When transporting a horse, its space needs to be limited so that it cannot fall over or jump about. Consequently, a horse in a two-horse trailer will have no more room than a horse in a one-horse trailer, at it will be confined to one of the two boxes.
The body of a horse trailer can be made from aluminum, steel, fiberglass or a combination of these. Opinions vary as to which is best. One can also see wood body trailers, but these are not of high-quality.
Entrance and Exit Ramp
Most trailers have a single ramp, typically at the rear of the trailer. Horses walk forward to enter the trailer, but must walk backwards to exit.
Some trailers have two ramps, an entry ramp at the rear and an exit ramp at the front. This allows the horse to walk forward to enter and walk forward to exit. As horses find walking forward easier and less frightening, this is preferable to the single ramp option. Not only will you find it easier to unload your horses, but the risk of injury during unloading (e.g. from a horse slipping off the ramp) is reduced. Particularly with older horses that may be somewhat unstable on their feet, a two-ramp option is better. However, trailers with this configuration are more expensive.
If you have a large horse, make sure that the horse trailer is big enough in terms of stall length, width and height. In particular, slant load trailers tend to be less suitable for large horses due to stall length limitations.
The height of the chest and butt bars should be suitable for your horse; too high and the horse can go under them. Too low and the horse can go over them or sit on the butt bar.
The windows should be big enough to allow lots of light in. However, they should not be obscured so that the horse cannot be frightened by items or vehicles passing close by.
Ventilation is important, but it should be adjustable so that there can be a good air current on a hot and sunny day, but restricted if the horse is wet or the weather is very cold.
The construction should be sufficiently large and strong to accommodate the largest horse that you will transport.
A few other things to consider:
Buying a used trailer
When buying a used trailer, carefully inspect it first. Check for damage, holes, repaired areas and rust. In particular, make sure that the floor area is completely solid as this is one of the areas most likely to fail due to use or corrosion. Another area of particular attention is the ramp, along with its hinges and fasteners.
If there are wood components, check that there is no rot, cracks or splinters.
Make sure that there are no sharp or protruding edges. Keep in mind that some of the older trailers do not have all the safety features that are standard on modern trailers, so these need to be carefully checked.
Examine the tires, wheels, axle and suspension. If not sure, have a professional or garage inspect it for you.
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