All that glitters is not gold. And every shiny new horse trailer is not going to protect your horse from injury or death. “Manufacturers and designers are top notch when it comes to building trailers that are eye catching sitting on the dealer lot, but often, the product may fail long term particularly in a high stress situation.” This comes from Double D Trailers owner Brad Heath who is an expert on trailer safety and design. With new safety and material technology being developed every day, even a trusted older trailer can be outdated in its ability to protect your horse’s life on the road. That is why it’s important to look for these 16 horse trailer safety features before you let your horse set hoof inside the trailer.
Here’s a terrifying thought. What would happen if you are driving down the highway and your trailer floor suddenly gives out beneath your horse’s feet? It’s hard to even think about. That’s why a strong, rust resistant flooring material should be one for the very first things you look for in a trailer before you load your horse.
The aluminum flooring on this trailer has become corroded and weak over time. A horse could easily fall through during travel.
Besides conducting heat and vibration from the road directly into your horses’ legs, metal flooring can also weaken due to rust. Even aluminum floors can corrode and buckle if they are exposed to moisture over time. A better alternative would be to look for a trailer with treated wood flooring covered by a mat. The wood should be kept dry and free of any sort of rot or insect damage. Better yet, look for rumber flooring made from 100 percent recycled tire rubber and plastic. It combines strength and durability with minimal transfer of heat, noise, and vibration.
One of the most overlooked aspects of trailer design is the temperature inside. On a hot and sunny day the interior of your trailer can become a sweltering 140 degrees, which can lead to heat exhaustion and dehydration for your horse. That is why proper ventilation from windows and pop-up roof vents is extremely important. “As long as a trailer has a window that slides, and has some roof vents overhead of each horse, ventilation is fine,” Brad shared. Look for roof vents that are located over the heads of each individual horse for best results.
Many slant load horse trailers are designed with a fixed tack storage area on the rear corner of the trailer that leaves a narrow opening for loading and unloading. This can create a headache if you have a stubborn loader who doesn’t want to make the squeeze. More importantly, this can cause extreme danger if you are trying to pass through this opening with your horse and something spooks him into sudden motion. With no room to escape you could easily be crushed.
Instead, look for a trailer with a wide-open loading area. Double D Trailers has Safetack models that have a storage area that swings out like a second door to allow a wide-open area for loading and unloading. You can also have a model designed with a second loading ramp on the side of the trailer allowing even more accessibility. Regardless of the trailer’s configuration, make sure that an escape door is always present so you can get out of the way if something unexpected happens.
The SafeTack compartment swings out like a second door to leave a wide open loading area on this slant load horse trailer.
Butt and chest bars are handy to keep your horse where he’s supposed to be inside the trailer. However, in an emergency situation, a rearing horse could easily snag a leg over these bars with no way to escape. Make sure that the butt and chest bars in your trailer have a quick release pin so that they can be lowered even with the full weight of a horse on the bar. Without this feature, it can be difficult to free your panicked horse without causing further injury.
Trailers that don't have quick release pins on butt and chest bars can be dangerous if a panicked horse gets a leg over with no way to escape.
The walls of a horse trailer should be made of a double layer of material for added strength and heat insulation. Brad explained, “Single walled trailers with aluminum skin can be dangerous if a horse rears up and punches a leg through.” To avoid this, the best material to use is 16-gauge Galvanite since it is stronger and won’t allow your horse to kick straight through.
It may seem like an afterthought, but the proper roofing material can make a tremendous difference on the interior temperature of your trailer. Avoid mill-finished aluminum roofs at all costs as their tendency to conduct and retain heat can make the trailer thermometer skyrocket. Brad said, “It’s the worse design and poorest choice of material on Planet Earth to cover a horse trailer!”
This is a mill finished roof, which is a horrible choice of material since it retains heat during travel.
All aluminum roofs should be double layered to keep the temperature to a minimum. Better yet, look for a self-insulated material like the fiber composite in Double D Trailers SafeBump roofs. These are made of a single piece of fiber-composite material so they don’t leak, are well insulated, and are flexible to protect your horse’s head upon impact.
More on the heat issue! Make sure the interior of your new trailer is painted white so that light (and heat) are reflected and temperature can be minimized. This will also help create a light and open feeling in the trailer that can relieve some of your horse’s natural claustrophobia.
The dividers in your horse trailer should always be made of either steel or a Z-frame material. These dividers are strong enough to maintain their shape in the case of an accident. When weaker aluminum dividers are used, they tend to break at their welding points causing further injury to your frightened horse.
“It is amazing how many large, well known brands produce trailers without any padding in the horse area on some of their models.” Without this protection, your horse is going to get cuts and bruises driving down the road. Brad continued, “If it’s a trailer that doesn’t even have padding, walk away immediately and shop for something else.” Look for padding that is at least 2” thick.
Many trailer manufacturers only use a 3/16” thick rubber lining that can easily be pawed away. This exposes sharp metal fasteners below. Look for walls in a trailer that have a petroleum product lining that is at least 30” from the floor. It should also be at least 1/2" thick. This material will help protect the trailer walls and more importantly the horse’s legs from damage when impact occurs (aka - When your horse kicks the wall!) The SafeKick wall system from Double D Trailers is made of a composite material that is both strong and flexible to help protect your horse’s legs.
Ford trucks recently released an all aluminum truck that received poor crash test ratings. As it turns out, aluminum trailers also don’t make the cut. We’ve talked extensively about the pros and cons of steel versus aluminum trailer construction and concluded that steel is safer, stronger, and holds up better in an accident. “Most trailers that are constructed of any sort of steel frame are going to be safer in an accident than aluminum framed trailers,” Brad explained. However, since steel does tend to rust – it is even better to go with a composite Z-frame material. It will be rust resistant, light, and most importantly STRONG.
When you are inspecting a trailer, make sure that it has large rear lights to signal to other vehicles. The location of these lights should be high up on the rear of the trailer to alert the car behind you and also the car behind that car, of braking and turning. This simple feature can go a long way to avoid rear-end collisions.
This isn’t strictly a trailer safety feature, but is still extremely important to consider before hitching up. An inadequate tow vehicle or hitch could spell disaster on the road. Make sure you know the specifications for your tow vehicle and the true weight of your loaded trailer. If you’re not sure, check out this helpful article that explains what you need to do. Also, this tongue-weight calculator is a handy tool to make sure that your trailer, tow vehicle, and hitch are properly matched.
If your horse is too big for his trailer stall, he is going to be uncomfortable and unsafe. If he’s too small, he will shift around and be insecure. Be sure to measure your horse from nose to tail and compare that to your trailer’s stall length. Brad shared, “Any of the Safetack models that we manufacture will comfortably and safely support a horse that is up to 15.3 or 16.0 hands high. We generally recommend for any breed that is 16.0 hands or over, to add footage to the size of the stall.” Since Double D Trailers makes custom horse trailers, various size stalls can be added to your new trailer to accommodate your different sized horses.
A trailer should include tubular dividers that allow your horse to see around while traveling. This also allows for better airflow and can reduce the stress of your animal while traveling. Brad explained, “Most of the manufacturers out there build stalls that are really small and don’t use tubular head dividers. It makes the trailer feel like a coffin.”
If you purchase a trailer with a ramp, make sure the ramp is made of quality non-slip materials. A “spring-assist” will help protect your back when you are lifting it into place. It is best if this ramp is positioned outside full-height doors. Not only does this protect you from being kicked when moving the ramp, but it also provides an extra layer of protection in case of a rear end collision. Finally, look for a minimal gap between the ramp and the trailer floor as it can remove shoes if a horse’s foot gets stuck.
By looking for these 16 safety features you can help ensure the safety of you and your horse when you go on your next trip together. Don’t be fooled by every shiny new trailer. If it doesn’t make the safety cut, it isn’t worth a second thought!
What do you think is the most important safety feature on a horse trailer?
What are your experiences with the features listed in this article?
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