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Hauling a Trailer 101: What Do I Need to Tow a Trailer?

Last updated December 22, 2023 by Brad Heath

To make sure both you and your horses are safe while hauling a trailer, you need to know your horse trailer’s weight and whether or not it’s compatible with your towing vehicle.

Before you head out to the nearby mountain range or to your next show or competition, it’s essential that you make sure your truck can pull your horse trailer safely. If your hitch and tow vehicle aren’t the right match for your trailer, and can’t support your hauling load, your travels could be interrupted by a dangerous disaster on the road.

Tongue weights, hitch specifics, and trailer weights are puzzle pieces that can sometimes be difficult to put together. Here, we’ll explain everything you need to know to figure out how much your trailer weighs, whether it’s compatible with your truck or vehicle, and how to decipher towing ratings.

Below, you’ll find all the information you need to safely pull your new horse trailer to all your favorite destinations.

Horse Trailer Weight: Why is it So Important When Hauling a Trailer?

It’s up to you to make sure that your truck and trailer are equipped for safely hauling a trailer on the roadway. The heavier your trailer is, the more difficult it can be to pull, depending on the vehicle you are pulling it with. The trailer’s weight adds stress to your truck or tow vehicle – if it’s too heavy, it can disrupt your trailer’s steering, braking, and even ruin your truck’s axles, wheels, and tires.

Horse trailers can weigh anywhere between 2,500 pounds base weight to over 12,000 pounds with larger horses and living quarters. Since you are towing such a heavy weight, it’s important to be careful and to know what you are doing. When you are traveling on the road, if your hitch snaps because your trailer is too heavy, or if one of your truck tires blows out, it can cause a serious road accident, putting you and your horses at risk of serious injury or even death.

That’s why it’s absolutely essential that you know your horse trailer’s weight. When you know the weight, you can make sure your truck is a good match to safely pull your trailer. If your tow vehicle is accurately rated to safely haul the weight of your tow vehicle, you’ll be able to travel safely and smoothly.

Does It Matter If I Weigh My Trailer Loaded or Unloaded?

When you are figuring out how much your trailer weighs, you can measure it either when it’s loaded or unloaded. Since most horse owners haul their trailers fully loaded 99% of the time when they are traveling, it’s best to know your trailer’s weight when it’s fully loaded. Your truck or tow vehicle should be able to handle traveling with a fully loaded trailer. So, when you weigh your trailer, make sure you do it with your horses, supplies, equipment, and hay all loaded inside.

It’s important that you weigh your trailer with your different loading configurations as well. If you usually load your horses in the front two stalls, but when you weighed your trailer had them in the rear two stalls, that small difference will affect the tongue weight of your trailer.

You have to make sure that your tow vehicle can handle the weight of your trailer no matter how you put your horses and your equipment in there. That way, you won’t have to worry about overweight towing disasters on the road.

The advice above works for most trailers.  However, things are a little easier with Double D Trailers because the axles are positioned directly under where the weight of your horses would be.  So, the tongue weight will change very little regardless of whether your trailer is loaded or unloaded.

Find a step-by-step list of how to weigh your horse trailer below.

Hauling a Trailer Terms to Know: Horse Trailer Weight vs. Tongue Weight

What is horse trailer weight?

Horse trailer weight is as simple as it sounds, it’s how much your trailer weighs. But the phrase “tongue weight” can be a little more confusing for horse owners who are buying their first trailer or for anyone shopping for a new trailer.

What is horse trailer tongue weight?

A tow vehicle hitched up to a trailer. The tongue of a trailer is the part that connects to the tow hitch on your vehicle. It’s the slim metal piece that keeps your trailer balanced and moves the weight forward onto the tow hitch. So, put simply, your horse trailer’s tongue weight is how much your trailer weighs from the front end, where it connects to your truck. It’s the amount of your trailer’s weight that’s supported by your truck while you travel.

If you were superman and could walk up to your trailer and lift it from the front end, you would be holding all of the tongue weight of your trailer. Typically, the tongue weight of your trailer is between 10-15% of the trailer weight.

Bumper pull trailers usually have smaller tongue weights than gooseneck trailers, but depending on your trailer’s design, the tongue weight will vary by brand and model.

Tongue Weight When Hauling a Trailer - A Sneaky Salesman Trick!

It can be a little tricky to figure out the actual tongue weight of your trailer and your truck or towing vehicle  that will be hauling a trailer. That’s because most owner’s manuals will include the towing capacity – telling you that your truck can tow 8,000 pounds conventional and up to 10,000 pounds gooseneck – but they avoid telling you the tongue weight capacity of your vehicle.

For example, on one GMC Sierra 1500 truck we found, the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating was 7,000 pounds, including a payload cargo rating of 1,635 pounds. But the manual failed to take into account the truck passengers, supplies and the tongue weight of the horse trailer. That means that if the truck carried two people (weighing around 150 pounds each), some hay (around 200 pounds) and also carried a trailer with 1,500 pounds of tongue weight – it would be extremely overloaded and unsafe.

When you are shopping for a new tow vehicle, be careful. Salesmen will always tell you the highest tow rating, and it seems impressive at first – because you think that’s how much you can actually tow. But they never show you the actual low tongue weight capacity. That means you could think you’re buying a great truck capable of towing a large amount of weight – but really you could be putting yourself in danger of towing an overweight vehicle.

Brad Heath, owner of Double D Trailers, cautioned horse owners that “some truck dealers and tow vehicle salesmen, and most horse trailer salespeople will tell a buyer anything and everything to get them to buy their product. Their main concern is the sale, not your safety.” Make sure you know the tongue weight capacity of your tow vehicle before you buy – don’t be tricked into buying a truck that won’t be able to support the weight of your horse trailer.

How to Find Trailer Tongue Weight

As you know, it’s so important to have a safe weight when hauling a trailer. But you can’t know what equipment you need (ball, hitch, etc.) to safely transport your horses until you know the tongue weight of your trailer. Since many trailers are custom designed, you probably won’t find your trailer’s tongue weight in any owner’s manual, and even the manufacturer might not be able to tell you.

In the past, people had to take their trailer to a weigh station to figure out their trailer’s tongue weight. First, you had to find a roadside weigh station near you, then haul your trailer over there. Once there, you had to first weigh only your tow vehicle while attached to the trailer, then you would weigh only your tow vehicle, unattached to the trailer. Then, you had to subtract the first weight (truck attached to trailer) from the second weight (truck alone) to figure out the tongue weight.

While you can still figure out your trailer’s tongue weight that way, it’s kind of a hassle. That’s why Brad Heath came up with a new tool to avoid the hassle of finding a weighing station and doing all those calculations on your own.

horse trailer tongue weight calculator

FREE Trailer Tongue Weight Calculator Tool

The new tool is a tongue weight calculator. You can easily find it at this link right here. All you have to do is type in three different numbers. First, the trailer weight. You can find your trailer's weight in the user manual or on the manufacturer’s website. Second, the length of the body of your trailer (do not include the hitch length in this number). And finally, the distance from the center of the axles to the back of the trailer (as you can see in the picture on the right).

Once you put in these three values, just press Calculate and this handy dandy tongue weight calculator tool will show you your trailer’s tongue weight.

It will save you time and energy and you won’t have to go to a weighing station and do the math on your own. And, it will help you know exactly how much you can pull, and hopefully prevent overweight towing accidents in the future.

What Do I Need to Tow a Trailer When It Comes to a Tow Vehicle?

a bumper pull horse trailer drawingOnce you’ve used the handy tool above to figure out your horse trailer’s tongue weight, now all you have to do is find a truck (or make sure your own truck) has a tongue weight capacity that’s higher than your trailer’s tongue weight.

Many truck manufacturers don’t give an accurate payload and towing capacity in the truck’s owner’s manual. Often, although the vehicle could technically support the load listed in the manual, they often don’t take into account things like extra passengers, cargo in your truck, and other factors. Since most horse owners usually travel with multiple people in the truck and often day packs or other supplies, it’s best you figure out your truck’s tongue weight on your own. That way, you’ll know you have an accurate tongue weight.

Generally, tongue weight should be 10 to 15 percent of your trailer’s total weight. For example, if you’re towing 8,000 pounds, then the tongue weight would be around 800 to 1,200 pounds (for a more accurate number, you can calculate your trailers tongue weight using our free tool).

Can Your Hitch Handle Your Tongue Weigh While Hauling a Trailer?

It’s also important to note that the hitch of your towing vehicle also needs to match the weight requirements for your trailer. Your truck and trailer combination is only as safe as the weakest link, and often the hitch can be that weak link. Many people forget to check their hitch capacity, assuming that if their truck can support the trailer weight, then the hitch must be able to as well. However, this is often not the case.

For example, when Michael, a recent Double D Trailers customer, was building his custom trailer, he decided to add features that increased the trailers overall weight, creating a total loaded trailer weight of 6,800 pounds. But Michael had a Ford F-150 truck, with a towing capacity of 9,000 pounds, so he wasn’t worried.

But Brad warned Michael that just because the truck has a high towing capacity, doesn’t mean that it’s a good match. There’s lots of other factors that come into play. Brad and Michael discovered that the hitch on Michael’s truck had a max gross weight of only 5,000 pounds, and a max tongue weight of just 500 pounds. Michael was surprised, but glad that he discovered that before trying to tow his new trailer.

That’s why it’s so important to double check your trucks hitch capacity and tongue weight capacity before you tow your trailer.

If you look at the hitch on your truck, it will most likely have two stickers on it, one with the rating for the hitch and one with the rating for the ball mount. To make sure your hitch is the right strength and can support your trailer, make sure to check both of these stickers.

If you buy your trailer first, then search for a truck that’s a good fit to be able to successfully haul your trailer, you’ll be more likely to find a truck with the right towing capacities. However, if you already have your truck, and you look at the two stickers only to find that they are not rated high enough to handle the load, you have a couple options:

1. Option number one is to use a weight distribution system. This repositions the weight of your trailer and changes the tongue weight so you can still use your truck to haul your trailer. This doesn’t work for all trailers, as some are too heavy to safely redistribute the load, but if you’re trucks hitch capacity is only a little bit off, this might be a good option for you.

2. Your second option is to find a new horse trailer, or a new towing vehicle. Don’t think that your truck will be able to handle it if you see that the numbers don’t line up. Hauling an unsafe weight can lead to serious road accidents. It’s just not worth taking any chances. A new truck might seem like an expensive option right now, but it will keep you and your loved ones safe for years and years and you will be able to travel worry-free.

How to Weigh a Horse Trailer [Step-by-Step Guide]

Since Double D Trailers are custom made for each customer, the weight of your horse trailer can vary. Although most trailer manuals and companies do tell you an estimate of the manufacturer’s listed weight value, it’s important you weigh your trailer yourself to find out exactly how much it weights. And, you’ll have to weigh your trailer on your own while it’s loaded with all your horses, supplies, and equipment to figure out the exact loaded weight of your trailer.

To see how much your horse trailer weighs, just take your trailer and your towing vehicle to a roadside weigh station. A quick google search will show you your nearest roadside weigh station. Most cost between $5 and $10 to use and the whole weight process should take you less than an hour.

visual representation of how to weigh a horse trailer

Step 1. First, while your fully loaded trailer is hitched up to your truck, drive your truck onto the weigh station scale.

All four wheels of your truck should be on the scale, and your trailer should be off the scale. Write this weight down as this weight is your gross vehicle towing weight. This number needs to be lower than your Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) to be able to safely tow your trailer.

Step 2. Second, weigh your truck alone for the curb weight.

Unhitch your trailer and weigh only your truck on the scale, and then write this number down. Your truck's curb weight subtracted from your gross vehicle towing weight (the first weight above) equals the tongue weight of your loaded trailer. Remember, this value (your trailer's tongue weight) should be lower than the tongue weight capacity on the two stickers on your hitch and ball mount.

Step 3. Third, reattach your trailer to your truck and weigh them together.

The fully loaded truck and trailer weight is your gross combined vehicle weight. Write down this weight as well. This needs to be lower than your truck or towing vehicle’s Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR).

Step 4. Finally, weigh your fully loaded horse trailer by itself.

This is the weight of your loaded horse trailer, and it should be safely within your tow vehicle’s towing capacity.

This can seem like a long process, but it’s essential for you to know these values.  They are important for your own safety and protection while traveling and in the event that you are pulled over by a police officer while on the road. If you are not hauling a legal load or do not have the correct hauling license, you could receive a hefty fine.

This can seem like a long process, but it’s essential for you to know these values.  They are important for your own safety and protection while traveling and in the event that you are pulled over by a police officer while on the road. If you are not hauling a legal load or do not have the correct hauling license, you could receive a hefty fine.

Truck Towing Ratings Matter When Hauling a Trailer

Even if your truck, like Michael’s Ford F-150 claims to have a towing capacity of 8,000 or 9,000 pounds, you always need to double check the hitch capacity and the tongue weight capacity before towing your new trailer for the first time.

Don’t assume your truck can handle the weight of your horse trailer or that you are towing a safe weight until you have considered all the factors that go into safely hauling your horses and trailer. Many people make the mistake of assuming that if their truck has a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating of 9,000 pounds, and their new trailer only weighs 6,000 pounds, then they’re good to go.

This common mistake can lead to deadly road accidents. Just because your truck claims it can tow that amount, doesn’t mean that the hitch and tongue capacity are perfect as well. Just imagine having a brand new, big suitcase made of a very strong material. It can hold exercise weights, your laptop, shoes, and a bunch of other heavy items. Everything seems great, but when you try to pick it up, the handle snaps.

Your truck’s hitch or low tongue capacity can be like that suitcase handle. Even though your truck has the capacity to pull a large amount of weight, if all the little parts aren’t strong enough, it could “snap” and things could go very wrong.

Always make sure you check everything before deciding that your truck is capable of safely transporting your trailer.

Why it’s Best to Buy Your Trailer First and Your Truck Second

Many horse owners purchase their new trailer only to find that their truck that they have at home won’t actually be able to handle towing their trailer. Trailer manufacturers all across the country deal with this all the time – many times having to change their designs to fit the low towing capacity of a customer’s truck or towing vehicle.

For that reason, Brad recommends, “first, spec out the trailer you’d like, the one that would work best for you, your family, and your horses, with all the custom designs you’d like, and then, after you have your trailer and know how much it weighs, then buy a tow vehicle that has enough capacity to safely haul your trailer.”

A good trailer can last you more than twenty years, while most trucks are either sold or traded in after 5-7 years, or sometimes even every 3-5 years. That’s why it’s a much better idea to first, build the trailer of your dreams, then find a truck that matches.

If you want to find a trailer that matches your truck’s small hauling capacity, you will have limited options, and probably won’t be able to get all the features you’d like. However, if you find your dream trailer first, then your truck second, you’ll be able to have the trailer of your dreams, and a truck that can safely pull it.

What Kind of Truck Do I Need for Hauling a Trailer?

If you have a gooseneck trailer or a larger trailer with living quarters, you might be thinking, “well, after hearing all that, I probably need a monster truck to haul my trailer safely!”

But really, it just takes a little bit of searching to find a towing vehicle with a larger towing capacity. For example, Michael’s F-150 wasn’t going to be able to pull his 2-horse trailer, but Brad’s GMC Sierra would have been able to handle pulling the trailer. Even though the two vehicles don’t seem too different, Brad’s GMC Sierra has a much stronger hitch, one capable of pulling 12,000 pounds, and it has a weight distribution system that gives it a tongue weight capacity of 1,500 pounds.

That’s why it’s important to ask the difficult questions when searching for a towing vehicle. At the truck dealership, the salesmen will tell you how great the truck’s towing capacity is and how easy it will be for any truck to pull your trailer. But, don’t take their word for it.

Make sure you look at the hitch rating sticker and the ball mount rating sticker on any truck you are thinking about buying to figure out how much it really can pull. The truth is that some trucks are just poorly and cheaply designed. Some truck manufacturers create trucks that can haul 8,000 or 9,000 pounds, then just to save a few extra bucks, put weak hitches on them that can’t support enough tongue weight to pull heavy loads.

There are great truck options out there, it just takes a little bit of searching. Often, with a quick search online, you can find a truck’s trailering guide, that will show you what the recommended maximum trailer weight is.

Do I Need a Truck Tow Package When Hauling a Trailer?

If you’re at the truck dealership and you mention that you’ll be using your truck to haul a horse trailer, the salesman might try to sell you something called a tow package. It’s a common upgrade that you can add to your truck.

A tow package generally includes a tow hitch that is more specific to your load and weight of your trailer, better suspension and brakes, a more powerful transmission, electrical connections to make sure the break lights on your trailer work with your truck, and a radiator with additional cooling capacity. All this creates a better equipped truck that’s going to be better able to handle towing your heavy trailer.

The advantages to adding a tow package to your truck are that your truck will be stronger and more powerful and better able to haul your trailer. If you have a larger trailer like a gooseneck trailer or a horse trailer with living quarters, a tow package could be just what you need to give your truck an extra boost that will make towing much easier.

However, there are some disadvantages as well. If you add a tow package, it will make your truck heavier and you won’t get as good of gas mileage as a normal truck. If you don’t plan on traveling too often, it might not be worth the upgrade.

But if you plan to travel frequently with your truck and trailer, a tow package is a reliable option that can help your truck last longer and make buying a towing vehicle that much easier.

Avoid Hauling a Trailer Overloaded to Safely Transport Horses

a truck hitched up to a gooseneck horse trailer with safety checks.When it comes to you and your trailer, what’s most important is safety. Knowing how much your trailer weights and how much your truck can pull is essential to keeping you and your loved ones safe on the road.

Brad Heath, owner of Double D Trailers, warns all his customers, “please make sure that your truck’s braking systems, emergency chains, and cables are all set up correctly. Double check, and triple check that your truck or tow vehicle is more than able to pull your fully loaded trailer. Your safety is what’s most important.”

If you don’t pay attention to your hauling weight, you could be unnecessarily putting you and your horses at risk of an accident next time you travel. But this can be easily avoided by weighing your truck and trailer and always taking the necessary precautions while towing.

If you have any questions about towing weights or figuring out your trailer’s tongue weight, don’t hesitate to contact us.

Frequently Asked Questions About Hauling a Trailer

What do I need to know before towing a trailer?

Before towing a horse trailer for the first time, it's important to educate yourself on the laws and rules of the state that you will be hauling a trailer. In addition, it is always recommended to do a "pre-flight" check on your trailer before towing it. This includes making sure you have all essentials packed in your trailer including safety kits, checking tires, lights, brakes, and mirrors.

Is hauling a trailer hard?

Hauling a trailer is a skill that gets better with practice. The more that you are able to haul your trailer and become familiar with how it handles with your tow vehicle, the better off that you will be. It's especially important to remember to practice turning, pulling in and out, and backing a trailer as well.

What should you not do when pulling a trailer?

The number one towing mistake is pulling a trailer that is too heavy for your truck or tow vehicle to handle. This can easily turn into a major disaster on the road.

What is the 80/20 rule for towing?

The 80/20 towing rule states that those towing trailers, RVS, or other equipment behind their tow vehicle should never exceed 80% of the vehicles max towing capacity.

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