Written by Brad Heath
The horse trailer of your dreams was just delivered to your front door. It’s brand new, spotless and clean, and has all the amazing unique features that you wanted. Now, it’s time to load up your horses and take it out for the first time.
But before you head to your favorite spot in the mountains or to your next horse show or event, you need to make sure your truck is strong enough to handle your trailer’s weight. If your truck isn’t a good match for your horse trailer, you could be in for a serious road accident. That’s why it’s so important to make sure you are hauling a safe load.
Your truck’s biggest responsibility is to keep you safe and to haul your horses and your horse trailer safely. If your truck can’t handle your trailer’s load, then you won’t be able to go anywhere with your brand new horse trailer!
Choosing a truck that’s a good match for your specific horse trailer can be a stressful process. There’s a lot of choices to make, and a lot of places where you can go wrong. That’s why we’ve compiled a bunch of helpful tips and suggestions that will make finding a truck much easier. With the information you’ll find below, you’ll be able to find an amazing truck that will be able to safely transport you and your horses without any problems.
In this article…
Brad Heath, owner of Double D Trailers, has talked to a lot of horse owners about finding trucks that are good matches for their horse trailers. He has found that one common problem in the horse trailer industry is that many people think or assume their trucks can pull more than they should.
Sometimes this is because of truck dealers who either intentionally or accidentally mislead potential customers. They make promises about the towing capacity of a certain truck, but don’t have any real facts or evidence to back it up. They’re biggest concern is making the sale, not making sure you are safe while towing.
Sadly, when it comes to figuring out accurate towing information, your typical truck salesman or car dealer can’t be trusted. Most will tell you anything and everything you want to hear, just to close the deal.
That’s what happened to Kristen, who was looking forward to getting a new Safetack Two Horse Gooseneck Trailer, until she realized that her truck was not going to be able to safely pull it.
Kristen bought a new 2019 Ford F-150 Limited Truck in the hopes of being able to pull her new horse trailer. She made some expensive modifications to her new truck and was all ready to get started custom designing her new Double D Trailer.
Her new truck was able to handle a maximum tongue weight of about 1,320 pounds, and had a maximum payload capacity of 1,530 pounds, according to the 2019 Ford Tow Chart (shown on the right). Based on what the salesman had told her, Kristen was confident that these numbers would be enough for her to safely tow a heavier trailer like a Gooseneck trailer.
She reached out to Brad Heath to double check that her truck would be able to safely pull the Gooseneck trailer she wanted. Sadly, Brad had to break the news to her that her new truck didn’t have the right weight capacities.
A typical empty gooseneck horse trailer (without living quarters) has a tongue weight of around 1,400 pounds, just over what Kristen’s Ford F-150 is able to tow. And the loaded trailer with two large horses in it would bump the tongue weight up even more.
Poor Kristen was frustrated that her truck wouldn’t be able to pull as much as she had been promised it would. Sadly, Kristen is just one of many horse owners that have been tricked by salesmen who give faulty information about towing capacities.
While some truck salesmen might know all about the fancy features on a truck, and maybe even a thing or two about the towing capacities, they aren’t horse trailer experts. So, when it comes to understanding how towing capacity, tongue weight, and payload all go together to make a safe towing weight, they aren’t the best source. Don’t fall for their impressive claims about towing capacity. Make sure you know your numbers for your trailer’s towing weights before buying a new towing vehicle.
Different truck brands always brag about how much their trucks can pull and the great “towing capacities” their trucks have. They advertise that their trucks can tow x-thousand pounds and show videos and pictures of trucks hauling tractors, houses, boats, huge cement tubes, and other heavy items.
It looks great, and it makes it seem like that truck can pull anything – but, there is a problem. Usually, truck commercials and even truck salesmen don’t give you all the information you need to determine if a certain truck has enough capacity to pull your horse trailer. While the overall towing capacity is an important number, the little numbers like hitch capacity and tongue capacity are also super important. You won’t know if you are hauling a safe weight or not without those numbers.
What matters most when buying a truck is not the brand, but the numbers. And not just the price tag – the most important numbers are the tongue weight capacity, the payload capacity, and the overall weight capacity.
Don’t be fooled by all the numbers the truck salesmen flash at you. Take your time when looking for a towing vehicle and make sure you do your own research and know your numbers. When you come to the dealership prepared, you’ll be ready to make the safest decision that will keep you, your family, and your horses safe.
So, what do you need to know when looking for a truck to tow your horse trailer? Well, first things first, before buying a new truck, you should first buy your new horse trailer. Since a quality horse trailer will last you more than 20 years, it’s best to invest first in the trailer of your dreams. Once you have your trailer just the way you want it, then you can start looking for a truck.
Many people do it the opposite way – they buy a truck then they try to find a trailer that their truck can pull. However, this often limits their options, because they are limited to trailers that their truck is able to handle. That’s why it’s best to first, design and customize the trailer that will be perfect for your needs, then find a truck to match.
When choosing the best truck that matches with your trailer, there are a lot of things to consider. Before going to the dealership, do your research. Think about what kind of towing you are going to do, how often you are going to use your truck, and everything you are wanting to do with your truck and your trailer.
There are also quite a few technical things you should consider. We’ll help you break them all down so you can find a truck that’s a good combination for all your trailering needs.
When you first take a look at a truck owner’s manual, it might seem like it’s in a different language. There are so many confusing acronyms – GVWR, GCVWR, GAWR… at first it can seem impossible to decipher!
In your truck’s owner’s manual, you’ll find information about your truck’s towing capability and limitations. There are three super important numbers you need to know when determining if your truck can pull your trailer. They are called the “Magic Gs”:
Magic G #1 is Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR). This number tells you the maximum amount of loaded weight allowed on your tow vehicle. This number needs to include the trailer tongue weight (but not the rest of the weight of the trailer.)
GVWR can be a little confusing because most people describe it as the weight of the truck “without the trailer” even though the tongue weight of the trailer is included in this value. When calculating this number, you need to include all the cargo in your truck and the passengers inside your vehicle as well.
Let’s look at a GMC Sierra 1500 for example. This truck has a GVWR of 7,000 pounds (you can find this value by looking at the first value at the top left of the photo above). That means, in that number you need to make sure you add up the total weight of the vehicle, fuel, passengers, and cargo.
Next, take a look at the Tire Loading and Information sticker. There, you’ll find the cargo limit of your truck. For example, the GMC Sierra’s cargo limit is 1,635 pounds.
So, to figure out how much cargo your truck can handle, use this formula: cargo max weight – passengers = cargo capacity.
For example, if you have two passengers that weight 150 pounds each, in the GMC Sierra, that means that you have 1,335 pounds of cargo space left (1,635 pounds cargo limit – 300 pounds two passengers = 1,335 pounds of cargo capacity left).
So, all your equipment and other items you’re hauling AND the tongue weight of your trailer needs to be less than the cargo capacity for you to haul a safe weight. It’s important that you remember to include the tongue weight when calculating this value. If not, you could overestimate how much your truck can safely pull and put yourself and your horses in danger on the road.
Magic G #2 is Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating (GCVWR). This number is the maximum weight allowed for the combination of your fully loaded tow vehicle and horse trailer. All you have to do to find this number is add up the loaded weight of your tow vehicle and your fully loaded trailer.
You can find this number to the right of the maximum trailer weight in the photo to the right.
Don’t assume that just because your trailer is less than the GCWR, your truck is strong enough to tow it. Always remember to do thorough calculations before determining whether your truck is capable of hauling your trailer or not.
Magic G #3 is Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR). This is the amount of weight that your tow vehicle’s axels can safely carry. If you exceed this limit, you could put unnecessary stress on your truck’s axels and wear them out quickly, putting yourself and your family in danger.
Most people don’t put enough focus on this Magic G, but it is just as important as the others. Remember, your truck is only as strong as the weakest part, so it’s essential that you know even the little numbers that might not seem significant at first glance.
GAWR is connected to having enough hitch capacity as well. Brad Heath explained that many people think that they can just swap out hitches if their hitch doesn’t have a high enough rating. But this could end in disaster if you don’t check the GAWR and make sure to stay within the GAWR capacity. Making changes to your truck affects the overall towing capacity, so that’s why it’s important to make sure you do the math to make sure you are hauling a safe weight.
One of the most important numbers you need to know to figure out whether your truck can tow your horse trailer or not is your trailer’s tongue weight. Tongue weight is how much your trailer weights if you were to pick it up from the front end, where the tongue of the trailer connects to your truck’s hitch.
Obviously, your trailer is too heavy to pick it up from that end and weigh it like that. And, since trailer manufacturers don’t put the exact tongue weight in the owner’s manual or on a sticker on your trailer, to figure out the tongue weight, you have to actually weigh it yourself. You can also estimate the tongue weight using this tongue weight calculator.
Make sure you know the tongue weight of your trailer, and double check to make sure the hitch on your truck is rated high enough to support your trailer’s tongue weight.
Some people think that after doing all the calculations to figure out how much weight your truck can safely support, you need to go above and beyond to really make sure that your truck can tow your trailer. Some sources claim that you need to buy a truck that can pull 20% more weight than you plan on hauling. They call this the 20% rule.
Certain sources claim that the 20% rule applies only to trailering horses. Since the horses move around when you are hauling them, they have a different center of gravity that puts more stress on your truck. But, is this really true?
Brad Heath has done research on this subject and after reading many tuck owner’s manuals, determined that the 20% rule is a myth. He has never seen any owner’s manual that has mentioned the 20% rule. If it was really important, then manufacturers would mention it in the manual.
Brad says, “Companies that manufacture trucks that are designed to haul heavy weights realize that their customers could be pulling anything from trailers and cattle to boats and other heavy items. If they determine that a truck can pull a certain amount of weight safely, then that’s the weight it can pull.”
When asking the question, “how much can my truck pull?” you don’t have to worry about other things like curb weight, gear ratios, or wheel base. All of these things are well accounted for when your truck manufacturer determines the GVWR, GCVWR, and the GAWR.
To make sure you are hauling a safe weight, all you have to do is pay attention to the Magic Gs. If you double check to make sure you are not towing more than the values in the Magic Gs allow, then you will be trailering a safe weight.
Like the 20% rule, there’s a lot of faulty information out there about towing capacities and safe towing practices. Many potential truck buyers wonder if the type of chassis design matters, which drive system is the best, and how those things will affect their truck’s towing capacity.
While these questions are asked fairly often, it’s important to remember that the most important numbers are your truck’s towing capacity and the Magic Gs. All the other factors are just small parts of those numbers. If you make sure to do your research and find a truck that’s strong enough to haul your trailer, then everything else will be safe and secure as well.
Here’s some other frequently asked questions that you yourself might have…
Brad recommends a manual transmission for people that live in very hill or mountainous regions where you’ll be going downhill more often than usual. He says that since downshifting gears in manual transmission provides additional braking, it could be an extra layer of safety for you and your vehicle.
However, since today’s transmissions are ever more advanced and sophisticated, this might not even be necessary. Many popular truck models and brands don’t even offer fully manual transmissions. Instead, they offer a “manual” mode on their trucks with automatic transmissions. Really, it just depends on what you are most comfortable driving.
This is a good question and also depends on what type of driving you plan on doing. If you plan on hauling a larger, heavier trailer (especially if you have large breed horses), a diesel truck might be a better option for you. That’s because diesel trucks usually have more engine torque and can stay in a higher gear during towing. That way, you won’t have to move the transmission shift to a lower gear to rev the engine up. It’ll keep the truck at lower RPMs and thus handle the strain of pulling a larger trailer a little better than a gas truck would.
Many times, when you’re at the truck dealership choosing a truck, the salesperson will offer you a tow package. This usually includes a hitch, transmission cooler, stronger brakes and suspension, and a trailer wiring system. It also comes with extended mirrors and turn signals for your trailer.
Some trucks come with a tow package built in when they come from the factory, others can have a tow package added in after you buy it. Whether it comes already built in or if you add it on yourself, a tow package is a great way to make sure your truck is ready to haul – it makes travel safer and better prepares your truck for towing. Brad says, “in my opinion, a tow package is essential for any vehicle that’s going to tow a horse trailer.”
Once you know your truck can safely haul the weight of your trailer, you’re all good to go, right? Well, not quite. There are still a few other safety precautions that you should take before setting out on the road. You should check your state’s towing laws to make sure you have all necessary documents and meet all the requirements for road travel.
Towing requirements and laws vary by state, so you should always make sure to check with your local DMV for the specifics. But here, we’ll give you some basic information about certain towing laws and requirements you might find.
Just because you have a current driver’s license doesn’t mean that you can tow your trailer anywhere you want. Some states require that you have a special license, depending on the weight of your entire trailer truck combo and the purpose of your hauling.
If you are hauling horses for business purposes – for example, if you are part of a professional racing operation, a horse transportation company, or a horse boarding or training organization – then there might be special restrictions you need to comply with. You can check with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for more details about certain restrictions.
Most horse owners that travel with their horses to go to shows or to go trail riding don’t need to worry about these business restrictions. However, depending on how heavy your trailer is, you might need a certain type of license or additional paperwork before you begin your travels.
If the weight capacity of your trailer and your truck, the GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Restriction) is more than 10,001 pounds, then you might need a commercial driver’s license (CDL), an electronic logging device (ELD) or a paper record of duty status (RODS). Let’s look at each of these items.
A commercial driver’s license (CDL) is a type of driver’s license that truckers have. It’s for people who drive vehicles with large weights. If your rig weighs more than 26,000 pounds, then you might need one of these. To get one, you have to go to your local DMV for additional driver’s training and take a test. Check with your state’s DMV rules to see if you need this type of license.
An electronic logging device (ELD) keeps track of your driving time, routes taken, vehicle speed, and necessary rest periods. This makes sure that you are driving according to the safety requirements set out by the American Horse Council.
A paper record of duty status (RODS) is a driver’s log that allows you to record things like the date, total driving hours, and total miles driven. Depending on what state you live in and how much you are hauling and why, you might need to keep a record of your driving using a RODS.
But, don’t panic. If you have a smaller trailer like a bumper pull trailer (which is less than 10,001 pounds), you most likely won’t have to do any of this. However, if you have a larger, heavier trailer like a gooseneck horse trailer or a horse trailer with living quarters, then you might need one or all of the things listed above.
If you have a trailer that weighs over 10,001 pounds, you might need a ELD to fill out the RODS paperwork. But you don’t need a commercial driver’s license.
If you have a trailer that weighs over 26,001 pounds, you might need a ELD to fill out the RODS paperwork, and you might need a commercial driver’s license.
To figure out if your state requires you to have a commercial driver’s license, first, find the GVWR of your truck and your trailer. Then, check the specific license requirements for your state. And finally, review the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s requirements.
There are not specific speed rules for driving a horse trailer. However, you should always follow the speed limit wherever you are driving and remember that you are in a much larger and heavier vehicle than everyone else around you. When you are towing your trailer, it will take much longer for you to come to a stop while braking.
For that reason, use common sense and be extra cautious while towing your trailer. Make sure to not follow too closely behind other cars so you can always have enough space to stop if necessary. If it has recently rained and the roads are wet, you should have an even bigger distance between you and other vehicles.
Take your time, travel in the right lanes, and remember to always be cautious. Remember that you’ll need more time than usual both to accelerate at the on-ramp and to brake and come to a stop.
Sometimes there are special rules for stopping at weight stations when you are traveling. If your truck and trailer is over 10,001 pounds or 26,001 pounds, then you might occasionally have to stop at a weigh station. Make sure you follow the posted signs and comply with all road rules. If not, you could be fined or get a ticket.
When hauling your horse trailer, your safety is what’s most important. Don’t let your weekend riding competition or your trail riding adventure be ruined by getting a ticket or worse, having an accident on the road.
Here’s 10 basic tips you can follow while driving to stay safe an arrive at your destination without any problems:
If you make sure to do all of these things, you will be well prepared to hit the road with your horses and have an enjoyable and safe trip to wherever you might be going.
If you have any questions about requirements or trailer weights and specifics, contact us here, we’d be more than happy to help answer any questions you might have.
This article was written by Brad Heath and published on Monday, 31 January 2022.
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