Making a horse trailer purchase can be very intimidating the first time around. You may find yourself asking, “Do I buy a slant load or a straight load, steel or aluminum, step-up or ramp style? How do I know if it fits my horse? What are some safety concerns?” There are many features and options that you’ll need to consider that impact the usefulness of the trailer and the safety of your horse. Read on to see tips from two experts on how to shop for your first horse trailer.
First, we’ll meet an eventing rider from Hershey, Pa who can provide a first-hand account of buying a first trailer. Chelsea Larson started riding when she was 7 years old. After participating in 4-H clubs as a teenager, riding with the Penn State Equestrian team, and finally purchasing her first horse as an adult, she found herself ready to buy her first horse trailer in 2008. “Buying a trailer is a big deal!” she said. She wanted a trailer that would help her and her horse travel and compete in the beginner novice level of eventing.
Chelsea purchased her first horse trailer, a 2 horse bumper pull trailer, in 2008. Here she is competing with her horse, Sherwin.
She started her search for a used trailer with the help of her father. “My biggest concern was determining the condition of a used trailer. I knew what type of trailer I wanted and that I had the correct truck to tow it. However, I knew little about tire tread, rust or maintenance plans.” She eventually found a steel 2 horse bumper pull trailer that fit the bill. “In hindsight, it was a good first purchase for me. The trailer was well built and sturdy. I liked the tack room and the repairs it required were minimal effort for my dad and I.”
Chelsea’s first trailer was purchased in 2008. This image shows her horse, Tyler, loading after a long day.
After several years, Chelsea was ready to graduate to a newer and larger trailer. She began to consider maneuverability as a key feature. For her, a 2 horse gooseneck trailer was easier to tow. “The concern that led to my latest (and last) trailer was my ability to comfortably move my horse, gear and supplies to events up and down the east coast.” Chelsea currently competes at the Novice Three-Day-Event level with her horse Sherwin and is working towards the Training level.
Many first time buyers have similar concerns as Chelsea when they start their search. It is a good idea to know the pros and cons of trailer features so that you have an idea of what is the best fit for you and your horse. Luckily for you, we put together this handy guide to walk you though the decision-making process! Brad Heath, owner of Double D trailers shared his expert advice on each of these frequently-asked-questions.
Brad Heath owns Double D Trailers, which specializes in quality made custom trailers.
The first thing you should do when you consider the size of a trailer is look at the height, weight, and breed of your horse. Find a trailer where your horse is going to fit both comfortably and safely. If the space is overly large, your horse will be able to shift around too much during travel. If the space is too small, he will be cramped and likely unhappy. Measure your horse from nose to rump before looking at new models.
“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,” he shared. “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 specializes in custom horse trailers, it is also possible to make individual stalls within the same trailer different sizes to accommodate a larger horse.
Double D Trailers makes quality custom made horse trailers. These are some pictures of the manufacturing process.
Ventilation is often thought of as the best way to regulate the temperature of your horse within the trailer. “As long as a trailer has a window that slides, and has some roof vents overhead of each horse, ventilation is fine,” Brad shared.
There is another important factor to consider in regards to temperature. “Ventilation is important, “ Brad started, “but material, in my opinion, is MORE important.” Various construction materials will reflect or conduct heat differently. A trailer with a plain mill-finished aluminum roof can cause the interior of the trailer to reach temperatures as high as 140 degrees on a hot day. Be sure that any aluminum roof is insulated or look for a roof made of a self-insulated material like fiber composite.
Another consideration when choosing the material of your trailer is whether it is going to rust. If you buy a steel trailer, make sure it has quality sealants and paints.
“I try to steer people away from the manger style,” Brad said. When looking at a manger style trailer, a main concern has to do with the safety of the person actually leading the horse onto the trailer. In a walk-through style or a one-sided manger style, the loader can easily step aside once the horse has reached the front. However, a manger that stretches the entire width of the trailer will trap the person who is loading the second horse. “It really creates an unsafe environment for you, not to mention it’s just not good for your horse.” Although rare, it is possible for a horse to injure themselves by climbing up into the manger during moment of panic. Overall, a walk-through style with an easily accessed escape door is a much better option.
Which is best: straight load or slant load?
Brad prefers slant load trailers because they make better use of the floor space and allow for a nicer trailer on a shorter wheel base. This means they can be less expensive and easier to tow.
It is still very important that you get the right kind of slant load. He elaborated, “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.” He went on to say that rear tack areas, which most slant loads have, are generally viewed as dangerous. Finally, many feel that it can be hard to access the first or second horse if there aren’t proper side access doors.
The solution to all of this is to make sure you get a slant load trailer that has tubular head dividers so your horse can see its surroundings, a proper sized stall, and a dual side ramp so any one of the horses can be accessed if necessary. Finally, check out the Safetack design from Double D Trailers that allows the tack area to swing out like a door. This allows for a full width opening when loading and unloading horses.
If slant load isn’t your preference, then check out some straight load models. Straight load trailers let the horse balance on their front and rear legs evening during travel, which can be beneficial over really long hauls. Chelsea prefers straight-load trailers partly because her horse does better with them. “Your horse should dictate this decision,” she said.
This 3 horse gooseneck slant load trailer from Double D Trailers includes tubular head dividers, an oversized front stall, an enlarged 90” width, a dual access side ramp, and a Safetack tack area.
Should I buy a step-up or ramp trailer?
At Double D Trailers, the step-up trailer is considered the “standard” version while a ramp is an optional add-on. Still, about 75% of the trailers Brad sells have ramps. Why is this? “A ramp is always going to be a safer option,” he explained. With a step-up trailer, there is some risk of a horse skinning a leg while offloading.
If you do purchase a trailer with a ramp, make sure the ramp is made of a quality material with a non-slip surface. Also, look for one that is “spring-assisted” so you can lift it easily into position for travel. Brad prefers ramps that are positioned on the outside of full height doors. This way, you are protected from kicking while lifting the ramp and it provides an extra layer of protection in case of a rear-end collision. Chelsea also added that you should make sure there is a minimal gap between the ramp and trailer. “A gap in the mat and ramp edge may remove shoes!” she stated.
It is important that trailer ramps are made of non-slick materials. This is a 2 horse slant load bumper pull trailer with a tack room.
Should I buy a new or used horse trailer?
A used trailer can be a good option for a first-time buyer because of financial considerations. Used trailers also allow a person to test out how often they’ll use the trailer and what types of features they really like. In Chelsea’s case, she shared, “I bought the trailer from a dealer and it was a good experience. Keep in mind though, I set out knowing I could buy a mild fixer-upper trailer.”
Brad added on, “If you find a used trailer that is exactly what you want, fits your lifestyle, is within your budget, and you’re really thrilled every time you use the trailer, by all means, go for it.” He does caution that trailer technology has advanced quite a bit in the recent years in terms of materials and safety features. Make sure you don’t compromise on safety or features that you really want when making this purchase. It would be wiser to invest in a nicer trailer that can last you for the next 15-25 years.
What else should I consider when making my purchase?
Make sure you think fully about how you plan to use this new trailer before you jump into the purchase. What features are you going to need on this trailer to meet your needs? Chelsea’s current trailer is a 2+1 gooseneck trailer with a tack room and an awning. It’s perfect for her lifestyle. “Long days eventing in various weather conditions with one to two horses is the idea situation for this trailer. I can pull the trailer with two horses, hay, and supplies for a week down and back to South Carolina without a problem.”
Chelsea added a few more tips that you might not have considered once you own the trailer. “Before buying a trailer, purchase US Rider coverage. AAA doesn’t help trailers and horses.” This useful service will provide roadside assistance for your car, truck, and trailer, veterinary recommendations and even stabling suggestions in event of an accident. Next, she recommended, “Understand the tow equipment and connections. Inspect for safety options. Install exterior LED lights and make sure your trailer as excellent exterior lighting.” She went on to suggest you read your truck’s owner’s manual in regards to towing guidelines and don’t buy a trailer you can’t afford to maintain. “Trailer tires aren’t cheap!”
Buying your first horse trailer will be a milestone in your life as a horse person. Make sure you understand the various options that you will need to consider so that you can make the best decision for you and your horse. As Chelsea says, “The first trailer purchase is a bit daunting. My advice is to not rush, have a knowledgeable friend, and do your homework.” For more information, be sure to check out the resources and videos available on the Double D Trailers website.
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