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How to Find Your Horse Trailer Weight: Why Does this Matter for Safety?

double d trailers logoIt is ultimately up to you to make sure that your truck and trailer combination are well matched for safe hauling on the road.  A major factor in determining this is your horse trailer weight.  In this article, we’re going to help you understand why your horse trailer’s weight is important to know and we’ll provide some tips for finding this value.

Why is Your Horse Trailer Weight So Important to Know?

Your horse trailer weight causes a major stress on your tow vehicle.  A trailer that is too heavy can impact your tow vehicle’s steering, cause trouble with braking, snap an inadequate hitch, and even cause failure with your truck’s tires, wheels, and axles.

Even one of these results can be very dangerous when you are hauling horses on the road.  That is why it’s so important for you to know your horse trailer weight.  This way you can be sure that your tow vehicle and trailer are well matched for safe hauling.

Brad Heath, owner of Double D Trailers, sums it up well:  “It’s up to the individual owner to know their tow vehicle specs, and insure the vehicle is rated to safely carry the load of their horse trailer.”

Horse Trailer Weight vs. Tongue Weight

horse trailer tongue weightYour horse trailer weight is exactly what it sounds like… it’s how much your trailer weighs.  You should consider both the loaded and unloaded values when matching your tow vehicle.  A trailer that is fully loaded with several horses, hay, and equipment will be significantly heavier.

The tongue weight of your horse trailer is the amount of weight that is supported by your tow vehicle during towing.  If you were to walk up to a trailer and physically lift the front end, you would be holding the tongue weight.  Both bumper pull horse trailers and gooseneck horse trailers have tongue weight values.

For a bumper pull trailer, this value is typically between 10-20% of the empty trailer’s gross weight.  On a gooseneck trailer, the tongue weight is typically around 22% but can vary significantly based on the trailer’s design. 

Can Your Tow Vehicle Handle Your Tongue Weight?

Most vehicle owner’s manuals will list the towing capacity but not the tongue weight capacity.  For instance, it may say that a tow vehicle can carry 8,000 lbs conventional and 10,000 lbs fifth wheel (or gooseneck),  but it doesn’t tell you the tongue weight capacity of that vehicle.

horse trailer towingThe tongue weight is being supported by the tow vehicle’s frame, axles, wheels, and tires.  Every vehicle has a certain payload that it is able to support so that its total weight (including the tow vehicle’s weight) doesn’t exceed its Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR).

For instance, we found a GMC Sierra 1500 with a GVWR of 7,000 lbs that includes a payload cargo rating of 1,635 lbs.  This cargo value needs to take into account truck passengers, supplies, and the tongue weight of the horse trailer. 

If this truck carries two passengers (300 lbs), some bales of hay (200 lbs), and supports a bumper pull trailer with a 1,500 lbs tongue weight - it will be grossly overloaded and unsafe.

Brad cautioned, “Vehicle manufacturers always advertise the highest tow rating, but they never point out the low tongue weight ratings, and low payload capacities.  And, as we’ve seen with a previous article, some tow vehicle dealers and most horse trailer dealers will tell a buyer anything the buyer wants to hear in order to make the sale.”

Can Your Hitch Handle Your Tongue Weight?

Another aspect of your tow vehicle that is greatly impacted by tongue weight is your vehicle’s hitch.  Your hitch will often have two stickers on it: one for the hitch and one for the ball mount.  You need to check both of these to make sure that they are rated to support the tongue weight of your horse trailer.

If they are not rated high enough to handle the load, you have two options.  1) You may be able to use a weight distribution system to redistribute the load.  2) You may need to find a new horse trailer or tow vehicle because your current combination is unsafe for the road.

Is Your Horse Trailer Weight Impacted by Living Quarters Installation?

horse trailer with living quartersThe short answer is ‘Yes!’

We had one client who purchased a SafeTack Reverse 2 horse gooseneck trailer with an unfinished dressing room in the front.  It was a Warmblood sized trailer with tires and axles rated to carry two really large horses with their gear in the front.  One year after the purchase, the client decided to upgrade their trailer by installing a full living quarters in the front dressing room.  It was complete with cabinets, plumbing, and sleeping quarters. 

Brad explained, “It added a significant amount of weight to the trailer – enough to put it over the axle limit.  Once the client informed us of what she had done, we ended up changing the axles out to a heavier suspension, which was very costly.”

If you decide to make any major additions to your horse trailer, make sure you discuss these changes with your trailer manufacturer first.  Don’t just assume you can add or haul anything just because it fits!

Does a Loaded vs. Unloaded Horse Trailer Weight Matter?

gooseneck horse trailerWhen you are matching your tow vehicle to a horse trailer, make sure that it is sufficient to handle a fully loaded trailer.  This would include the maximum number of horses, hay, equipment, and supplies. 

Plus, it should be able to handle the trailer’s load despite any loading configuration.  For example a SafeTack Reverse 3 horse trailer can be built with a double side ramp that places the axles more towards the rear of the trailer.  This results in a heavier than normal tongue weight. 

If the front two stalls of this particular trailer are loaded with horses (causing weight in front of the axles), the tongue weight will be much heavier than if the same two horses are loaded in the rear two stalls.  The key is to insure that your tow vehicle can handle the load regardless of any loading configuration.

As we’ve illustrated, the loaded tongue weight with horses can vary significantly from the unloaded tongue weight.  When a trailer manufacturer lists the weight or tongue weight of their trailer, they can never know the “loaded” weight with your horses and equipment on board.  That is why it’s important for you to find these values on your own.

Here’s how to do it…

How to Weigh Your Horse Trailer

Take your horse trailer and truck to a roadside weigh station to find your horse trailer weight.  Use the diagram here to position your truck and trailer to find specific weight values.

how to find your horse trailer weight

A.  Weigh your truck with the fully loaded trailer hitched up first.  All four tires of your truck should be on the scale and the trailer should be off of the scale.  This value needs to be less than your Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) for safe towing.

B.  Unhitch your trailer and weigh your truck alone.  Then subtract your values for A-B to find the tongue weight of your loaded trailer.  This tongue weight value needs to be less than the tongue weight capacity on your hitch and ball mount stickers.

C.  Weigh your fully loaded truck and trailer to find the Gross Combined Vehicle Weight.  This needs to be less than your truck’s Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating (GCVWR).

D.  Weigh your fully loaded trailer alone to find the weight of your horse trailer.  This needs to be within your tow vehicle’s towing capacity.

horse trailer towing

If you are unable to find a weigh station in your area, you may also want to try out our free Tongue Weight Calculator.  This online tool will ask you for your trailer’s weight, which you will need to estimate from the manufacturer’s listed value and the weight of the horses and equipment you are planning to haul.

Then, you will need to measure the length of your trailer’s body excluding the hitch area and the distanced from the center of the front axle to the back of the trailer.  Click ‘calculate’ and the tool will give you an approximate tongue weight for your trailer.

When in doubt, it is always a good idea to consult an expert to make sure that you are towing a safe load.  You can contact Brad here at Double D Trailers with any questions on horse trailer weight and towing.


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