It’s a debate as old as horse trailers themselves: should you buy the gooseneck or the bumper pull? Although goosenecks are useful when you have a lot of horses to haul a long way, they’re also much more expensive than their smaller counterparts. If you’re only planning to take your horse on small trips for trail rides or nearby shows, bumper pull horse trailers are often all you really need.
These smaller trailers are easy to handle, maintain and afford, especially if you’re just toting around one or two special horses. Bumper pull horse trailers have a somewhat undeserved reputation for being less safe than goosenecks, but if you know what to look for in a safe bumper pull, you should have no worries when you’re on the road with your favorite filly.
There are basically three categories of safety you need to be thinking about: road safety, horse safety and your own safety. Watch for the following nine signs when you’re shopping for bumper pull horse trailers if you want to have the safest trailer on the highway.
1. Excellent weight distribution. You can add a weight distributing hitch to help make pulling your trailer easier, but if it’s already designed for success you’re miles ahead of the rest. A very safe bumper pull trailer is designed so the majority of the weight of your horses is carried over the axles, reducing the strain on your tow vehicle and making maneuvering easier. A quality suspension system built for the weight of your loaded trailer is another must to keep the little bumps along the way from being big problems.
2. Brakes, brakes and more brakes. Older bumper pull horse trailers weren’t necessarily designed with braking in mind, but today’s trailers should be. Not only should a new trailer feature four wheel electric brakes, a good trailer will feature an additional emergency break away system with a rechargeable battery. A fully loaded horse trailer can build up a lot of momentum on the road, making it hard to stop as quickly as your tow vehicle -- the more brakes the better. The emergency break away system is designed to stop your trailer should it somehow come unhitched while in tow.
3. Bright, well placed lights. Everybody knows you need lights on the outside of your trailer, but it’s also important that they be bright and visible. LED lights are some of the brightest on the market, and that makes them among the safest for your new trailer. But your lighting needs don’t stop there -- inside there should be light, too. Make sure your new trailer has lots of lights so you can work in the trailer safely should it get dark before you finish loading or unloading.
4. Insulation. It may seem like a little thing to have an insulated roof and sidewalls for a trip across town, but even on these short jaunts it can get incredibly hot inside bumper pull horse trailers without protection. Remember, your horses are basically standing inside a metal box flying down the highway -- even in the middle of winter road heat builds up and loud sounds can make a nervous horse downright spooky. Look for light colored, insulated roofs to help keep your trailer cool and sidewalls for their noise-dampening effects.
5. Thick wall padding. Most horse trailers have some padding, but a quarter inch of flimsy foam isn’t going to do much for a horse that’s thrown against it if you’re forced to make a sudden stop. Thick padding that’s at least an inch and a half thick will do a much better job of protecting your horses should they need it. That’s also plenty of padding to protect your horse (and trailer!) in the event she decides to kick or paw at the walls.
6. Excellent ventilation. Even in a well-insulated trailer, air movement is vital to protect your horse from overheating. Big windows, roof vents and tubular head dividers increase the air circulation around your horses and helps to keep them cool and calm. This is especially vital in small bumper pull horse trailers that can fill with stale air quickly because of their limited volume.
7. An escape route. I know it’s hard to imagine that your horse might try to hurt you, even in a moment of panic, but the reality is that even the calmest horse may get nervous or worse when being loaded or unloaded. That’s why it’s so important to choose bumper pull horse trailers with a walk through door located near the front. Never underestimate the power of a horse who’s terrified, make sure you can get out of the way if the need arises.
8. Full-width loading doors. Young horses or those that don’t travel all that often can be hard to get in and out of a small trailer, and who can blame them? They’re not used to trailering and you’re trying to get them to walk into a tight, small space. Full-width loading doors make loading and unloading a million times easier, even inexperienced horses are less likely to balk when there’s a big, wide opening to walk through.
9. Extra dividers. It’s a small thing, to be sure, but having an extra divider at the end of your trailer to secure your horses before the doors shut can save a lot of headaches and accidents. With your horses locked in their compartments, you can choose when they leave without having to rush around because they’re trying to force their way out before you’re ready.
When properly designed, bumper pull horse trailers can be just as safe as a gooseneck trailers, but you have to shop carefully. You never plan to get into an accident, have an antsy horse or let your trailer heat up, but you can’t control everything -- it’s much better to shop for a safe horse trailer now than to wonder what happened when things go wrong. Keeping your animals, other drivers and yourself safe should be the most important considerations when you choose your next trailer.