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Riding BACKWARDS: How a Rear Facing Trailer Design May Be Healthier for Your Horse

combination rear and forward facing custom horse trailer

Double D Trailers LogoThere is a long running debate in the horse world about the benefits of rear-facing trailers.  Many wonder whether it is healthier for horses physically and psychologically to travel facing forwards or backwards.  We would like to tackle this issue once and for all. To do this, we will look at some scientific studies and personal accounts of rear-facing travel.  In addition, we will present a combination forward and rear-facing design from Double D Trailers that may be your dream-trailer come true!

Which Way Does Your Horse Prefer to Face?

In order to answer this question, we need to consider not only your horse’s stress levels, but also their physical state during travel.  How a horse balances their weight during the twists, brakes, and turns of travel can play a huge role in determining their fatigue and soreness upon arrival.  Ideally, you’d like your horse to arrive at a destination fresh and free from any physical or mental stresses that would impact their performance.

Marcia Trotter, a Double D customer, shared this anecdote: 

“I followed my horse one time who was being transported from Orlando, FL to Tampa.  She was untied in an open (inside) cattle trailer and I could see her.  The whole trip she rode in the rear position.  Sometimes she would dance to keep her footing.  It was a strange site to me, but now it makes sense.  Apparently, it is the preferred position of horses.”

Earlier, in May 2013, a spirited debate was started on Double D Trailers social media where dozens of readers were able to weigh in with their opinion regarding which is the best direction for horses to face during travel.

Dianne from North Carolina said, “When my horses are allowed to be loose in our stock trailer they are either sideways or facing backwards, so I say backwards!”

Julius said, “Study in Europe measured heart rates and other factors-rear facing horses had lower levels of stress measurements after long trips. My opinion is that they can use rear end muscles especially when slowing and stopping more effectively.”

Sunny from Virginia said, “I say rear. Whenever I have had horses in a way they can choose, they are always facing the rear when I go to unload them.”

Of the roughly 150 people who participated in this conversation, a majority felt that it was the horse’s preference to stand either backwards or backwards at a slant.  Very few said that their horses seemed to prefer the front facing direction.  Most cited observations in open stock trailers where the horses were free to move around.

Since a stock trailer is not ideal for everyone, it stands to question, what options are out there for people who don’t own or want to own a stock trailer?  More on that later…

What Does Science Have to Say on the Matter?

As Julius commented above, there are several scientific studies out there that look at this matter.  One of top authorities on the subject is Dr. Sharon Cregrier, who states,  “A natural, or effortless balance is maintained by a forward lean over the forequarters, freedom of movement of the head and neck, and lack of threat from behind.  That horses can most easily maintain their balance facing away from the direction of travel has been demonstrated using stock trailers, vans, 3-horse and 2-horse tagalongs or bumper pulls.”

She went on to write, “Numerous studies of horses in transit recorded horses showing fewer falls and few impacts with partitions when allowed to travel facing away from the direction of travel.”

These observations aren’t just for horses either.  Another study by Murray E. Fowler found that facing animals away from the direction of travel is standard practice when transporting rhinoceros and giraffes!

 Giraffes Travel in Rear Facing Direction

Now to look at the stress aspect of travel… Our next study is from a team of Italian scientists who studied Standardbred trotters.  Their results concluded, “for Standardbred trotters accustomed to travel, the backward-facing direction has been suggested, as it is the less stressful position for a 200 km travel.” 

This investigation also took into consideration the cortisol or stress hormone of the horses for loading, travel, and unloading in various orientations.  They found that the, “front-facing position caused an increase of serum cortisol concentration at unloading.” 

In agreement with our personal testimonials, this paper also said this,  “In fact, backward position was voluntarily chosen for untethered horses during vehicle transport.  (Kusanose and Torikai, 1996).”

It would seem that the science and common observers agree on one thing.  Horses prefer to face backwards during travel!

Dr. Cregier suggested a trailer designed in New Zealand that could provide safe rear-facing travel, but it requires you to back your horse into the trailer.  Double D Trailers has an easier solution much closer to home.  Read on…

 EquiBalance Rear Facing Trailer

This New Zealand trailer company has a rear facing design that works well, but it requires you to back your horse onto the trailer to load.

 

The Combination Forward and Rear-Facing Trailers From Double D Trailers

The combination forward and rear facing design from Double D Trailers is the perfect solution to your problem.  With this patent-pending model, you will be able to load your horses in a slanted rear-facing manner that limits their psychological and physical stress (U.S. Patent Office Application Number 13903960).  Horses are loaded onto the trailer through a side doorway with a ramp.  To unload, they can either reverse out the side door or walk forward through the back door with its ramp.

In addition, you can custom design your trailer so that it has all of the advanced safety features and personal comforts you’d want for a long weekend of showing or exploring the trails.  This design includes a side ramp that can be placed on the ditch side (non-traffic) side in case of emergency.  For a 3-horse trailer, it would be possible to access any of your three horses for unloading at any time. 

 combination rear and forward facing custom horse trailer

This custom built combination forward and rear facing trailer was designed for Roxana Foxx of Foxx Hunter Farms in California.

 

Inside the trailer, the horses would enjoy the tubular head dividers and large windows that provide a high range of visibility.  The SafeKick walls provide a strong, yet flexible, surface that will protect your horse’s delicate legs.  The partitions are double hinged on both ends so you have the option of either unloading from the side ramp or simply walking your horse off the rear ramp. 

If you’d like, the front of your trailer can have comfortable living quarters with air conditioning, bench and carpeting.  Rear-facing designs are available as gooseneck, bumper pull, or with living quarters.  That’s the beauty of buying a custom horse trailer… you get to design your perfect trailer!

combination rear and forward facing custom horse trailer

The design specifications for a combination forward and rear facing trailer show the side and rear ramps with double hinged dividers for easy loading and unloading.

 

What’s It Like to Design a Trailer With Double D Trailers?

The trailer shown above was designed for Roxana Foxx of Foxx Hunter Farms.  This farm trains and shows Thoroughbred and Warmblood Hunter Jumpers.  Roxana decided to design a trailer with Double D Trailers because she was having trouble finding trailers large enough for her breeds.  She shared, “I chose Double D because of an article I read about their safety features.  I wanted a trailer with both side loading and rear loading doors as an extra safety precaution.” 

After initially approaching Double D, she began the process of creating and refining the design with owner, Brad Heath.  Roxana said, “The design process was easy due to the expertise of Brad Heath.  He was extremely thorough and knowledgeable.”

Once the trailer design was complete, Double D Trailers delivered the trailer to her California home as part of their Nationwide Delivery service.  “One of the people who works in the manufacturing facility drove the trailer from the factory to California to deliver it.  Upon arrival he gave me a thorough demonstration of the trailer and hook up operation.” 

Roxana was very happy with her combination forward and rear facing design. “I chose the rear facing design based on studies but also chose the front facing option as well just in case the horses preferred to face forward.”

Roxana is just one of the many very happy customers who have design their own rear-facing trailers.  This configuration is available for many types of trailers from a small 2 horse trailer up to a gooseneck horse trailer with living quarters.

Karen Jones of Newnan, Georgia says,

“I love my new Double D Trailer... First and foremost, I have never experienced personalized customer service of this caliber .... ever, for any product I have purchased. Brad made it so easy and a lot of fun to 'design' my trailer. He worked with me on my own ideas and gave his opinion on what would work and what wouldn't...what would look good and what wouldn't!! Brad arranged for my new trailer to be delivered from the factory to my home in Georgia. The quality of the workmanship on the trailer is outstanding. I got their patent pending reverse/forward facing Safetack 2H Slant Gooseneck. Brad designed a hay/feed room for it and I enlarged the dressing room. I can't wait to haul my horses in it; it is so much roomier than any of my previous 3 trailers! I have one problem loader that loves being able to walk forward in and OUT! I highly recommend Brad and Double D for a great trailer designing experience, extraordinary customer service and a fabulous product! Karen Jones Newnan GA.”

 

 Reverse 2H Slant Load Trailer

John Polito of Colts Neck, NJ ordered a reverse slant load 2 horse bumper pull design.  More photos of his beautiful trailer can be seen here.

 

Barb Pedoto of Oxford, Ohio says this of her rear-facing design: 

“We love our new Double D Trailer! We get compliments everywhere we go and people are amazed at the Safetack compartment. The inside has such an open feel to it that even my horse that has refused to load for over a year will walk right in. He no longer sweats and shakes like before. The center divider takes a little getting used to but now my horses can face the rear and travel more happily! I was drawn to Double D because of the Safetack but there are many more reasons to recommend it. So happy we bought it!”

Whether it’s 2 horse trailers or a grand 4 horse trailers with living quarters, a rear-facing design can be a much healthier option for your horse.  The combination forward and rear facing designs from Double D Trailers can be customized to fit your specific needs.  Be sure to contact Brad at Double D Trailers, to get started designing your trailer!

 

Questions:

**What are some of your observations regarding forward vs. rear-facing designs?  Does your horse prefer one or the other?

**What would your dream trailer include?

 

Sources:

Cregier, PhD, Sharon E., "Best Practices: Surface Transport of the Horse", 20 October 2009, Animal Transport Association, AATA Education Committee.

Cregier, PhD, Sharon E., "Equine Transport: Prescriptive or Preventive?" Slideshow Presentation

Fowler, M. 1995. "Restraint and Handling of Wild and Domestic Animals." 2nd ed. Ames: Iowa State University Press 94, 120, 120-123, 275, 294

Padalino, Maggiolino, Boccaccio, and Tateo.  "Effects of different positions during transport on physiological and behavioral changes of horses." Journal of Veterinary Behavior (2012) 7, 135-141


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