Written by Rachael Kraft (Last Updated 3/2/23)
Have you ever been trailer watching at a local show and noticed a side load horse trailer? From the outside, a side load horse trailer looks fancy and inviting, right? It’s easy to imagine a top-level jumper or race horse walking majestically down the horse trailer side ramp covered in a silky blanket and wearing a bridle embossed in gold.
But try to pull your head out of the clouds for a moment. Most of us really just want a trailer that is practical, durable – and most of all – safe. There are many different horse trailers with side ramps and doors, but some of them sport some serious safety issues.
There are a lot of side load horse trailers for sale on the market today by many different horse trailer manufacturers. With a majority of the designs that are out there, we see some major red flags that could cause injury for your horses. Here are some of the top concerns with conventional side load horse trailer designs.
If we start from the outside of the trailer, the first thing your horse will encounter is the horse trailer side ramp. This ramp steepness will vary greatly from brand to brand. Some ramps are so steep that you practically have to run your horse up in order to get them inside.
Here is a photo of a very steep ramp on a side load horse trailer.
Remember, horses are naturally claustrophobic prey animals. To them, a trailer is a big, scary, metal box which makes weird sounds and looks dark on the inside. Don’t complicate loading by asking them to walk up a narrow horse trailer side ramp into a narrow doorway. Any sort of hesitation or reaction has the potential to injure them or the handler.
Look for a ramp that has hinges placed lower on the side of the trailer in order to create a less steep incline. The material on the ramp should also be very grippy and not slippery.
The width of the horse trailer side ramp is another important consideration. Many ramps are very narrow and only wide enough to reach one horse stall inside the trailer. A double wide ramp that would lead into two horse stalls is a much safer option.
The double wide and shallow ramp in this SafeTack side ramp trailer photo below is much safer and manageable for the horses.
Once inside the side load horse trailer, look around for the number of exit points you and your horse can use. Many well-known trailer brands create 5 or 6 horse trailers with a single side ramp for loading and a single exit door (without a ramp) on the front side of the trailer. This second door allows the handler to get out, but the horse is forced to enter and exit through the single side door. (see photo below)
The rear of these trailers (where you would normally find a rear-loading doorway) is sometimes taken up by a stationary rear tack storage area that spans the entire width of the trailer. Sure, it’s great for storing your gear, but the sacrifice in safety is just not worth the storage.
Honestly, I’m starting to sweat a little just thinking about being in this dark space with my horse. Many horses hate to back up, so when you add together a small space and a single point of exit, you are asking for trouble.
A much better option is to look for a side loading horse trailer where the entire back of the trailer opens up for loading and unloading. In addition, these trailers can also have a side escape door towards the front. The more entry and exit points for the horse and handler, the better!
Since we’re on the topic of a full-width rear loading area, let’s talk about how your horse moves through this type of trailer. As we mentioned earlier, some brands force horses to enter through a side load ramp and door way and walk into their slant stall. Then, to exit, they have to twist around a small space to turn around, or just back off the same side-load doorway.
Just look at the dark and confined interior on this side load horse trailer pictured below.
A much better option is to use a fully walk-on-walk-off layout. With this kind of trailer, you would walk your horse onto the trailer using the side load ramp into a rear facing slant load stall. (Studies show that horses travel with less stress and fatigue in the rear facing direction.) Then, to unload, the horses would simply walk straight off the back of the trailer.
Alternatively, the horses could load from the rear of the trailer into forward facing stalls. Then, they could walk forward off the side ramp to exit the trailer. This configuration is much safer and causes less stress for your horse.
When it comes to side load trailers with safe features that overcome the common problems associated with side load horse trailers - Double D Trailers has the perfect side load horse trailer for your next purchase.
Since all of our trailers are custom built to order, you can start with the basic style and size you need and then add whatever options make it into your dream trailer.
As an example, here’s a look at our very popular SafeTack 3 horse gooseneck horse trailer with side ramp. As you see right away, it can be built with a very wide and shallow incline ramp so horses can confidently walk onto the trailer.
Once inside, the interior of the trailer is bright and airy with a white SafeBump roof made of leak-proof fiber composite material. Horses are able to clearly see their surroundings due to large windows and tubular head dividers.
This model is available as either a forward or rear facing trailer. With the reverse configuration, horses would walk on the side ramp into rear facing stalls. Then, the handler can open the telescoping dividers to exit directly off the back of the trailer. It’s a true walk-through design that works so the horses never have to back up to off load.
Here is a floorplan to see how the SafeTack 3 horse gooseneck trailer is laid out:
The back of the trailer still has plenty of tack storage space within the fully enclosed SafeTack compartment. This lockable tack area swings out like a second door so it never blocks the back of the trailer from being used as an exit or entry point.
By now, you’ve seen that there is definitely a right way and a wrong way to build a side ramp horse trailer. Hopefully, you have a better idea of what features to check for when you make your next purchase.
If you have any questions about our SafeTack trailers in either bumper pull, gooseneck, or living quarters models, let us know. Brad Heath, our owner, is happy to answer questions.
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