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Know the Dangers: Is a Side Load Horse Trailer Right for You?

Written by Rachael Kraft

Have you ever been trailer watching at a local show and noticed a side load horse trailer?  From the outside, they sure look fancy and inviting, don’t they?  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.

Here is a breakdown of the three key features you should rate when looking for a side load horse trailer for sale.

Key Feature #1: The Right Ramps for Safety

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.

A very steep ramp on a side load horse trailer.

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.

A double wide safe ramp on the SafeTack 3 horse gooseneck 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.

Key Feature #2: Enough Exit Doors for Horse and Handler

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)

A forward escape door on a side load horse trailer.

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.

This rear tack area blocks the entire back of this side load horse trailer.

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!

Key Feature #3: Walk-Through Design

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.

This side load horse trailer is very dark and cramped on the inside.

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.

Where Do You Find a Safe Side Load Horse Trailer? 

When it comes to these three features, Double D Trailers has the perfect side load horse trailer for your next purchase.  We have side load trailers available as bumper pull horse trailers or gooseneck horse trailers. We also have side load horse trailers with living quarters.

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.

A SafeTack side load horse trailer with a double wide ramp.

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:

Floorplan for the SafeTack 3 horse gooseneck trailer.

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.  

The rear tack storage area on this 3 horse gooseneck horse trailer swings out like a second door.

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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