Ins and Outs
If you've ever had a horse that's hard to load or unload, you know what a difference some trailer features can make. And when you're thinking about a new trailer, loading and unloading with ease and safety may be a central consideration, in addition to the trailer's configuration and capacity. Taking a few minutes to consider the pros and cons of each can pay off in the long haul.
Step-Up. Traditional straight-load, step-up trailers can work well for loading, but may present challenges when unloading. Most require a horse to back out, and as he does, his hind legs can easily slip underneath a step-up trailer, especially if he scrambles backward on slick footing. And searching for the ground behind him while unloading can cause a horse to panic or develop a long-term phobia, especially from high-floored trailers. It's possible to add a ramp to some step-up trailers.
Loading Ramp. A ramp can make unloading easier, but slick, steep ramps can also cause a horse to slip and panic, so shop for one that's long enough to offer a low, gradual slope, has a sturdy, non-slip surface, and is easy to lift, assisted by springs.
At a Slant. In many slant-load trailers, horses can be turned around inside and led out head-first, easing some of those loading and unloading headaches. The slant-load design allows more horses to fit into a shorter trailer, and two-horse and three-horse slant-loads with dressing rooms are popular among recreational riders. However, if a horse in the front stall has a problem, the horse(s) behind him must be unloaded to reach him, unless there's a front- or side-load ramp, too.
Straight Shot. In a two-horse straight-load trailer, either horse can be unloaded without removing the other. Also, straight-load trailers can give a horse more stall length to extend his neck. Federal law limits trailer width to 102 inches (8 1/2 feet), so slant-loads can't provide as much stall length, a problem for large horses.
A Question of Comfort
Do horses travel more comfortably and safely in straight-load or slant-load trailers? Expert opinions vary. Several companies, including Sooner, Sundowner, Elite, Featherlite, Hart and CM Trailers, offer both designs--although many customers reportedly prefer the slant-loads.
However, Tom and Neva Kittrell Scheve, authors of The Complete Guide to Buying, Maintaining and Servicing a Horse Trailer, and Chris Barr, president of Brenderup Real Trailers Inc., contend that a straight-load design is better for horses. "In addition to shorter stall space, a slant-load requires a horse to balance himself with his right front and left hind legs when accelerating or decelerating, causing fatigue, soreness, and even lameness over time," says Tom Scheve. "Straight stalls allow him to use both front and hind legs evenly."
Two or Three? Unless you're on the show circuit hauling multiple horses, you're probably looking for a two- or three-horse trailer. Choose carefully based on your needs and your tow vehicle's capacity. "There's a huge difference between a two-horse and a three-horse trailer," says Tom Scheve. "We believe that hauling three horses really necessitates a gooseneck-style trailer to better balance and handle the weight. A three-horse trailer is substantially longer, wider, and heavier--not counting the extra horse's 900 to 1,500 pounds--so you also need a larger, heavier, stronger tow vehicle."
Going Solo. One-horse trailers are also an option. Brenderup Real Trailers offers lightweight Euro-style single-horse trailers designed to be towed by vehicles that Americans don't typically think of as hauling vehicles, including passenger cars. Brenderup Vice President Simon Barr says, "It's so common to see a two-horse trailer with only one horse inside. For those who aren't concerned about extra space for a second horse they don't have, a one-horse trailer is ideal."
Modern trailers are generally much larger than their predecessors, offering light, roomy interiors at least 6 feet wide and more than 7 feet high compared to the old 5-foot-wide, 6-foot-tall trailers. But what goes into the design--from ease of use to safety--can make a big difference in day-to-day operation. A few details to consider:
Windows Within Reach. With such tall trailers, some door and window latches can be hard to reach. Sundowner has addressed the problem by moving handles from the top to the bottom of its drop-down head doors for quicker access to the horses inside.
Safer Latches. Smooth latches--such as the "slam latch" found in Exiss trailers--and handles that fold flush to the surface have improved access door and divider safety.