You're considering towing your horses. One of the most confusing and scary aspects of this adventure is the myriad kinds of trailer hitches available to buy. It might seem like there are hundreds. In reality, there are only a handful, but they come in a large variety of sizes and capacities.
Of course, you want to select the right hitch, not only so it matches your trailer's coupler, but-probably most importantly-so that it has adequate capacity to safely carry the full weight of your horses and any additional loads.
Glossary of Terms
To start, let's define some terms you'll need to know to discuss hitches and towing with hitch and trailer retailers.
Tongue Weight: This is the vertical weight the trailer puts on the tow vehicle. Say a trailer has a tongue weight of 400 pounds. That weight is sitting on the hitch connected to your truck whether it's moving or parked.
Obviously, when you start pulling your trailer-especially uphill-the forces from the weight of your trailer, horses, and other items loaded in it put an additional strong sideways force on the hitch and its mounting point (often a hitch ball) and on the trailer coupler.
Gross Trailer Weight (GTW): This term represents a rating assigned by the manufacturer to a trailer. It tells you the maximum amount that the trailer plus its complete load can weigh. It includes the full weight of the trailer, the horses, and everything else on it-from tack and mats to water, hay, and feed. If the loading of your trailer causes its complete weight to exceed this number, it is both unsafe and illegal for you to haul it.
Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW): This term represents a rating assigned by the manufacturer to a tow vehicle (truck). This rating tells you the maximum amount the truck and its complete load can weigh and includes all fluids-such as gasoline, oil, and coolant-as well as all passengers and all other payload on the truck itself.
Combined Gross Vehicle Weight (CGVW): This is the total gross weight of tow vehicle and trailer, combined.
Coupler: The trailer part that "couples," and makes the connection to the tow vehicle.
Hitch Ball: The part of the hitch on the tow vehicle to which a ball coupler connects. Hitch balls come in several sizes, depending on the size of the load you'll be towing (see table on page 55). They are used with most hitch types, though they are not used on a fifth-wheel hitch.
The easiest way to understand hitches is to break them down by type. Essentially, there are five different hitch types: 1) bumper hitch; 2) weight-carrying hitch; 3) weight-distribution hitch; 4) gooseneck hitch; and 5) fifth-wheel hitch. Here's a rundown on each type.
Bumper hitch: This hitch comes as a standard unit on most pickup trucks. It's usually nothing more than a flat reinforced section in the middle of the rear bumper with a hole drilled in the center to accept a ball to mate with the trailer's coupler. These are low-weight hitches capable of hauling small loads.
It might be possible to haul a small horse in a single-horse trailer, but I would be afraid of risking my horse's life to the strength of a bumper and its mountings. The usual maximum load capacity is only 2,000 pounds and includes the weight of the trailer and all payload items. Bigger trucks may have a higher capacity, but essentially, bumper hitches are made for the occasional light load for small trucks, such as log splitters or utility wagons.