If you’re in the market for a trailer, now is a good time to buy. Bargains abound. Used trailers are selling well; trailer manufacturers are scaling back. Trailer dealers are ordering in new trailers with fewer options for affordability.
Here, I’ll first give you some get-started guidelines. Then I’ll go over model lines, hitch types, stall configurations, and other interior features.
• Ask around. Ask your friends what they like about their trailers. At horse-related events, gather opinions from folks about their trailers, then sort through the noise with logic and common sense. Check out horse and horse-trailer forums online.
•Inspect used trailers. If you’re shopping for new or used trailers, find 5-year-old trailers that are the same model as the one you have in mind to see how it holds up. This tells you most of the story. Take someone with you who has experience with trailers. Lift the floor mats, and check the floors. Go under the trailer, and look at the wiring. Check all welds, especially those in the neck/tongue and door openings. Inspect any rust and/or corrosion. Is it on the surface or deeper in the frames?
• Do comparison shopping. Find a consumer trade show with a wide selection of trailers, such as those that run concurrently with horse expos (see page 119) and large breed shows. (The largest collection of horse trailers is at the All American Quarter Horse Congress, held every October in Columbus, Ohio.) Listen to the dealers’ sales pitches, and take notes. Start getting a handle on what might fit you and your horse best.
• Choose trailer width. How wide of
a trailer are you looking for? If this is your first trailer, I suggest a six- or seven-foot-wide trailer, so you can see it all
the way back to the end. (Tip: Invest in large trailer mirrors for your truck for optimal visibility of your trailer and road environment.)
• Choose material. Most trailers are a combination of steel, aluminum, fiberglass, and other materials. All aluminum trailers have steel axle sub-frames and usually steel gooseneck frames. The majority of steel-frame trailers now offer aluminum skin. Generally, aluminum gooseneck trailers are lighter than steel ones, but not always. In two- and three-horse bumper-pulls, aluminum, composite, and steel trailers are very close in weight. Composite trailers with aluminum skin can look good down the road.
• Choose roof material. A fiberglass roof will be 10 to 20 degrees cooler than aluminum or steel. It’s difficult to build, and design varies. Ask conversion companies which roofs they can walk on carrying an air-conditioning unit without worrying. Check the roof warranty; no one likes a leaky roof.
Large trailer manufacturers typically offer three model lines — what I call top-tier, middle class, and entry-level. As you shop, compare apples to apples with other brands. Here’s a rundown of what you’ll likely find in each category.
• Top tier: Aluminum trailers dominate. Aluminum is corrosion-resistant and will generally look better in 20 years. You’ll see heavy-duty, custom-built hinges and doors; double-framed windows; drop-down feed doors; and quality, smooth welds. Aluminum trailers will have extrusions where the frame work, floor, and walls come together. (These will look like Lego-brand blocks). A top-tier trailer will also have protected wiring, with conduit and junction boxes at the axle for brake wires.
• Middle class: The mid-line comprises the majority of trailer brands. The majority of parts will be off the shelf, with recreational-vehicle-type doors, and pre-made, drop-down feed doors and windows. Make sure any steel is galvanized (has a zinc coating) to ward off rust. Ask whether the trailer is all-steel or is composite of more than one material, and which steel portions are galvanized.
• Entry-level: Entry-level trailers are budget friendly. There are quality trailers in this line, but do know that you get what you pay for. Features vary widely with brand. (Top-tier trailer features are more uniform from brand to brand.) With a knowledgeable friend, thoroughly inspect an entry-level trailer. Steel trailers in this category may not be galvanized, and the paint may not last. Aluminum trailers won’t have pretty welds.
Bumper-pull (a.k.a. conventional or tag-along) trailers are those you tow from your rear bumper/receiver hitch. They connect to the rear bumper or rear receiver hitch that connects to your tow vehicle’s frame. Gooseneck trailers anchor to a hitch in your truck bed. Here are a few pros and cons of each type.
• Bumper-pull pros: Bumper-pulls are typically less expensive than gooseneck trailers. They also allow you to use your truck bed to haul hay, your trail-riding/horse-camping gear, and other supplies.
• Bumper-pull cons: Bumper-pulls
place greater leverage on your truck than goosenecks, which can lead to
sway. For safety and stability, invest in
a good weight-distributing hitch with sway control.
• Gooseneck pros: Goosenecks attach closer to your truck’s center of gravity than bumper-pulls, so have less effect on truck movement. With less sway and pivot movement, steering and backing up are easier. Goosenecks are generally easier to handle, and are the better choice when you get over the three-horse size. They have a tighter turning circle, but do watch out for mailboxes and gates.
• Gooseneck cons: Goosenecks are more expensive than bumper-pulls and might be more than you need. Their heavier weight uses more fuel, and they take up hauling room in your truck bed.
Decide whether you (and your horse) will prefer a slant-load, reverse slant-load, or straight-load stall configuration.
• Slant loads: Slant loads take up less room in the trailer’s length than straight loads, which gives you more room for tack, a dressing room, or living quarters. I’ve videoed horses in slant loads and they seem to be comfortable. I’ve also seen videos of horses that only calmed down in a box stall, so it comes down to the individual horse. In the West, I see a lot of happy horses in open stock trailers.
• Reverse slant-loads: A reverse slant-load configuration, in which your horse faces rearward at an angle, allows him to brace his hindquarters (rather than his shoulder) when you brake, which might be more comfortable for him. However, this configuration takes up more trailer space. Also, I’ve found that reverse slant-loads are the highest cost per horse.
• Straight-loads: Trailers with straight-load stall configurations are generally the least expensive. They make good starter, entry-level trailers, and are offered all the way up to elaborate models.
Other Interior Features
Quality interior construction is important for your horse’s safety and comfort, and your trailer’s durability and resale value. Here’s what to look for.
• Overall: Look for padding on any surface your horse touches or might touch — stall dividers, mangers, the front wall, above the rear door, and anywhere he might swing a leg. Be sure the rubber bumper on the rear of the trailer floor covers any dangerous metal.
• Floors: With aluminum trailers, you get aluminum floors. These may be ribbed to keep the rubber mat from slipping, and are usually linked together as plank-and-stringer in an extrusion. Composite and steel trailers may have aluminum, wood, or Rumber floors. Rumber is rebuilt rubber formed in tongue-and-groove planks. It needs extra bracing compared to wood, but can last decades — and you usually don’t need rubber mats. Rumber can become slick with urine, but works well with wood shavings. Wood floors are usually made from yellow pine, oak, or fir; they can last decades if you keep them clean and dry.
• Dividers: Stall width varies, so bring your tape measure when you shop. Be aware that in some slant loads, the front and rear stalls may differ in width. If your horse is exceptionally tall or wide, size the trailer to him. Open, barred, and slatted dividers offer ventilation, which is cooler in summer. Solid dividers discourage playing/socializing.
•Walls: Insulated walls are especially important on living-quarter trailers. But look for insulation anywhere there’s a double or triple wall; insulation modifies extreme temperatures, humidity, and noise. A spray-on liner will protect the walls from urine, dirt, and debris, but such walls won’t absorb the impact of a kick like a thick rubber pad.
•Kick wall: Check the kick wall (behind where your horse will stand) to see where it flexes. Look for reinforcements and padding where hooves may contact it.
• Corners: Good trailers are braced well, like a tank. You can actually jack the trailer up by any corner and it won’t flex. Where you can see how the corners are braced, look at the gusset and fish plate reinforcing the corners. Note that the majority of trailers have a unibody, like a car, rather than a body-on-frame, like a truck. Therefore, the floor, walls, and roof are all trussed together to make a frame, not just the floor.
• Latches: Latches can indicate the quality of the trailer’s overall design. Simplicity is the key. Work the latches, and check durability.