• When hauling horses (live cargo), stay below 70%-75% of the vehicle's maximum tow rating.
• Choose a tow vehicle based on the weight, size and type of trailer, and the weight and number of horses you'll be hauling.
• Consider the truck and tow vehicle as a single unit, and make sure all parts are compatible, including hitch, brakes and tires.
• In hilly or mountainous terrain, braking power is as important-or even more important-than the horsepower required to drive up the slopes.
• When it comes to selecting a tow vehicle, safety is far more important than fuel
You happily load your horse into your new trailer. It is more substantial than your old one, and Ol' Butterpat doesn't have to "scrunch up" anymore to let you fasten the butt bar behind his ever-increasing back end. You stop to pick up a buddy and her horse before heading to your favorite trail in the state park.
As your truck labors more than usual climbing Heartbreak Hill, an impatiently weaving line of cars forms behind you. You and your friend joke about needing a new truck to match the trailer and give a small cheer as you reach the top. The cheering, however, rapidly turns to silence, white knuckles, and white faces as you begin your descent. Although you have the brake pedal pressed to the floor, you are, in fact, speeding up, your steering isn't working right, and you are not in control of upwards of 10,000 rapidly moving pounds with a hinge in the middle. Oh, and your top-heavy cargo shifts when it gets nervous.
This is the stuff of nightmares. We are going to be generous here and give thanks this situation involved a hill, not a mountain; that you, your friend and the horses made it safely to the bottom; and that there was a more level route home. We are also going to assume that, as an intelligent person, you bite the financial bullet and go shopping for a different truck the very next day.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) notes that "Most SUVs, pickup trucks, vans, minivans and passenger cars can be equipped to tow a trailer." It does not, however, say what kind of trailer that might be.
Know What You Need
Towing horses is a specialized task. Some people assume that because their SUV has a tow package, it should be able to pull their horse trailer. Others think a pickup can haul anything. Still others have been assured by a salesperson that, "This baby can haul elephants!" The phrase "but not necessarily safely" can be tacked onto each one of those statements.
We will not presume to tell you what vehicle is best for your situation. Your requirements will be determined by many factors, including the size of the trailer, how many horses you haul, the ratings of your tow vehicle's hitch, distances traveled, terrain, altitude, whether it includes living quarters, and, to a lesser degree, style and fashion.