If economic times have forced you out of the new horse trailer market, then you're probably looking at buying a used trailer instead.
The best way to weed out the lemons is to focus on evaluating the trailers themselves using a methodical approach. Use the checklist included here to compare apples to apples.
Here are elements to check as you move through each evaluation:
Size. If you have standard size horses, a six-foot wide trailer will comfortably fit two horses. Go wider for bigger horses. Make sure there's enough headroom, too.
Outward Condition. How does the trailer look? Has it been well maintained or does it look rusty, scraped up, or poorly painted? While faded paint is no big deal, the owner who makes little effort to keep his trailer looking good also hasn't likely maintained the more important mechanical and electrical systems.
Tires. Tires are crucially important to smooth ride and safety while hauling. What condition are the tires in? Are they properly inflated? Is the wear pattern even?
Hitch Coupler. Inspect the coupler. Does it appear that all the parts are there and in working order? Are the safety chains attached and in good condition? Is it damaged? Don't try to fix a damaged coupler.
Loading Gate. What kind of gate does the trailer have? Will your horse step up and back down while loading and unloading? Or is a ramp a better choice for you?
Floor. Thoroughly examine the trailer's floor. Walk on it, even jump on it. Pull the mats up and out for a thorough inspection. If the floor is wood, are there any holes or soft, spongy spots? Check metal flooring for rust or corrosion.
Dividers and Bars. Are the dividers secure? Can they be removed and adjusted? Do they work smoothly? What about butt and breast bars? Test them!
Other Inside Elements. Is the wall padding in good condition? Are any hay rings missing? Is a water tank available? Is it water-tight and rust-free?
Ventilation. Stock trailers have an open design with plenty of ventilation for the warmer months. If you have cold winters, does the trailer have Plexiglas windows, or can you add them? Conversely, on an enclosed trailer, check for adequate ventilation via windows and/or roof vents. Make sure all venting options can be opened, closed, or left partially open.
Electrical. Do the electrical connectors mate? Turn on the parking lights and check that the taillights and running lights work. Make sure the brake lights come on. Test the directional signal lights and four-way flashers. If the trailer has inside lighting, make sure it works.
Undercarriage. It's a dirty job, but you need to look under the trailer with a good light. Search for rust, dents, and other signs of damage or general neglect. Also look for leaks, such as oil from the axel housing; loose or missing bolts; exposed or broken wiring; or broken axel housing, frame members, or any other structural member.
Look at the underside of the floor. If it's wooden, do you see any rot? Poke a screwdriver into any questionable spots-they should be hard and the screwdriver shouldn't penetrate the wood. Do you see rust or corrosion on a metal floor? Do you see any light coming through from above?
Driving Test. Hook the trailer to your truck and test-haul it before buying.
Start driving at walking speed to determine if everything feels right. Then accelerate to about 10 mph. Does the trailer haul effortlessly or drag? Does it pull unevenly? Apply the brakes; do you have adequate stopping power? Does the trailer fishtail when driving or braking? Next, accelerate to 35 to 45 mph. Does the trailer feel stable or does it sway? Does it track straight behind you? Slow down and then stop. Did you have any stopping or control concerns?
Warranty. If the trailer is fairly new, is there a warranty still in effect? Can it be transferred to you? If it's an older trailer, ask to see past service records, invoices, etc.
Negotiate. Ask the owner if you can have your mechanic take a look. If the owner objects, drop this trailer from the list. Use any items that need work to negotiate the price downward since you'll have to spend money to fix or replace parts.
Finally, consider the economic climate and prices of similar trailers. If the trailer really is what you want, but unaffordable, discuss that with the owner. They likely want to sell the trailer as much as you want to buy it. Some honest dialog can often bridge a seemingly wide gap to meet a middle ground comfortable for both parties.