The choice of a slant-load vs. a straight-load trailer is a heated one. You won’t have to look far to find someone who either despises slant-loads or one who insists his horse won’t ride in anything else — both with strong arguments.
However, everyone will agree on a slant-load’s one big advantage: You can fit more horses in a smaller space. They’re often the solution for a family with three kids who all want to attend the same event.
But, before you hunt down slant-load trailer dealers in your state, look at the size horses you will be carrying and what you’ll be doing. Do you own ponies, Arabians or big-bodied warmbloods' Do you need immediate access to all the horses you haul, or can you make do with unloading a horse to get to the one in the middle' The answers to these two questions can make the decision for you.
A straight-load trailer has the horses walk on and stand facing your towing vehicle, giving access to both horses, especially if that trailer has an escape door on each side.
A slant-load has horses walk on and stand at an angle. After the first horse is loaded in a slant-load, a divider in the trailer swings and locks into place. The next horse is then loaded parallel to the first horse and again a divider swings and locks into place. The third horse is then loaded in the same fashion and the tailgate is closed. This illustrates the first negative in the slant-load trailer: By closing each horse in before loading the next, you sandwich the horses in, giving little access to the front and center horses.
Consider the consequences if one of the interior horses has a problem, even something as simple as a bee sting. What if you need to calm him down, medicate him or unload him' You’ll need to remove horses to gain access to that front horse. Now, what if you’re on a four-lane highway when this happens'
Some slant-load manufacturers, such as Kiefer Built and Alum-line, give an option of an escape front door to gain access and for unloading the front horse. With that option, only the middle horse remains trapped no matter what.
Still, slant-loads are popular, mostly because some folks have used them for years without a bad experience and like hauling several horses.
Tom Scheve, an expert in trailer safety and the designer of the Equi Spirit trailer said, “The original idea and positive aspect of the slant-load was to stack more horses in the trailer. It really came into the Quarter Horse or small-horse market. Thus the first slant-load was made. Since then, many people have tried to prove that horses ride better in a slant load.”
Myth #1 - Warmblood Slant-Loads
Some manufacturers claim to have a “warmblood” slant-load, meaning it accommodates a larger horse. However, the only thing they can change is the height of the trailer and the width of the stall. The length of the stall can’t be varied much because there’s a legal limit to the trailer width: 102 inches.
This limit makes it difficult for a manufacturer to make a trailer wider than 6’8” without having the wheel wells protrude into the inside of the trailer. A 7’ wide interior has a bit of wheel well in it — in the area with the horses.
Myth #2 ?'' It’s a “larger” trailer
If you want a slant-load and have a large horse, measure him, especially if he’s 16 hands or more. Then see how much space he’ll have in that slant-load trailer. Don’t assume your horse is going to just “fit.” Your horse could get claustrophobic, be unable to stretch his head out to cough or eat with his head in a proper position.
A straight-load trailer can give you extra room by allowing the horse’s head to hang over the trailer breast bar.
In a slant-load, the entire horse must fit inside the stall. Some people adjust for this by allowing their horse’s head to hang out the window — not a good idea.
At the very least, gravel/road debris is likely to get into the horse’s eyes. At the worst, a horse’s head could suffer severe damage, even death.
The way manufacturers choose to measure their stall sizes may mislead buyers. Some manufacturers claim they make the angle that the horses stand slightly longer than others by angling the horse more toward the front of the trailer.
However, look at the diagrams and measurements of slant-load stall lengths. The manufacturers give “length” measurements on a diagonal, like one would measure a television set screen (see ”True Measurements On Slant-Loads” sidebar, E to G = 121”). But because corners are unusable space for a horse (imagine squeezing a horse’s hindquarters into the corner), we find this an inaccurate depiction.
A horse will stand in the middle of the stall. To get a more “natural” measurement take your tape measure and measure one of the dividers (see sidebar, E to F = 96 3/8”). That will give what we believe is a true-horse stall-length measurement.
While you have your tape measure out, check another “true” measurement — the width of the stall — because many diagrams mislead buyers there as well.
Measurements in brochures are often taken from one corner of the stall to the other (see sidebar, A to B) instead of perpendicular to the sides (see sidebar, C to D). The hypotenuse is always larger than the right-angled side, so therefore the width appears larger than it actually is (A to B = 40” while the true width of C to D = 32 ??”).
Some horsemen can get a larger horse into a slant-load by making the stalls wider. This allows the horse to stand more front-to-back — just as he would in a straight-load.
Myth #3 - Horses Prefer Slants
Some people say horses prefer to ride on a slant, claiming they have better balance that way.
Lynn Mueller, a New Jersey Kingston dealer, said, “Some schools of thought say standing on a slant is more secure. Like if you were commuting on a bus, and you would place your body to the side for a little more balance.” However, this theory assumes four-legged horses balance like two-legged humans.
Others will say, if given the chance to choose a stance in an open stock trailer, the horse will choose to stand at the slant. However, we think it may be that horses choose the sideways stance because it’s an open stock trailer and they’re migrating toward the air and light. They may even stand backward loose in an open stock trailer. Frankly, no one really knows what the horse wants.
Horses on a straight-load trailer are able to plant both front feet and lean into the chest bar to brace for starts and stops. On a slant, they have to throw their weight on their front shoulder and lean or fall against the center dividers.
Mueller feels the preference for slant-loads is personal, similar to the debate between step-ups or ramps. “Where Quarter Horse people think nothing of a step-up trailer,” she said, “a Thoroughbred owner would be aghast, saying that their horse needs a ramp and would never do that.” She says it’s the same with slant-loads. Maybe.
Windows And Vents — When comparing slant-load trailers, look for a window at the head and tail of every horse. These windows should open and have screens. There should also be windows in the back doors that slide open to let in air.
Three or four horses crammed in a trailer will throw off a lot of heat, so vents are a necessity. Roof vents allow heat to escape and are standard on most slant-load trailers.
Dividers — We recommend dividers that allow horses to spread their legs for support. Shoulder dividers also help deter horses from bending their heads around and aggravating their neighbors. Look for latches that work simply and don’t protrude into the stall area.
A telescoping divider allows you to shorten and lengthen the divider and is often found closest to the back-entrance ramp/step. This allows the divider to shorten and fold back to the door behind the rear tack area without sticking out when you’re loading horses. It also allows companies to offer larger tack areas.
John Estep of Sundowner explained: “The reason for the telescoping rear divider is so you can go 50-50 on those rear doors, giving you more room in the tack area. A 50-50 split is plenty big enough for the horse, but if you don’t have a telescoping divider you can’t slide it behind the rear tack. A telescoping rear divider is standard on all of our slant-load horse trailers.”
Lonnie Smith, a Featherlite product manager, added: “With our rear-frame design, the 50-50 configuration allows for ample room to load horses, plus it allows for a larger rear tack area with more room for saddles and equipment. With a 60-40 configuration on a 7’ wide trailer, it makes the tack area tight. Featherlite designs their trailers for easy loading and lots of tack space.”
However, in defense of the 60-40 split, Jeff Knight, of Exiss Aluminum Trailers, Inc., stated, “The major benefit in 60-40 doors versus 50-50 doors is the extra space that is available for loading and unloading.”
Floors — Floors can be wood or aluminum. If you choose a trailer with wood floors, the boards should run front to back. Supports beneath those boards should run side to side. Look for pressure-treated #1 grade wood (it has the fewest knots).
Aluminum floors, although seemingly maintenance-free, are not. You must wash down the floor to keep the urine and manure from eating away at the floor.
If the idea of an aluminum floor makes you nervous about its safety and strength, Lonnie Smith explained that, “Floors are reinforced extruded aluminum using a unibody design for strength and stability. The floors are made of an aluminum board that runs lengthwise on top of a 4” I-beam that runs widthwise.”
Aluminum or Steel
Aluminum is lighter. Steel is stronger. But steel rusts. While the automobile industry has advanced technologically to produce steel cars that resist rust, the trailer industry never followed suit and instead pushes aluminum as the answer.
Scheve worries about aluminum’s propensity to shear instead of bend. He said, “I’m not real fond of aluminum breast bars and dividers. Aluminum is 1/3 the strength of steel, and it shears. So if the divider is aluminum . . . and the horse hits it, it will rip or tear instead of bend. And when it rips it creates sharp points. That can do a lot of damage to a horse in a minor accident.
“Steel has three times the strength so if a horse hits the steel with more than it can handle the steel will bend,” he said. Despite this possible safety issue, most trailers are still constructed with aluminum to keep the weight down.
A good combination of aluminum and steel can be found in Sundowner’s ValueLite line, which uses a steel frame with an aluminum skin and uses aluminum in some places (fenders and floor) but uses steel where strength is needed most.
Estep said, “Sundowner used to build all-steel trailers, but we haven’t built an all-steel trailer in about four years. When we came up with the ValueLite, it’s kind of the best of both worlds. We use steel and we use it for a reason — for strength. The combination offers corrosion resistance, which is important in the Northeast and Midwest where they use a lot of salt. . . . We had gone to galvanized steel, but the paint kept becoming more and more of a problem.” Sundowner has since gone to powder-coated steel, which allows for good paint adherence.
If you think you want a slant-load, measure your horse’s width and length. Then go to a dealer and stand in a slant-load, imagining you were your horse. Get out your tape measure and determine if your horse will fit comfortably. We believe this is especially a concern for larger breeds of horses.
In addition, think about whether you would like the ride. Better yet, find a way to give your horses a test ride in a slant-load to be sure they accept it well. It may be worth a few dollars to get a friend or professional hauler to give your horses a ride before you plunk down all that money. Some horses hate slant-loads. A few, however, hate straight-loads.
We stress that you make certain accessibility to your horses is not an issue for you. Emergency situations do arise, and if you’re on a highway and have to unload, we believe you could have problems.
Then, determine your budget, your towing vehicle’s capacity (see February 2001) and your needs. If you match the trailer to your horse you will have a happy, healthy, safe passenger.