While those sparking new aluminum, four-horse gooseneck trailers with cozy-looking living quarters gleam at you from the ads in horse magazines, you know your wallet can’t go there. We all would love to have a trailer with a tack room and living quarters . . . a television, a microwave and a comfy bed. But you wonder if you can even afford to buy any new trailer, even just one with new wires, new tires, new lights, new floor boards, new hinges and doors.
Chances are you can.
For little more (or maybe a little less) than a used trailer you can buy a new one. Maybe not the Taj Mahal on wheels, but a good, safe, two-horse trailer is within the reach of most budgets if you just settle down your expectations and look up what is available within your price range. We found you can get a two-horse, bumper-pull trailer for around $5,000.
Know What You Need
The first thing you need to consider before embarking on the hunt for a new trailer is your towing vehicle. If what you have now is what you’re going to use to pull the trailer, get out the owner’s manual and look up the manufacturer’s recommendation on how heavy a trailer it can handle. Then look for a trailer your tow vehicle is rated to handle.
Most trucks, SUVs and even some cars can pull a smaller two-horse, bumper-pull trailer. Just be sure to consider the weight of the trailer itself, plus the total weight of the maximum number of horses it’s built to hold. There is a plate or sticker on all trailers (usually near the nose or hitch) that lists how much the trailer weighs and how much the ”gross vehicle weight,” or GVW, can be when the trailer’s loaded. Match that to the amount of weight your vehicle’s manual says it can handle.
Once you know how much total weight your vehicle can safely pull, it’s time to go shopping.
Generally a straight-load trailer costs less than a slant-load. And a step-up trailer will be less expensive than one with a ramp. An all-steel trailer will cost less than an aluminum one. A divider that goes to the floor isn’t better, either, so don’t spend money on that. Horses need to spread their legs a little in order to keep their balance, so a bar divider is fine.
One of the major considerations when buying a trailer is the size of the horses you have. A really tall horse needs a really tall trailer: Six-foot high interiors in trailers used to be the norm. Now it’s seven feet. Really big horses might need more room and generally do better in a straight load than a slant load. Speaking of slant load, don’t go by what a salesman might tell you about how long the stalls are. Some might quote the diagonal measurement of the stall and, like the diagonal measure of a TV screen, it doesn’t tell the true story. Measure your horse — from the tip of his nose to the top of his tail — then measure the slanted stall from the center of the front to the center of the back, not from corner to corner diagonally. What suffices for a 15-hand Quarter Horse might be tight quarters for a 17-hand warmblood.
Money aside, we feel you really do need a couple of things, even if they cost a little extra.
The first is mats on the floor. Mats give the horse a better grip, help cushion his ride and make cleaning out the trailer easier. They also help protect the floor from being soaked with urine and manure. You must have maximum ventilation to keep the trailer airy and free of irritating odors and gases. Roof vents can give your horses air without a draft, but windows are important, too. Many people mistakenly worry their horses will be chilled in a trailer. A bigger worry is that they’ll be too hot, so be sure you can maximize airflow.
The walls of some inexpensive trailers might only be a single sheet of metal on the outside. Double walls, or a lining of some sort, keep occasional kicks on the inside from becoming unsightly kinks on the outside. While some fairly inexpensive trailers do come with double walls, if you’re handy with tools, or have a friend who is a fair carpenter, you can line the walls and rear doors yourself using plywood or cut up stall mats.
While you might save money this way, find out first how much the dealer would charge to install the mats and wall lining. Depending on the dealer, the extra charge might be less than what it would cost you in time and materials to do it yourself — or it might be considerably more. Find out.
Another necessary item is an interior light in the stall area. You don’t want to be juggling a flashlight and lead rope trying to unload a horse if you return home after dark. Make sure the trailer has at least one interior light. If there is a small tack compartment, a light in there is a big help. Some trailers offer an exterior light on the rear as an option — a worthwhile investment if loading and unloading in the dark is a regular thing for you.
An escape door is a valuable safety feature and can really help if you have a horse that gets nervous or testy in a trailer. Some hunter-type, straight-load trailers have an escape door on both sides with padded bars in front of the horses. This gives the horses maximum ventilation and allows them to stretch their necks down to cough and clear their nasal passages, and it also gives you easy access to their heads and hay bags without trying to shimmy up alongside a horse in a tight stall. We advise you to skip trailers with mangers that force the horse to hold his head up.
We found it surprising that some trailers don’t have a standard spare tire. You want one. You might be able to buy one cheaper than the dealer would charge to supply it, but pay attention to whether or not a spare is included and, if not, how much it would cost to add one. Likewise, in most states bumper-pull trailers are required to have a battery-powered auxiliary brake that will engage if the trailer breaks away from the tow vehicle. Make sure the battery pack is included. Seems silly, but one dealer we talked to charged extra for the battery.
Steel vs. Aluminum
We looked at economy-priced two-horse, straight-load trailers to see what was out there. We found that you can get a reasonably-equipped, steel trailer for around $5,000. Aluminum is all the rage now in horse trailers and for around $7,000-$8000 you can have aluminum skin over a steel frame.
The steel trailers of today are not the rust buckets of yesterday. Advances in treating steel to resist corrosion have made the more affordable steel trailer an option to consider. Still, a steel trailer needs to be washed and waxed m ore often and keeping one under cover can prolong its life.
Delta makes an all-steel, two-horse step-up trailer for under $4,000. While it has a 10-inch, stock-trailer style opening down the sides, it has a divider and comes with an escape door and mats.
Bee’s economical two-horse trailer is made from special rust-resistant galvanized steel for $5,330. Mats are extra. The Bee trailer has double walls that are padded on the inside and the floor has a lifetime warranty.
In general, trailers with a ramp cost more than the ones where the horse has to step up to get in. If you prefer a ramp, as we do, Monarch offers a model with a ramp, breast bars and two escape doors for about the same price. Mats are not included but most dealers will add them for around $100-$125 per stall.
Titan makes an all-steel trailer with a ramp also made from rust-resistant Galvaneal. It’s fully padded with mats, two escape doors, roof vents and a rubber rear bumper for $6,120.
Shoop, a regional manufacturer in Eastern Pennsylvania, makes a two-horse straight-load with a ramp, two escape doors, mats and feed bags included for $5,600.
American Spirit’s aluminum-over-a steel-frame trailer comes with mats, lined walls, saddle racks and bus windows for around $9,000. And it includes the company’s exciting dashing horses paint job, although we’d prefer a little money off the price instead.
If you’ve got a big warmblood or draft cross, Kingston’s large, ramp-load trailer has stalls one foot longer than standard trailers to accommodate big horses. The price runs around $9,300 for the ”warmblood” size. The Kingston 10-foot Thoroughbred model is around $8,800. Both trailers come with two escape doors that give open, airy access to the horses.
Shadow makes an interesting stock/slant-load combo trailer called the Stablemate that has a moveable front wall. Hooked in place for hauling horses it gives a separate space up front to stash your saddle and supplies. Moved to the open position it frees up the entire length of the trailer for hauling hay, furniture or whatever. It has drop-down windows on the head side and stock-trailer-style openings on the tail side and a large escape door.
If your budget is really tight, an open stock trailer is something to consider. Most come with a single swing door on the rear and little amenities inside. But it can do double duty hauling hay, moving furniture, etc. Small, bumper-pull stock trailers cost $4,000-$4,500.
Remember that there’s bartering room on the ”sticker” price of a trailer. You may be able to trade in your old trailer on the new one. Ask for the best price or see if the dealer is willing to throw in an option.
Ask your local dealer if he has a good, solid trailer at an affordable cost. If not, consider the cost of a short trip to get a budget-priced trailer. Shop with a list in hand of your minimum needs (mats, windows, lights), and don’t budge. This will help you avoid buying a trailer that seems priced too good to be true. If you can’t get your basic needs met, it’s move on to another dealer.