By Howard J. Cormier, LSU AgCenter Southwest Regional Equine Agent
I have been thinking about a few things I would share about horse trailers and wondering if I will have enough information. As I get into it, I don’t know if I can get it all said in one article!
If you have a horse, you will need to have a trailer. Even though you plan to just ride Ole Paint around the pasture, eventually you’ll need to take it to the vet after an injury, or go ride with friends, or just teach it to load. There are many different kinds of horse trailers in all price ranges. Most folks start with a simple design, like a two-horse straight load bumper pull. Nothing wrong with that, but be aware of a few concerns. It is harder to teach a horse to load in a straight load with double doors and a center post than it is for a wider opening. Also, the center post can catch and pull off a stirrup if the horse backs out too quickly. Yes, they are more economical, but there can be problems with rust if the trailer sleeps outside most of the time. If you can keep it in a shed, that will greatly reduce the rust threat, but not everyone can start with a shed and the cost of the trailer. Even small trailers need electric brakes. And don’t neglect to check the tires. Do they have good tread left? Are they dry rotted? Does the trailer have a spare? Does a jack and lug wrench come with the deal? The larger you go, the more stopping power you will need. You will also need a brake controller unit inside the pulling vehicle.
A slant load trailer with wider doors is a better idea for most people. Aluminum is great, but a metal trailer made of galvaneal steel will be very rust resistant. Some people think aluminum is lighter, but this has not always been proven true, depending on which trailer is tested. A tack room is wonderful to store saddles, bridles, pitchfork, feed, water, trailer jack, etc. When you’re on the road, or in a campground, you can add a porta potty for convenience and comfort, if bathrooms are not available. If you can afford it, you will not regret your decision.
As you get bigger, you will want to consider a gooseneck design. There again, cost goes up, but so does safety. A gooseneck hitch, such as the popular B and W brand bolted into the bed of a truck, can add $750 or more to the cost of pulling a gooseneck trailer. Most dealers do not honor the warranty on a truck if it has been welded on, hence the need for aftermarket bolt on hitches.
There is no limit to what you can add to your horse trailer, especially once you decide on living quarters. With living quarters, it is more important that there are no leaks in the roof. That can stain or rot things inside the living quarters. You’ll need a generator for basic lighting, sleeping spots on a mat or sofa or in the gooseneck, and a way to store water, in case you camp where there are no hookups. You can add A/C, heat, lights, a counter top space to put things, a microwave, a small heater, closets or storage spaces, a small vanity (to treat eye injuries or other trail mishaps), and the list goes on. If it’s a heavy three or four horse trailer, you might opt for an electric jack, especially if you are the fairer sex whose beauty exceeds your physical strength. You can add an awning, sound system, flush toilet, shower, propane tanks, and hot water heater. Depending on the width, you can get a trailer with mangers and storage space under the horses’ neck area. A lockable tack compartment is a great idea, too. All of these conveniences will add to the cost of the trailer, exceeding $125,000 for top of the line models. You can find used trailers for a small fraction of that, but do your homework. Check the trailer out completely so you aren’t surprised when you get it home. Get someone with experience to ask the right questions. Get the seller to show you how each option works. There might be issues that they have failed to correct that you will have to spend money on to fix. At least you will know about these issues, and how much extra it will cost you to correct them after you buy the trailer. Rarely is there any warranty given on a used trailer. The seller wants to make a sale, so it becomes your responsibility to check everything out. Crawl under the trailer. Any signs of water damage? Do the water holding tanks leak? Each tank can cost over $1,000 to replace, and if your waste water leaks in a campground, or a national forest, that might lead to fines or expulsion. My best advice is to bring along a trusted friend who has experience with trailers. They will know what questions to ask, and whether the problems will be minor, or major.
The simpler the trailer, the less problems you will usually encounter. The more creature comforts, the greater will be the maintenance and repair costs, especially if you are not handy at fixing things. Safe and carefree horse hauling is the goal, but the reality is that you have an ongoing responsibility to maintain this vital piece of equipment.