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Trailer Shopping

To fully serve its purpose, your trailer must be well-matched to many personalized needs - from the way your horses haul best, to the size and type of vehicle you plan to tow with. There's also the matter of finances, and the almost inevitable need to compromise somewhere. Since a horse trailer is a big purchase getting it right can be easier said than done.

This page is designed to help you shortcut the time-eating process of gathering knowledge, and to help you make the trailer design choices that will yield your personalized best buy. It describes benefits and drawbacks of eight basic design decisions any trailer buyer must make, regardless of budget, favorite brand or wish-list of accessories.

Hitch Mode

Gooseneck

Why you'd want it: You desire maximum towing stability, and ease of maneuverability when turning or parking; want the sleeping/storage space provided in nose area; intend to have a camper package/living quarters included in your trailer; wish to extend the life of your tow vehicle; want to increase the load you can pull safely without having to upgrade your current truck.

Drawbacks: Can't be towed by vehicle that lacks open truck bed, such as your motor home or Suburban; requires installation of special truck-bed hitching system ($400 to $600) that doesn't come with typical tow packages; adds $1,000 to $3,000 to purchase price of trailer; adds to trailer's weight and length; requires extra parking/storage space over compatible bumper pull.


Bumper Pull

Why you'd want it: Your tow vehicle can't accommodate a gooseneck hitch; you want to leave your truck bed open for a camper or supplies; have limited parking/storage space; must economize to meet your budget

Drawbacks: Generally not as stable to tow as a gooseneck; may require frame-hitch stabilizing system (about $350) added to tow vehicle, for safety; less ease of maneuverability when turning/parking; not available with camper package/living quarters; requires more tow-vehicle power than comparable-size gooseneck; not available beyond four-horse size unless you choose a stock trailer longer than 16 feet.

Stall Configurations

Slant-load

Why you'd want it: To give your horses the balancing aid of standing diagonally when hauled; you often haul mares and foals, yearlings, or other inexperienced loaders/travelers; want rear-corner tack storage; plan to haul other cargo requiring roomy interior (produced by removing or pinning back stall dividers); want good resale value.

Drawbacks: Seldom available, even used, for under $3,000.


Straight-load

Why you'd want it: Your horses are accustomed to being hauled facing forward; your budget requires you to shop the used-trailer market, where many straight-loads are available at relatively low cost.

Drawbacks: Less inviting to enter for inexperienced loaders; makes balancing more difficult for horses; built-in front mangers common to straight-loads provide risk of entrapment for panicked animals; generally not available in three-horse models; lower resale value as a rule.


Open (stock type)

Why you'd want it: You haul other livestock and/or large items besides horses; your horses resist confinement in stalls when trailered; you live in a hot, dry climate and want the air circulation of semi-open sides (typical of stock-type trailers); want maximum cargo space at minimal weight and cost (absence of stalls makes trailer lighter, and less expensive to construct).

Drawbacks: Horses can't be protectively separated; standard semi-open sides increase horses' exposure to weather/highway elements.

Horse Capacity

Two-horse

Why you'd want it: You never haul more than one or two horses; your tow vehicle can't safely pull the weight of a third or fourth horse; you must economize to meet your budget (the bigger the trailer, the greater the cost); your storage/parking space is limited.

Drawbacks: Your third horse has to catch another ride, or stay home.


Three-horse

Why you'd want it: Three head is the maximum you'll haul; you plan to get a third horse or want the option of room for a friend's horse besides your two; want the additional non-horse-hauling cargo space you'd get over a two-horse; you know you have enough tow-vehicle power to pull a loaded three-horse; have room to park/store it; aren't on an ultra tight trailer-buying budget.

Drawbacks: As a rule, requires heavy-duty, half-ton or larger tow vehicle; increases parking/storage length requirements; adds to cost ($1,500 for steel, $2,500 for aluminum).


Four-horse or larger

Why you'd want it: Your whole family rides and there are more than three of you; you're planning to buy a 16 foot or longer stock trailer and will get room for at least four horses with its dimensions; you're a professional trainer or transporter who regularly hauls this many head.

Drawbacks: Each stall adds to length, weight, and cost over comparable three-horse, requires 1-ton or larger truck to tow safely when fully loaded.

Material

Aluminum

Why you'd want it: To reduce the overall load weight you pull (aluminum is 25 to 35 percent lighter than steel); to extend trailer lifespan and eliminate need to repaint exterior (aluminum doesn't rust); to maximize resale value; for improved gas mileage; your budget allows you to pay up to twice as much as you'd pay for steel.

Drawbacks: More costly than steel by as much as 50 percent; more costly to repair in some instances; relative scarcity of aluminum-welding shops when repairs are needed; unpainted skin requires acid bath to maintain shine, which hastens corrosion; costs more to insure than comparable steel trailer.


Steel

Why you'd want it: For durability over rough, unimproved roads or when hauling rank stock; for relative ease and lower cost of repairs, and lower insurance rates required than for other material options; to stay within a trailer budget of $10,000 or less; you have adequate, elements-resisting storage space to extend trailer's lifespan; you want greatest range of choice in the used-trailer market.

Drawbacks: Requires more maintenance, including repainting, due to rust; rusts quickly if left exposed to weather, and in humid, coastal climates; is heavier than aluminum, requiring more power to pull safely; has lower resale value.


Combination (aluminum skin over steel frame)

Why you'd want it: Costs less than all aluminum (for example, $1,500 to $2,000 less on a three-horse slant model); slows degeneration of trailer's exterior.

Drawbacks: Electrolysis, a highly corrosive process, occurs when aluminum comes in contact with steel; costs more than steel-over-steel (for example, about $2,500 more for a three-horse slant).

Entrance Style

Ramp

Why you'd want it: Your horses are accustomed to it; you often haul mares and foals, or Miniature Horses; to reduce loading/unloading concussion to horses' legs, expecially when transporting injured horses to and from veterinary care; to facilitate unloading last horse from slant-load trailer with rear tack compartment; to avoid risk of horses' legs slipping under trailer when loading/unloading.

Drawbacks: Adds cost ($500 and up); adds weight; hollow sound may make inexperienced horses reluctant to step onto ramp; depending on weight/mechanics, may be difficult for one person to raise or lower.


Step-up

Why you'd want it: Your horses are accustomed to it; to keep trailer's cost and weight down; you lack strength to operate a ramp by yourself.

Drawbacks: Risk of injury if horse's rear legs slip under trailer during loading/unloading; horses must jump down to exit if not backed out, increasing leg concussion; may be difficult for injured or very small equines to enter/exit.

Sidewall Style

Fully enclosed (with open/close windows or drop-down feed doors)

Why you'd want it: You haul show stock and want maximum control of trailer's interior climate, especially in winter; wish to feed/water without entering trailer or unloading stock; for stylish appearance.

Drawbacks: Offers less ventilation than partially open sides; adds to overall trailer cost ($3,000 and up), and weight.


Partially open-sided (no open/close windows or drop-down feed doors)

Why you'd want it: You live in a hot climate and need maximum trailer ventilation at all times; don't show, so aren't concerned about how cold drafts may affect horses' coats; need to keep trailer's weight and/or cost to a minimum; aren't concerned about stylishness.

Drawbacks: Horses endure increased exposure to weather/road elements; you can't feed/water without entering trailer.

Extra Space Capacity
Walk-in tack/dressing room

Why you'd want it: You pack a lot of gear; often show/camp out of your trailer and need changing/wardrobe space; can accommodate extra trailer length for parking/storage; can safely tow the added weight.

Drawbacks: Adds to trailer's length, weight, and cost.


Separate tack, side or rear

Why you'd want it: To increase convenience of tack storage/access; to keep tack out of trailer's living space.

Drawbacks: Adds to trailer's cost ($300 for steel trailer, $500 to $1,000 for aluminum); increases trailer's length, adding weight and increasing storage/parking requirements.


Camper packaging/living quarters

Why you'd want it: To have on-site living accommodations at shows, rodeos, etc.; to replace the camper/motor home space you'd give up to get a gooseneck; you have enough power to pull the added weight; you can accommodate parking/storing of longer trailer; you aren't on a tight trailer budget.

Drawbacks: Not available with bumper-pull trailers; adds significantly to trailer weight; depending on size, may also add significantly to length; adds $12,000 and up to trailer cost; costs more to insure.

Width/Height

Standard Size (6 to 7 feet by 6 feet 6 inches to 7 feet high)

Why you'd want it: Your horses are under 16 hands; to keep trailer's cost and weight down; readily available without special order.

Drawbacks: Leaves cramped head room, tight stall space for large horses.


Extra wide, extra tall

Why you'd want it: You haul large horses; to increase camper/living quarters roominess.

Drawbacks: Extra size adds to weight, cost; may require larger tow vehicle; may require special order, adding to delivery time.

Reference: Horse & Rider 10/98

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