Congratulations – you have a horse that is willing and able to go off the farm! One of the most fun parts about riding can be exploring on horseback outside the barn: camping trips, trail rides, horse shows, etc. A horse trailer is also very helpful to have in the event of an emergency, a move or a need for a vet visit offsite. But with so many options out there on the market, where do you even begin?
Horse trailers can be broken down by categories: towing type, material, ramp type, and stall type. Each variation serves its own purpose and allows for certain advantages (and disadvantages) to boot. What trailer you will need is very dependent on what you will be using it for, your towing vehicle, your horse itself and more.
Take a look at the various types of trailers and decide which components will work best for you and your off-property horse.
The first thing most horse owners will consider is the overall body design or towing type of a trailer.
Horse Trailer Towing Types
Gooseneck Horse Trailers
The trailer that is considered to be rather top of the line, a gooseneck trailer offers not only a lot of space for horses and supplies but also sometimes even living conditions. They are comprised of the main trailer body as well as an overhang that is then positioned over the bed of a truck. This overhang is coupled to the truck bed for towing, resulting in a sure, tight tow.
While basic models include plenty of room for horses and tack, more expensive units can have living quarters, making them ideal for camping trips, road adventures or long trips for shows.
- Perfect for hauling a lot of horses (usually three or more)
- Holds a lot of tack
- Very stable and balanced, especially when compared to bumper pull trailers, and so are considered very safe to drive
- Despite the size, they are relatively easy to maneuver
- Quite large, so unless you have a lot of horses, the extra space is almost unnecessary
- Expensive – these are not cheap beginner trailers, but rather ones that will cost you top dollar, especially if you get one with living quarters
- Require a truck with a high towing rating and an open flatbed, so your vehicle options are more limited
Bumper Pull Horse Trailers
Bumper pulls are the simplest type of trailer, but also the least complicated. They are pulled directly behind a vehicle and are attached by a coupler from the front of the trailer to the hitch or ball on the bumper of the towing vehicle.
Bumper pull horse trailers are smaller than their gooseneck brethren and usually only hold one or two horses. There is never an option for living quarters, either, as they are simply too small.
- The least expensive type of trailer
- More compact than a gooseneck, so easier to store
- More towing options, it is easier to find a friend that has a rear hitch than one that is set up for a gooseneck.
- Depending on the actual size and weight, you may not need a specially rated vehicle to pull them – a regular small truck, SUV or crossover will usually be fine
- Despite being smaller, their boxy design makes them more unwieldy
- Can haul no more than four horses at a time.
- Not as stable to tow as a gooseneck.
Semi / Tractor Type Horse Trailers
For professional movers, race and show horse companies, etc. there is also the option of the semi-trailer. This is an option whose name accurately describes it: it is a semi-truck, outfitted with a very large, long horse trailer.
They can transport many horses and are reserved for the more professional services in the equestrian world rather than one-off horse owners.
While not an ideal purchase for most horse owners, these very large horse trailers are great at transporting many horses at once.
A favorite of professional equine transporters, they are excellent options for renting a space on, if you have a horse that needs to be transported a long distance.
- Can transport a lot of horses in one go
- Very safe, as semi-trailers are connected to semi cabs, meaning a close tow
- Too much trailer for the typical horse owner, as these are more commercial fleet trailers
- Very, very expensive
- High fuel costs
- Not easy to maneuver in tight spaces or down small barn roads
- Special, commercial drivers license often required to drive.
After you determine which style of trailer works best, it is good to know that the materials can differ.
Horse Trailer Materials
Steel Horse Trailers
The original material used to construct trailers: steel! (source) Traditionally, this strong metal was used to build horse trailers fully.
However, in the 1970s and 1980s, manufacturers began realizing that steel horse trailers were prone to rust and so also included aluminum trailers in their production.
Traditionally, steel trailers are all-steel: body, axles, hinges, frame, etc.
- Very sturdy and strong
- Safe for your horse in an accident
- Cheaper to produce than aluminum, so more affordable as a trailer
- Easy to repair and parts are easy to replace
- Takes a lot to bust or dent steel parts
- Very heavy, meaning you will need a large vehicle and high capacity tow package to safely haul
- Due to the nature of steel, they are prone to rusting and deterioration
Aluminum Horse Trailers
Produced in answer to the problem of deteriorating steel, aluminum trailers were built to not only be more weather-resistant but also lighter.
The name is a bit of a misnomer, however, as they are not fully 100% aluminum, as the axles and couplers are still steel, out of engineering necessity.
- Very lightweight, so you won’t need as high a towing capacity truck or SUV to pull
- More resistant to the elements and water, so does not rust or wear
- Lighter weight also means improved gas mileage
- Less safe in the event of an accident, with parts breaking or denting more easily, sometimes even just due to wear and tear
- Aluminum production costs about three times as much as steel (source), so these trailers are more expensive
Fiberglass Horse Trailers
A third, somewhat less common option of horse trailer material is fiberglass. Similar to the production of aluminum trailers, though, they are traditionally a steel frame cage, with fiberglass walls, doors and a roof. They are lighter than steel trailers but still more able to withstand the elements, as fiberglass does not rust. (source)
- Lighter than steel trailers, so you can have a lower towing rating
- Resistant to rust, mold, etc.
- Reflects heat instead of conducting it, meaning your horse is less likely to overheat inside
- Not as safe as steel in an accident
- Also less durable than aluminum
- Less common, so harder to find with just the style trailer you are looking for as well
Another feature to consider when purchasing a horse trailer is the ramp or entrance type.
Horse Trailer Entrance Types
Step-Up Horse Trailers
The “step up” style ramp is rather self explanatory: rather than have an incline for the horse to walk on, they instead step up into the trailer, and step down to back out of it.
- No added weight to a trailer
- Often means a trailer will be more affordable, since there is less additional equipment
- Can be scary to novice horses, stepping right into a box, and so they may balk at loading
- Back a horse out of a step up can be a little scary, because they are stepping down blind
- Very narrow space for unloading, which can be dangerous for horse and handler
Drop Ramp Horse Trailers
A drop ramp, then, is an attached ramp that folds up with the back doors and allows your horse to have a ramp to gradually walk up on when loading and back out onto when unloading.
- Generally considered safer, as it provides the horse a constant ground under its feet
- Easier to convince young or inexperienced horses to use
- Allows room for your horse to turn or sway without risk of injury
- Ramps can become slippery or develop cracks and may require maintenance or to be replaced
- They can be quite heavy
Last but not least, there are different types of stall setups you can find in horse trailers.
Horse Trailer Stall Types
Slant Load Horse Trailers
Slant stalls are, as the name suggests, partitions for horses set at an angle rather than parallel or perpendicular straight lines, meaning the horses noses point towards the middle of the road rather than ahead. It is also the most common layout for two-plus horse trailers.
- Due to the nature of angles, it is easier to achieve balance when towing only one horse, as just one side of the trailer is not significantly lighter
- Horses naturally find their balance better at a slant in trailers
- Slant creates additional storage room in the rear
- More expensive than a straight loading trailer or a stock trailer
- A person can easily become trapped between a spooking horse and the only exit, meaning they can be a little more dangerous
Stock Horse Trailers
Stock type trailers are designed less so specifically for horses and more for almost any type of livestock. They have open slats on the side and often times do not have partitions or stall separators inside, meaning animals are standing next to each other, often tied to slats or poles inside.
As long as height and width requirements have been met, though, horses can be safely towed in them.
- Cheaper, due to the lack of internal hardware
- Multi-use, especially if you are dealing with other livestock in your daily life, meaning you won’t need to invest in multiple, specialized trailers
- Must be large enough for a horse and meet wheel well safety requirements
- Can be less safe, due to the lack of stalls or separators
- The temperature can’t be regulated, as they are all open-air, so horses may need to be blanketed in colder months
Straight Load Horse Trailers
A straight-forward name for a straight-forward style, these trailers have two horses load right up, standing side by side, facing forward. They stand straight, as the name suggests, rather than on a slant.
- Generally cheaper than a slant loading trailer (source)
- The straight nature means a handler can safely jump out of the way of a spooking horse
- Can be harder for horses to balance
- Less storage space
Frequently Asked Questions
You fully loaded horse trailer weight should never exceed the towing capacity (tow rating) of the vehicle you are using. Most small cars and sedans can not tow a horse trailer of any size.
Some small trucks and SUV’s have a tow rating sufficient to allow them to tow a one or two-horse trailer. This will vary depending on the make / model of the vehicle and the total weight of the trailer.
If you are going shopping for a new truck, it is best if you know beforehand the total weight of the trailer and cargo. This will allow the dealer to make a recommendation for the size and type of truck that is best suited for you.
NEVER exceed your vehicle’s tow rating. Just because your vehicle can pull the trailer forward doesn’t mean that you will be able to turn or stop safely. A 6,000 lb trailer is no match for a 4,000 lb vehicle. Towing more than your vehicle is equipped for puts your life and the life of other drivers on the road at risk. When in doubt, get a bigger truck.
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- Considerations for Buying a Single Horse Trailer
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