Check back on Wednesday, April 28, to learn about choosing the right tow vehicle, the next article in our continuing series on Towing and Trailer Safety.
With so many different trailers to choose from these days, it’s easy to get overwhelmed when considering a trailer purchase. However, if you stick to a few simple guidelines and keep in mind that the trailer needs to fit the horse, you can simplify the process.
“So many people choose the wrong trailers,” said Tom Scheve, co-author of The Complete Guide To Buying, Maintaining, And Servicing A Horse Trailer. “The horse should always come first, the trailer second and the tow vehicle third. You have to look at the horses you have and determine what kind of trailer will fit the horses comfortably.”
Determining the appropriate size for your trailer depends on the breed and type of horses you own. While most horses fit in a standard straight-load trailer—10’ stalls, 7’6” tall and 6’ wide on the inside—many of the breeds used in the performance industry today need a little more space. In general, a horse that is 16.3-17.2 hands needs a trailer that has 11’ stalls and is 7’8” tall. Two inches doesn’t seem like much of a difference, but that extra clearance will make the horse much more comfortable. For the 18-hand range, or an extra wide horse, some width may need to be added. Since the legal width on U.S. roads is 8’6”, the interior width can be 6’8” before the wheel wells would need to be inside the trailer.
“The size of the trailer is going to make a difference,” said Neva Scheve, co-author of The Complete Guide To Buying, Maintaining, And Servicing A Horse Trailer. “The horse needs to have enough head room so they can keep their head and neck in a natural position, and you want to have enough width that they can spread their legs to balance. He needs to be standing in a nice, natural position while he’s on the road.”
Materials Make A Difference
- Aluminum – Aluminum is becoming increasingly popular for horse trailers. It’s lightweight and fairly corrosion resistant. However, aluminum is not very strong on its own, so it’s combined with other metals to increase its strength. Aluminum is 1/3 the strength of steel and 70 percent less weight. Aluminum trailers vary in price and quality, due to the fluctuating price of the metal. Aluminum is more rigid and does not absorb shock as well as steel. It does not withstand impact as well as steel and can be harder and more expensive to repair.
- Steel – Steel is the most common and affordable material used for construction of anything that requires strength. Rust used to be a major concern, but advanced technology has all but eliminated rust with the use of Galvaneal, galvanized and powder coated processes. Steel is less expensive than aluminum because it’s more readily available. Steel trailers generally hold up better during accidents and are easily repaired by a competent welder.
- Fiberglass – When used as a roof, fiberglass will have a slight cushioning affect if the horse hits its head. However, a fiberglass roof will not hold up on its own in an accident where the trailer rolls over, and a frame should be installed with the roof. Fiberglass edges aren’t as sharp as metal. Fiberglass is not as strong as steel or aluminum, and when used for the walls of trailers it can easily sustain damage from the horses or outside factors.
- Hybrids – Hybrids are built on the frame of one material, but the nonstructural parts are made of a different material. This allows for the best aspects of each material to be utilized.
All About Flooring
When it comes to the floor your horses stand on while trailering, most experts agree that wood is the best way to go.
“A wooden floor doesn’t conduct heat or cold; it’s much more solid for the horses, and there’s space for the moisture to go,” said Frank DiBella of Deluxe Horse Vans, Inc. “We’ve always selected wooden floors, and we’ve had trailers come back with over a million miles on them, and the floor still looks like new. You won’t get that with aluminum.”
Aluminum flooring can be safe for your horses as well, but while aluminum doesn’t rust, it does corrode over time. In order to prevent corrosion from happening, it’s important to keep the flooring clean and dry. Mats should be removed from the trailer and any urine, which can cause oxidization, should be washed off the floor with soap and water. Aluminum flooring is a heat conductor and draws heat off the road and into the trailer. It’s also more susceptible to dents, which creates pockets in which moisture may settle.
Another advantage of wooden flooring is that it’s less expensive to replace. Each individual board can be removed rather than having to fix the entire floor. Wood is also a natural shock absorber, making trailering easier on your horse’s legs.
Whether your trailer floor is wood or aluminum, you must check it on a regular basis. If you can stick a knife easily into the wood and get shreds when the knife is turned, it’s time to be replaced. Look for cracks or signs of stress, such as warping or dents, and a spotty or uneven milky appearance on aluminum floors. Do NOT take chances on flooring.
A new option is Rumber. A product made from recycled tires and plastic, it can be used without mats. It’s a bit more expensive and has a 10-year warranty, while many trailers with wood floors come with a lifetime warranty.