Non-Profit Internet Source for News, Events, History, & Culture of Northern Frederick & Carroll County Md./Southern Adams County Pa.


Pets Large & Small

Picking a Horse Trailer

Dr. Kimberly Brokaw, DVM
Walkersville Vet Clinic

(9/2017) The second most exciting thing (after buying a horse) for a horse person is buying a truck and trailer. There are lots of things to consider on the purchase of a trailer. Depending on your plans, your needs may vary. If you are planning on doing local trips to trail ride then an elaborate living quarters with shower and kitchen are probably not a high priority. However, if you're planning on elaborate week long camping trips then a nice living quarters would be desirable. Another factor to consider is the number of horses you need to fit in the trailer. If you're a trainer going to shows then you may need to transport 4 or more horses at a time. However your average person is looking at getting a 2 horse trailer, possibly with a small tack room.

While it is fun to be able to show off to friends a fancy trailer complete with a blender and margarita machine, the most important part is, does it safely transport your horse? A used trailer should be inspected by someone knowledgeable in trailers. Floors rust and rot. There is nothing worse than driving down the highway at 55 mph and having your horse fall through the floor of the trailer and onto the highway because you did not have the trailer floor inspected. Tires rot. When I was a 17 year old, learning to drive a trailer, I had two flat tires while bringing my horse home from pony club camp. Although the tires had been inspected 8 months prior, they were old and had developed dry rot. Fortunately, I was close to home, was able to change one tire, and was able to get my horse home before the second tire became completely flat. A friend had their horse trailer catch fire because the trailer had not had regular maintenance and the wheel bearings had not been replaced. Having your trailer catch fire is also a highly undesirable scenario.

In addition to making sure the trailer is safe and in good repair, look at how the trailer is designed. Does the horse have plenty of head room? Is there enough space? If you are in an accident can you easily access all the horses? While slant load trailers are popular, I personally hate them. There is not enough room for your larger horse so you end up stuffing them in. If you are in an accident, the middle horse in the slant is difficult to get to if it needs treating. Features such as built in mangers, that are common in small two horse trailers, have pluses and minuses. If your horse panics and ends up climbing into the manger, it may be very difficult to get him out of the manger without major injuries.

Make sure your trailer and towing vehicle are compatible. Trying to pull a 3,000 lb trailer that has two 1200lb horses, while using a small SUV with a 5,000lb towing capacity is a recipe for disaster. Make sure your hitch is rated for the weight of the trailer that you are purchasing, and that the trailer ball size matches the trailer. Get a good trailer shop to inspect your towing vehicle and trailer to be sure everything is compatible and in good working order.

Even if you've done everything right when selecting a safe trailer, horses still can get injured in them. One of my clients was driving her horse back from a farrier appointment. Twinkles is an upper level performance horse that requires glue on orthopedic shoes in order to stay sound. He has competed at multiple shows, is an expert at getting in the trailer and rides well. His owner is an experienced, cautious driver who has a very nice spacious horse trailer so Twinkles always got on the trailer willingly. On the way back from the farrier appointment Twinkles' owner was cut off by another car and the owner had to slam on the trailer brakes to avoid crashing into the car. She heard and felt Twinkles scramble in the back of the trailer but as she was close to home continued to drive there figuring she would check on him in a few moments and see if he was okay.

When she got home and unloaded Twinkles she realized he was hurt. When she slammed on the brakes, he'd hit his head and had lots of abrasions and one laceration that needed stitches. I was called out to the farm. Upon examination I found Twinkles was alert but clearly in a lot of pain. I gave him some sedatives and pain medications and proceeded to examine him. He had significant bruising on his head. In addition to the puncture he had broken the bone above his eye. I pulled out a few bone fragments and thoroughly washed out the wound. I cautioned the owner that I might not have removed all of the pieces of bone and it was possible that it might get infected later. I offered to refer her to a hospital if she wanted a CT scan or a surgeon to examine her horse. As it was she elected to treat him on the farm and when I came out the next day he was actually doing very well. Obviously he was still painful but the swelling was down and he was eating and seeming comfortable considering the trauma.

Luckily Twinkles was in a good trailer with good brakes so while he did get hurt, it wasn't catastrophic. When you're driving and you see a horse trailer please give them plenty of space. Not only can trailers not stop as quickly as cars but when they do have to brake quickly the horse may be injured.

After you purchase your trailer, it is time to go out and enjoy it. One of the best parts of owning a horse and trailer is being able to go out and ride the trails at our local parts. Gettysburg, Union Mills, Morgan Run, Woodstock, Little Bennett, and the C and O Canal are all great places to take your horse and have fun!

Read other articles by Dr. Kim Brokaw