I was dreaming about a new trailer… my trainer loves his ‘walk through’ so I decided to look at those, too.
I found this article and thought you might enjoy it, too!
Straight load vs slant load trailers: The debate continues. However, the one factor that everyone will agree on is that horse safety comes first. It is a given that when a horse enters a closed, dark space it is counter to his survival instinct, a throwback to living in the wild. That said, what we think of as a simple walk up a short ramp might well be viewed as a dangerous, “No way am I going in there!” exercise for the horse. But, walking into a light, airy trailer that accounts for your horse’s size and has adequate ventilation can reduce the most common causes of stress and stress-related accidents.
Tom Scheve, owner of Equispirit Trailers and co-author of The Complete Guide to Buying, Maintaining, and Servicing a Horse Trailer, underscores the importance of considering your horse first when choosing a trailer.
“How tall is your tallest horse? Does the trailer give that horse enough headroom? Can he stand comfortably and not bump his head when loading?” he asks for starters.
“He also should have enough room to use his head and neck for balance and to lower his head to cough out dust and debris he may have inhaled in the trailer,” added Scheve. “And he should be able to spread his legs both forward and backward to stand easily without having to lean or scramble to find his balance.”
The breed of your horse is also a factor as you compare trailers. While a 15.2 to 16.3 H Thoroughbred might need a tall trailer, a 16.2 H Warmblood might need not only a tall trailer, but one that is wide. And, with the heavier horses, especially drafts, weight becomes an issue, from both a hauling perspective as well as from the potential damage a larger horse can cause. Scheve likens the experience to carrying bricks in a plastic bag. He then noted a few other points to consider, namely age, prior training and temperament.
“Since horses are prone to feelings of claustrophobia, particularly young or green horses that are unused to entering into small spaces, they will likely need to develop a sense of self-assurance as they learn the ropes,” he said. “And while it’s ultimately up to you, your handler or your trainer to instill confidence and trust in an untrained horse, having a trailer that is open and welcoming can help make the process easier than trying to encourage an unwilling youngster to walk into a close, dark, place, reminiscent of a lion’s den.”
Scheve also said that your horse’s temperament plays a role in your finding the right trailer.
“If you have a calm, easygoing horse, you can pretty much pick and choose, but if your horse is high-strung and nervous, finding a trailer that will help to alleviate his anxiety,” he advised. “Providing more interior space and extra comfort features (see additional safety features below) can make the difference between your horse feeling comfortable or becoming colicky as he rides down the road.”
Just as important, the trailer needs to be safe. Here is a check list of items that should not be overlooked:
• Sharp objects or edges are an invitation for injury, so make sure that all surfaces, exterior as well as interior are rounded or smoothed out
- • Latches, tie rings, butt bars, breast bars, etc. should be strong enough to withstand wear and tear from the largest, strongest horse
- • Dividers, posts, butt bars, and breast bars should operate freely, yet can be easily removed in an emergency
- • Ramps should be solid, low, non-slip, and long enough to protect you from getting kicked while lifting the platform
- • Step up (no ramp) trailers need to be wide enough to allow your horse to turn around and unload headfirst instead of having to back out (a front unload ramp is even better)
- • The construction material of the trailer should be strong enough to handle the size, weight, and strength of your horse(s) plus the equipment that will be hauled
- • Additional safety features that can help reduce stress and which may not be expensive include, removable hay bags, mats, screens, bar guards on windows, removable or no rear center post, and water tanks
Walk-Through (Straight Load) – Advantages
• Open from ceiling to floor, the walk-through trailer is sometimes referred to as a “Thoroughbred” trailer because it is considered tall at 7 feet (newer models are even taller). Traditionally on the narrow side (5 – 5 ½’ ), today’s models reflect the current concern for comfort and safety by offering 6’ as the standard for the interior width and added dimensions as options
- • Equipped with a breast or chest bar to keep the horse from going through the walk-out door
- • Open appearance to quell feelings of claustrophobia
- • Unencumbered space permits a horse to brace himself with his front legs while enabling him to lower his head in order to clear his respiratory tract should he need to
- • The walk-out door is an added safety advantage for you. If your budget permits, consider a trailer that has a walk-out door on each side so you can reach one horse without disturbing the others
Walk-Through (Straight Load) – Disadvantages
• If you are planning to haul more than two horses you will need a larger straight load trailer to accommodate them
- • There will also be an increased expanse attached to this along with additional customizations, i.e., the need for a side ramp
- • A larger trailer is also heavier, which will add pressure on your towing vehicle
Slantload – Advantages
- • More horses can fit in a shorter length trailer, making it possible to haul more horses in a shorter trailer, i.e., a four horse slant load with 3 x 7 foot tack storage is 24’ to 25½’ long whereas a four horse straight load, head to head, with 4’ x 6’ tack storage is 34’ to 36’ long
- • Since the dividers are pushed to the sides and the rear entrance is spacious, it looks more inviting than a straight load; consequently horses are usually easier to load
- • Horse can be turned around and led out head first
- • Removable dividers make the trailer easier to customize to your needs
- • More room for tack storage (and dressing rooms) at the front and rear corners
Slantload – Disadvantages
• The overall stall length is limited to the US Department of Transportation (DOT) restrictions on width (8½’) of the trailer. Since the wheel wells end up inside the trailer when it’s over 80”, and increases as the trailer is made wider, the stall length is greatly restricted, and often not enough for horses over 16 hands
- • If you have a problem with the front horse, and he has to be unloaded, you have to unload all the other horses to get to it – not a good thing in an emergency
Scott Riley, Director of Director of Dealer Education for Sundowner Trailers weighs in by adding that a straight-load, walk thru trailer allows a horse to use both his front and hind legs to balance better during acceleration and deceleration,rather than trying to brace with the leading foreleg and trailing hind leg, or having to lean into the divider to for balance. But, in the end he maintains it comes down to personal preference.
“Slant load verses straight load is often determined by how the customer uses the trailer. Ropers, team penners, and barrel racers tend to tie their horses outside the trailer, making a slant load more convenient. And polo players, who use several horses for each match, usually favor slant loads. Straight loads, on the other hand, are used more often by people who hardly ever tie their horses outside the trailer, choosing to unload only the horse they’ll be using at the time.”
To sum it up, Scheve looks at the horse’s perspective when discussing trailer styles.
“I believe that we have to balance the ‘horse’s point of view’ with sound research and knowledge when designing trailers. Just because a horse walks into a unmoving trailer and stands at an angle, doesn’t mean that he wants to travel that way, and even if he does, it doesn’t mean it is safe, i.e., let a four-year-old child choose how he wants to travel in your car, and he’ll probably end up by standing on the back seat looking out the rear window. We, however, know that he’s safer strapped into a car seat, even though he may not like it.”
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I bought a new two-horse straight load trailer in 2002. I knew I didn’t want a slant load because a friend hauled my grey Arab mare to a show for me in her slant. The horse got poop all over her butt, hind legs, and tail in the 30 minutes it took us to drive to the show, and I had to wash the mare all over again.
I knew I wanted a ramp, because I have twice seen horses get their hind legs under the trailer: once with a horse who didn’t want to load and once with a horse whose legs slipped in mud as he unloaded. I saw a trailer at a show with a ramp that was not part of the back door, it’s called a tag-along ramp. After one shuts the door, the ramp goes up and is fastened to the door. I ordered a custom made Bison trailer from a local dealer. It’s extra tall, long, and wide (I had a 16.3 OTTB and a 16.2 Appendix Q.H. at the time). It is a stock-type trailer so the ventilation is good. Horses are more likely to overheat in a metal box than to be chilled, even in the winter. When I haul in cold weather I put an Irish cooler on under a sheet or light-weight blanket. I have hauled in rain many times and just a stable sheet keeps the horses from becoming damp. There is no tack compartment or feed shelf because that is just something for the horses to hit their knees on. There is room at the front of the trailer for a couple of tack trunks and hardware to fasten them down. I had the trailer painted white because that is the color that will be coolest in the summer. This trailer is basically just a big empty box, but it has a lot of light in it and appears roomy to a horse. The partition is a swinging padded rail, about 12inches. Over the years my many horses have loaded easily and ridden quietly in my trailer. Twice I have gone at different times to pick up unbroken horses (a ten-year-old and a two-year-old) who had never previously loaded. It took about five minutes to load the older horse and the two-year-old walked right in. My only concern is that I think the escape door should have a higher slat on the inside to keep a horse from jamming his hoof between the floor and the door. I read an article in Practical Horseman where this happened, and the horse cut off a third of his hoof. My trailer does have a raised steel guard in front of the escape door, I just think it should be higher. In close to 20 years of hauling horses in my trailer, I’ve never had one injured in any way. I love the ramp and would never buy a trailer without one.
From Robin: Robyn Lay
6:58 AM (58 minutes ago)
I read your horse trailer article and have to point out some things I disagree with :) The biggest problem I have with the article is telling people they SHOULD turn a horse around and lead them out of the trailer instead of having them back off. While it may take a little time to teach them about the “drop” in straight load non ramp trailers, it is something I think that every horse owner SHOULD do. The reason is that I once had a pony who almost got stuck turning in a 2 horse straight load! Scared the crap out of me. For this reason I think ALL horses should back out of a trailer and at least they will be familiar in different situations. The other reason is that it has helped me on the trail having my horse know the word “step” I say this to her every time her back foot is going to be coming off the trailer and stepping down to the ground. We have a trail here that has “steps” leading down to a rushing creek. The horses can’t see how deep it is and it is a definite STEP down. Lots of people horses will try to jump this particular spot which is very dangerous because of the amount of rocks in the area. (I will try to get you a pic so you can see). The first time my horse and I negotiated this area I kept saying to her to STEP, just like I do getting off the trailer and she KNEW what I meant! It was a wonderful lesson for both of us..lol. Also, I think there are more 2 horse straight loads out there so horses just need to learn to back out of them. It is no different than teaching them any other behavior you expect out of them. BEING in a trailer period goes against all their instinct so it really doesn’t matter which “type” of trailer you use. They will be comfortable in it if you teach them to be IMO. It took a LOT of work getting my heifer to load. She actually came out and landed on her back a couple of times. To this day she will test my husband because she can feel his fear that she won’t load. I can see this from a distance and tell her roughly to get on that trailer and up she goes..lol.. We taught her to go when we point. It is a wonderful thing to have a horse who will easily load and unload. I love my slant load 3H LQ trailer but I also love my 2H straight load too! I don’t lead them out of either one of them. It is always good practice for them to do what I tell them to do and backing out of the trailer is just one of those things we do on a regular basis :) Just some food for though. Oh yes.. one other thing.. when we first got a 3H slant load my husband took one of my horses and turned her around to lead her out. Scared the crap out of her and she jumped a mile getting out of the trailer. That is another reason I don’t like doing that. Hope you find the perfect trailer whatever your preferences :) HAPPY NEW YEAR!!