Hauling Horses--National Exposition on Equine Transportation

The first National Exposition on Equine Transportation (NEET) had a wealth of information for people who haul their own horses for competition or pleasure riding, or for those shipping horses commercially. Information ranged from live demonstrations and hands-on participation to lectures on topics including research on health aspects of transportation, choosing a trailer, proper hitching, and selecting a towing vehicle.

One of the most practical seminars was Trailers 101, which featured a panel including Phyllis Spalding, one of the top Sundowner trailer dealers in the country; Dave Dalzell, a representative of Jamco trailers, which has been manufacturing custom and standard horse trailers for more than 30 years; and Tom Scheve, who with his wife, Neva Kittrell Scheve, wrote The Complete Guide to Buying, Maintaining, and Servicing a Horse Trailer and owns EquiSpirit trailer company.

They said that in hauling horses, there are three elements to consider. They are, in order of importance, the horse, the trailer, and the towing vehicle.

When considering the horse, you should think about his size, temperament, and type of hauling (short or long distance). "I've seen more damage done to a horse and trailer from a warmblood playing than a Quarter Horse being mean," said Scheve. He reminded the audience that a horse is stressed when it is transported. Therefore, when shopping for a trailer, it is important to look at safety features and design of the trailer. You should look for size of the horse compartment, good ventilation, and safety and design of the overall trailer.

There are three main styles of trailers--manger, walk-through, and slant load. Trailers also are made in taller sizes for larger horses. A manger trailer for a small horse might be 6 1/2-7 feet tall, while one for a warmblood might be 7-7 1/2 feet tall. Stalls should be suitable to the size of horse, neither being too long nor too short.

"If you have more than one horse, and they are of different sizes, get a trailer to fit the larger horse and have adjustable butt and chest bars for the smaller horse," said Scheve. He added that the horse will lean on the chest and butt bars, so they need to be sturdy, but easy to open even under pressure.

Slant Load Trailers

One thing the panel told the crowd was that slant load trailers don't necessarily fit bigger horses. "Slant load trailers were created to put more horses in a smaller space," said Scheve. "If you have larger animals, stay away from the slant load trailers unless they are specifically designed for your horses."

The maximum legal axle width for any trailer (horse or cargo) is 102 inches, said Scheve. So, maximum stall width on a slant load is 8-8 1/2 feet (from one side of the trailer to the other). That means there is only 6'8" maximum floor width between the wheel wells in a stock trailer. "Therefore, the only way to make a stall longer is to face the horse more forward at an angle," added Scheve. "A 15.3- or 16-hand horse can't fit very well." By the time you change the dividers to make the stalls face more forward, you could have gotten a straight-load trailer, he said.

There also is a safety problem in that if a horse near the front of the slant load trailer needs attention, all the horses toward the back of the trailer must be unloaded to get him off the trailer. Auxiliary side doors can be installed, but aren't found on most slant-load trailers--side ramp doors cost from $700-$1,200 to install. Dalzell and Spalding noted that it is better to have an emergency exit door behind a horse rather than in front of a horse to encourage slower and more controlled unloading and because of traffic considerations on the driver or road side of the trailer. (The passenger side is called the ditch side in trailer lingo.)

However, if you want to haul three horses, the slant-load trailer offers the most economical solution. Also, Dalzell said that while he prefers a straight load, he personally owns a slant load. He and Spalding agreed that if a horse trailer was involved in a head-on collision, they would rather have their horses in a slant load.

Spalding said that research done by Sundowner trailers showed that rear impact collisions account for 80% of accidents that involve horse trailers. Horses often can't be removed from a rear-load trailer after such a collision because of damage to the door mechanisms.

Ramps and Steps

"We've come a long way from jumping horses into the back of a pickup truck," said Spalding. Something that should be remembered when purchasing a trailer is the actual loading and unloading of your horses. There are two main types of entrances on horse trailers--ramps and swing-open doors that require the horse to step up into the trailer. The type of trailer you select might depend on your breed or discipline, and the trailer's availability might depend on your location in the United States. According to Dalzell, in Texas, Oklahoma, and other Western states, they don't want ramp trailers. However, on the East and West Coasts, warmblood and Thoroughbred show people want ramp trailers.

"We break our sales into territories, and we see a big difference in sales of these two types of trailers based on region," said Dalzell.

There are two types of ramp trailers--one where the ramp forms the back door, and one where the ramp lifts up outside the back door. A good ramp is long with a low angle that makes it easy to load and unload horses, and is it easy to lift even for one person. The springs should be in the correct location, not in the way on the sides of the ramp. There should be rubber on the ramp to provide traction.

There are some drawbacks to ramps. Many horses find it friendlier to step up into a trailer than walk up a ramp that echoes and doesn't seem to be solid footing. Some ramps are too heavy for one person to lift. Some older trailers have ramps that slide out from under the bottom of the trailer. Those ramps often become so caked with mud and road grit that they are impossible to dislodge.

The most important aspect of having a ramp trailer is the lay of the land where you load and unload your horses. If you go to show grounds or hunt fields, then there usually is plenty of flat area to drop the ramp and get the horse off. However, if you trail ride or compete in endurance events, then you might face rugged terrain. There might not be enough level ground to lower the ramp properly.

The step-up usually is found on stock or slant-load trailers. Dalzell said that the open space of the stock or slant trailer is inviting to horses.

However, one of the major drawbacks of a step-up trailer is the potential for the horse to slip and get his hind legs caught under the trailer. That could spell disaster. "One of the causes is if you are pulling on the horse's head in the trailer and he is pulling back against you, and his hind legs slip out from under him," said Dalzell.

Also, a step-up requires a step down. If you have to back the horse out on wet ground or asphalt, even the most trailer-wise horse could slip and end up with his hind legs under the trailer.

Trailer Styles

There are several styles of interiors on trailers, each of which has its pluses and minuses. For example, a two-horse straight load trailer with a manger means there is room for tack and equipment in an outside compartment under the manger. However, the manger-style forces the horse to have his head in the dust of the hay that is blowing around when the trailer is moving. Also, some horses have "climbed" into the manger during transport.

Walk-through trailers are better for bigger horses and to keep the horse's head out of the dust, but some horses get under or over the chest strap, or try and follow the owner out the front of the trailer.

Trailers also come with extra height for taller horses.

The divider between horses should stop six inches above the floor. This allows the horse more foot room than actual stall room. Some trailers have hanging rubber mats as stall dividers. When a horse moves against the rubber divider, it moves into the other horse, which steps out of the way. Use shipping boots and wraps to protect the horse's legs and especially coronets.

If possible, haul mares and foals in a box stall configuration. If using a box stall for young horses alone, make sure the top of the box stall can't be jumped or climbed over.

A gooseneck trailer spreads the weight of the trailer over the towing vehicle better, but a tagalong trailer follows the wheels of the towing vehicle more precisely.

Towing Vehicles

The main comment about towing vehicles during the seminars was to make sure the vehicle is well-maintained, has enough power to get you out of trouble, and that the hitching system is properly installed and kept in working order.

Planning to Minimize Disasters

"No one can predict disasters, but you need to have a plan in place before disaster gets there," warned Roger Lauzé, Coordinator of Rescue/Training of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA). Lauzé suggested several considerations in preparing for the unthinkable.

  • "If you have a horse no one can handle, what happens if you're not around in an emergency? The horse dies," Lauzé said. Train him to accept other handlers.

  • "When the wind is 80 mph, it's not the time to be checking your tires," he continued. "Check that stuff ahead of time; keep equipment in good shape."

  • Keep information on horses and people with you when traveling. If something happens to you and horses get loose, rescuers won't know if if they've caught all the horses.

  • Carry blinders and earplugs (cotton in tied-off pantyhose) to minimize your horse's sensory input in an accident. Wait for a vet to sedate the horse before starting rescue efforts.

  • Don't do anything to get yourself hurt during a rescue--this will only slow down your horse's rescue.

  • Avoid disaster at home when you can. Lauzé suggests paying attention to proper airflow around hay (especially if it's wet), clearing flammable cobwebs, and checking the electrical system. "In some old barns, the electrical system has been there since Edison invented it," he laughed.

For more information on planning for disasters, see "Planning to Save Horses" in the May 2001 issue of The Horse, article #3059, and "Disaster Planning" in the June 1999 issue, article #341.

Equine Rescue

We never want to think of our horses caught in a situation (trailer or otherwise) where they need rescuing, but it's nice to know that professionals are prepared to handle horses when rescues are necessary. Lauzé gave seminar visitors demonstrations of the Anderson sling and the Rescue Glide (a system for getting down horses into trailers), enlisting their help for a hands-on tutorial. (For more information on slings, see "Getting a Lift" on page 49 of this issue.) The MSPCA gives seminars for rescue personnel upon request--more information is available on their web site at www.mspca.org/nevins/ambulance.htm.

Getting Hitched

One of the most important things you can do to ensure your horses' safety on trips is to make sure you have the right truck, trailer, and hitch combination for the weight you're carrying. Steve Cates, National Marketing and Sales Director for Easy Rider, Inc., of Wewoka, Okla., discussed these safety considerations.

Naturally, you should begin with a tow vehicle, hitch, and trailer that are rated for the weight you want to haul. "The gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) tells you what you can tow," said Cates. "You should have a greater towing capacity than actual towed weight."

Balance is also critical in towing a trailer. "About 25-30% of the gross trailer weight typically should rest on the tongue," Cates said. "If you increase the tongue weight, you lower the back of the car and vice versa. A 1-3° difference in the camber angle (angle on the drivetrain) causes extra wear on the drivetrain and transmission, and can even pop out a U-joint.

"Also, antilock brakes are a great safety device, but they're designed to work with all four tires bearing a similar amount of weight. If the tires aren't bearing equal weight (as with improper tongue weight), the truck won't brake evenly." This also affects a vehicle with a low tire.

Regarding hitches, "Most of the towing industry is going to a 2 5/16-inch ball from a two-inch ball," Cates said. "The larger ball has a 1 1/4-inch shank, which gives you a higher weight rating than the smaller ball's 1-inch shank. But make sure you have a 1 1/4-inch shank on a 2 5/16-inch ball! Some people are making the larger ball with only a 1-inch shank," he warned.

"Think about towing a trailer as throwing a pebble into a pond," Cates said. "The ripples go out and back--bumps (in the road) affect the truck, then the hitch, then the trailer, then the hitch again, rebounding the stresses."

Some air-ride type hitches feature a motion-dampening system that reduces jarring on the truck, trailer, cargo, and passengers.

"Also, trailers are getting wider. The maximum width by federal regulation is 102 inches (including outset tires and fenders), but we've heard that some trailers are being built wider than that," Cates said. The standard width of an Interstate lane is 12 feet (144 inches), which leaves you just over 1.5 feet of room on either side with the 102-inch width. "Be careful of that," he concluded.


Some of the most popular seminars of the NEET expo were given by well-known Australian trainer and clinician Clinton Anderson. He gave demonstrations on teaching a horse to load in a trailer; working with a nervous, disrespectful horse on the ground; and working with a hot, easily distracted horse under saddle. In all three, his talent for explaining exactly what he was looking for from the horse and how he was achieving his goals was the key to the audience's rapt attention and education.

"A lot of people's frustration comes from trying to figure out how to do something with a trainer who doesn't know how to explain it to them," Anderson explained. "A trainer needs to be able to relate to the person he's talking to. You can't treat owners like another horse trainer." Logically, if the owner or rider is confused about what he or she is supposed to be doing, the horse will be confused as well, and the result will not be good.

Basic behavior modification techniques, an understanding of equine psychology, patience, and consistency are the foundations of Anderson's training methods. "Horses learn through comfort and discomfort," he said. "We want to make the right thing comfortable, and the wrong thing uncomfortable."

Anderson thinks that many owners and riders don't hold their horses to high enough standards of behavior for riding, ground work, trailer loading, etc. "If I showed you a car on a hill and asked you to go get a quart of milk, and just as you got to the car I said, 'Oh, by the way, the brakes don't work so good, it doesn't steer so good, and sometimes it has a mind of its own,' you wouldn't get in the car, would you?" he asked. "But it's amazing how many people get on a horse when the brakes don't work, he doesn't steer so good, and has a mind of his own.

"A lot of people think that because the horse is manageable and isn't trying to kill them, that they don't have any problems. When they try to maneuver the horse like this (he said while working a horse in small circles, yielding the fore and hindquarters), they're surprised at how many skeletons they have in the closet."

Both horse and owner share responsibility for good interactive behavior in this training model. "I'm responsible for making him comfortable when he's doing the right thing and uncomfortable when he's doing the wrong thing. He has responsibilities too -- to try, listen, and pay attention."

Anderson emphasized patience, immediacy, and consistency as mainstays of the training process. "The quicker you can get at putting pressure on a horse, and the quicker you can get at taking it off, you'll be amazed at how much quicker they respond. Pull and release that pressure--if you give a horse something to lean on, I guarantee he'll do it. The release is the trick."

The other major consideration in having a well-trained horse is that it's more of a lifestyle than a hobby. "You can teach a horse more in five minutes per day every day than in two hours twice a week," Anderson said. "I don't let one minute go to waste. When I go in to clean the stall, I'm using the pitchfork toward them to yield the forequarters and hindquarters."

Training horses to load into trailers presents special challenges. "Horses are very claustrophobic animals, and the trailer is like a big, bad cave," he commented. "I find that many horses that don't like to get in a trailer don't mind the trailer so much as they don't like the sound and feel of walking on the ramp. It doesn't feel solid to them. We're trying to get the horse to go into a dark cave, pick his foot up to do it, and put it down on something that moves."

When working with the first horse, a barely halter-broken Quarter Horse yearling stud, Anderson had to first get past rearing and bolting problems. "He's not trying to be bad, he just doesn't understand. I want to give him a choice of what to do, and let him make the right one," he continued while working the colt. "I'm not getting mad (if he doesn't do the right thing), I'm just being persistent with what I want him to do. I keep making small improvements in what I have to offer. Why do I keep focusing on all the little improvements? Because all the little ones add up to the big ones."

His psychology efforts started right away with working the colt away from the trailer, then bringing him near the trailer to rest. "Horses are the dead-set laziest creatures in the world," he said. "Use that to your advantage. I'll make him work (away from the trailer) and show him that the trailer is where he gets to rest. I want horses to crave going in the trailer. I want my horses to want to go in the trailer so much that if they get loose, I find them in it."

After establishing better ground manners with the colt away from the trailer, Anderson began to do the same longeing exercises nearer and nearer the trailer, finally allowing him to pause and sniff the trailer, then working him over the trailer ramp.

"See him trying to understand by sniffing the ramp?" he asked the audience. "This is where most people screw it up by trying to push him on the trailer. You have to give him time and space to try to understand it." When the colt paused on the ramp in his longeing, Anderson didn't ask him to keep moving. "When they stop like this on the ramp, that's worth a lot!" he exclaimed. "That's him saying, 'Well, while I'm up here, I'll take a look.' The trick is to use reverse psychology to make your idea theirs without them realizing it.

"See how now he wants to go in? That's the whole trick. You say, 'I don't want you to go on, not yet,' then, 'OK, fine, I'm tired of saying no.' We started with him rearing up, trying to run over me and bolt out the gates. Now I work him, make him want to get in the trailer to rest, don't let him, then, just--(here the horse trots into the trailer for the first time)--let him. Never once did I ask him to get on the trailer."

Anderson recommended similar training for horses that load fairly well, but bolt out of the trailer at the earliest opportunity. "Work him outside whenever he bolts out, but let him bolt in," he recommended. "He's trying to get where he thinks is a better place. Show him that outside isn't the place where the fun happens.

"There's no excuse for poor horsemanship any more," he concluded. "There's just too much information out there."

--Christy West


Duncan Alexander, President of the American Live Stock Insurance Company, and Rob Kinsey, legal counsel to the National Horse Carriers Association, spoke on equine transportation insurance issues. The following points were made:

  • "People often get confused with the different types of coverages," Alexander said. "Transportation accident coverage is only for problems if a trailer overturns, is in an accident, etc. If your horse colics in a trailer, transportation peril (coverage) doesn't cover him."

  • "It's unlawful for someone to transport your horse for a fee if he/she isn't an authorized carrier," Kinsey said. "The truck and trailer can be impounded right then. Someone who transports horses for hire must be licensed (with a Certificate of Authority) from the appropriate state or federal agency. An authorized carrier spends $4,000-$5,000 to get the necessary authority, paperwork, insurance, and knowledge of driver/equipment requirements. If a friend hauls your horse for free, that's different, but he/she still needs to carry health and ownership papers. For-hire transportation of horses used primarily for racing, showing, or breeding is a regulated industry regardless of the equipment used to transport horses. Farm managers hauling horses may believe they have coverage protecting them and you, but many farms use care, custody, and control liability policies that exclude or severely limit transport coverage."

  • "Your coverages might insure your horses in the U.S. and possibly Canada, but you'll have to pay an additional premium to go to other countries," Alexander said. "You either need the policy expanded or you lose your coverage when you go out of town."

  • "There's a limit to carrier liability," Kinsey said. "If your horse is killed in a shipping accident, you can only get the limit listed on the shipping contract. This amount (set by the carrier) determines the fee and usually ranges from $200-$2,500. A shipper can declare a higher value, but that increases the transportation fee."


"We want to link the general public with the horse transportation industry," said Darryl Hacker, president of NEET sponsor Kentucky Horse Council. "I think the strength of this event is that you can talk to the seminar speakers and get unbiased answers to your trailer questions, then go downstairs and pick the trailer manufacturers' brains about the features and construction you want. Next year we'll focus more on the clinician aspect and have more activities for people to do. The focus is to have educational opportunity in the same event as related hardware and equipment for safe trailering."

--By Kimberly S. Graetz and Christy West


  • Research has shown that a trailer with a dark exterior will be 20-30° hotter inside on a sunny day than a light-skinned trailer.
  • Trailer manufacturers say that 70% of their buying public is female.
  • Don’t bandage a young horse for the first time before a trailer ride—he might kick to try and remove the bandage and injure himself more than if his legs were left bare.
  • Get someone to drive your rig around the farm and you ride in the back (without horses) to get a feel for what they deal with (noise, vibration, bumps, dust, stops and starts, etc.).
  • When traveling, your horse should have current health papers (done within 30 days of interstate travel) and a Coggin’s test taken within one year (or six months if you are traveling to or from Canada). Canada also requires a federal health paper.
  • Trailer tires run at full pressure with an empty trailer will bounce and cause excess wearing.
  • A hot tire can catch a trailer on fire. When traveling on hot roads, feel each tire during rest stops. In these conditions, make sure tires are at full pressure (maximum PSI).
  • Horses should ride on the driver’s side of a two-horse trailer in case the outside tire drops off the road. Horses are top-heavy, and their movement can sway a trailer.
  • If you are hauling one horse in a slant-load trailer, put him in the very front stall because the ride is smoother.
  • “Factory installed hitch” on your towing vehicle doesn’t mean the factory actually installed it. Sometimes dealers install them.
  • An “ST” stamp on your tire means it is a standard trailer tire. Only trailer tires should be used on trailers.
  • A “towing package” on a vehicle means that modifications have been made that help the vehicle cope with hauling.
  • Once a month pull the mats from your trailer floor and wash the floor with soap and water. Some warranties will be voided if you don’t do this.
  • There are only two ways for a trailer manufacturer to save money when manufacturing trailers—build them faster or use more steel than aluminum. 
  • Most private horse trailers don’t have to stop at weigh stations. This varies from state-to-state. If larger (three- or four-horse trailers) are required to stop, have paperwork for horses and truck/trailer weights ready, and make sure your electric and breakaway brakes work.
  • A towing system is only as strong as its weakest link. The towing system includes ratings for the towing vehicle, the hitch, and the trailer.
  • Bumper pull hitches should be attached to the frame of the towing vehicle. Beware if this is not true!
  • A horse might not show signs of transportation-induced respiratory illness until three days after shipping.
  • With road trips of 25-28 hours, about 12% of horses become ill.
  • With air transportation, 30-40% of horses become ill.
  • In horses not transported but restrained with their heads up and unable to drop their heads and clear their respiratory tracts (similar to a shipped horse), bacterial counts in tracheal fluid increased in six to 12 hours.
  • Trips of less than three hours usually don’t cause health problems.
  • Horses can lose 0.44-0.55% of body weight per hour during transportation. Increasing duration of travel increases weight loss per hour. Weight deficits persist for three to seven days after transportation.
  • Transportation is work for the horse. In one study, transportation used as much energy as walking.
  • Horses have individual preferences for how they like to position themselves when traveling. Research shows that 65% prefer to ride facing backward or at a slant.
  • If hay is offered during transport, it should be soaked in water first to reduce dust and particulate matter.
  • Never leave the feeding doors open or let horses hang their heads out the windows during transport.
  • Air-ride suspension is best on horse trailers. Most bumper pull trailers have rubber torsion suspensions, which also reduces bumps. Rubber torsion suspension is not good over rough terrain and using them in that situation can damage your axles.
  • Make sure your trailer brakes work; it can mean the difference in an accident and a close call.
  • Check and re-pack wheel bearings every spring, and have them checked on new trailers (sometimes companies forget or don’t put in enough during manufacturing).
  • To check your electric brakes, go one mile per hour on a gravel road and activate the lever that controls the electric brakes to see if it stops the whole rig.
  • Make sure your breakaway brakes work (these are required on all new trailers). Older trailers can be retrofitted with breakaway brakes, which stop the trailer if it becomes detached from the towing vehicle.
  • Make sure the coupler and ball are the same size. Balls normally come in 2” and 2 5/16” sizes. (If you put a 2 5/16” coupler on a 2” ball it could become detached.)
  • Your towing vehicle should give you enough power to get you out of an emergency situation.
  • When you use your trailer for the first time in spring, check for stinging insect nests that might be disturbed when the trailer moves.
  • Never leave home with out a spare tire for the trailer and some device to change the tire.
  • Inspect and maintain your plugs and wiring to ensure your brakes and lights work. 
  • If hay bags are used, they should break away at about 200 pounds of pressure.
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