Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse
If you own or manage a farm, sooner or later you have to invest in some horsepower. And unless your hobby is old- fashioned draft horse farming, you'll need some motorized muscle on your side. Here's a look at some of the equipment you might purchase and tips on what to look for (and watch out for).
All trucks might seem pretty much the same, but when you're thinking about hauling a trailer filled with horses, you need to make sure you're buying the right vehicle for you needs.
As a general rule, Cherry Hill, author of Equipping your Horse Farm: Tractors, Trailers, Trucks & More (with Richard Klimesh), says there are a few rules to follow. "A full-size, half-ton truck can pull a two-horse tagalong (bumper pull) weighing 5,000 pounds fully loaded; a three-quarter-ton dually can pull a two-horse tagalong with dressing room or a three- to four-horse gooseneck weighing 7,000 pounds fully loaded," she says. "A one-ton dually can pull a five- to six-horse gooseneck weighing 10,000 pounds fully loaded."
John Estep, spokesman for Sundowner Trailers, adds, "One-ton duallys are rated to pull a fully loaded gooseneck weighing from 14,000 to 16,000 pounds, depending on the truck's axle and transmission; anything at or above that needs a bigger tow vehicle, such as the Ford F-450 or one of the increasingly popular medium-duty trucks by International or Freightliner. But I always urge people to choose a heavier vehicle because a six-horse trailer full of Arabians or Quarter Horses will weigh lighter than that same trailer full of Warmbloods or drafts."
Note that the term "ton" denotes load-carrying capacity, but safety and suitability depends on the vehicle's maximum trailer weight rating (MTWR), the weight rating of the hitch, and the overall combined weight of the fully loaded vehicle and trailer.
"Many midsize sport utility vehicles or SUVs are rated to tow less than 5,000 pounds," says Hill. "For safety reasons these vehicles cannot be outfitted with a hitch rated high enough to pull a loaded horse trailer. They do not have adequate wheel base length for stability. And they do not have a high enough gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) to carry passengers and cargo, plus the tongue weight from a loaded trailer." The tongue weight is the maximum weight your trailer hitch can handle of the downward force exerted on it by the trailer's tongue (arm that couples with the tow vehicle's receiver).
Some companies now manufacture a lighter two-horse tagalong that the midrange to larger range SUV can handle. Some of the newer, larger SUVs have the specs to perform like a half-ton truck, so they could be considered for pulling a two-horse trailer without a dressing room.
"To safely accommodate this lighter trailer," says Estep, "your SUV must handle at least a 5,000-pound fully loaded trailer with a 500-pound minimum tongue weight."
If you only need a trailer occasionally, then a standard trailer with no frills will be sufficient. For multiple horses a stock trailer with dividers will work. If you only have one or two horses, choose a two-horse tagalong that fits your largest horse.
"A two- to three-horse bumper pull trailer may be the best choice for the occasional user simply because it can be pulled by just about any type of vehicle," says Nicole Ausdemore from Featherlite.
If you're hauling different sized horses together, your trailer should provide ample head room and length to allow the largest horse to travel in a comfortable position, and it should be adjustable enough to prevent a smaller horse from turning around. Create stalls by adding dividers; these can include full dividers, extensions, swinging mats, or even removable dividers. You should be able to lower and raise breast and butt bars to the horse's height.
Anyone expecting to travel more than 10 hours at a time should consider equine comfort when purchasing a trailer because long-haul travel can be extremely stressful for a horse. Shipping fever (any of several respiratory and pulmonary disorders contracted during shipping) is a common issue, so choose features to lessen travel stress.
"Good-quality tires and rubber torsion suspension, which is now becoming standard in the trailer business, is a must for comfort during long hauls," says Tom Scheve, co-author of The Complete Guide to Buying, Maintaining and Servicing a Horse Trailer (with Neva Kittrell Scheve). "Rubber torsion replaces the old drop leaf or shackle spring system. This self-contained suspension system absorbs at least 97% of road shock and vibration, creating a smoother ride for the horse."
"Vented feed and exit doors will let more light in and increase airflow," Ausdemore adds. "Trailer windows can be fitted with screens to keep out unwanted road debris and insects."
Hill and Estep recommend a gooseneck trailer if you are hauling more than four horses long-distance, because the weight is distributed more evenly between both axles of the towing vehicle.
Another type of trailer used on the farm is a utility trailer. This is a wagon or cart designed to be pulled behind a tractor or truck. This type of equipment is a useful addition to your operation if you want to carry fencing materials or haul loads of hay from one barn to another. A dumper-type four-wheeled cart can even be hitched to a small garden tractor. Larger trailers, such as flat-bed trailers, can be multipurpose for truck and tractor (road or farm use). "But sometimes the farm trailers are less road-worthy and can only go at slow speeds," adds Hill.
Although there are four basic types of tractors available, Hill said most horse farm owners probably are interested in the compact (including the subcompact) and the utility. The other two are the lawn and garden tractor and the larger farm tractor.
The lawn and garden tractor has up to 25 horsepower. Although this vehicle is not designed for heavy work, it's useful for jobs that your larger tractor is too big for. "For instance, it can be equipped with a wagon and driven into a barn to remove smaller amounts of manure and can be used for lighter mowing chores," says Hill.
Compact tractors have 25-45 horsepower engines and are suitable for a five- to 10-acre farm with four or five horses. With these you can pull a friction-drive manure spreader or attach a bucket or blade to groom the driveway.
The utility tractor has 45-80 horsepower and works great for a larger farm. "We have 70 acres that we need to maintain, so we have a 65 horsepower tractor," says Hill. "We have all the power to run the necessary implements."
The largest tractor, the farm tractor, is really for working land, so unless you are baling your own hay or planting crops, this size usually isn't the machine of choice on a horse farm.
Another useful implement for small horse farms is the utility vehicle with a dump bed. This can be helpful for people who want to zoom around a barn, pick up a day's worth of manure, and dump it. "You could pull a harrow with it to smooth a driveway," says Hill. "But you wouldn't want to harrow a large arena because it would take a long time."
An important feature to consider in a compact or utility tractor is the power take-off (PTO), which uses the tractor's engine to power implements. "It's a quickly revolving drive shaft that gives your mower, spreader, or digger a lot of power," says Hill. If you are going to do heavy-duty mowing, you will need a PTO. Or you'll have to get a self-contained gas-powered mower that you have to start up and pull behind the tractor. If you have a (small) tractor without a PTO, you'll need to buy a friction-drive manure spreader, which spreads only when the wheels are rolling. With a PTO running, the manure spreader keeps flinging the manure even when the tractor is standing still," allowing you to empty the load in a pile.
So where do you go to buy a tractor? Although they are often offered for sale through private treaty or at auction, Hill says it's a buyer beware situation. "Auctions and private sales are good only if you really know what you are looking for and know about tractor mechanics," she says. "You might end up buying something that needs repairs, and that's very expensive."
The solution is to work with a reputable dealer who will help you narrow your choices. If you can swing it, Hill says a new tractor is the best choice because there will be a warranty. However, sometimes dealers will sell a used tractor that has been reconditioned and has a limited warranty.
Spreader The size spreader you'll need depends on how much manure/bedding you have to spread. For example, if you have five to 10 horses and you spread the composted manure once a year, you'll probably need a spreader that accommodates 90 cubic feet struck (struck means level with the top of the sides)/135 cubic feet heaped. It takes approximately seven tractor bucket loads to fill a spreader of that size.
Mowers To keep pastures in good shape a mower is a necessity. The pull-behind rotary mower is a popular choice for grooming pastures and keeping weeds under control. "These are flat and have a rotary blade under a big heavy shield. The bigger models can even mow shrubs and brush," says Hill.
Bucket The bucket is something that every tractor should have--most new tractors have them as standard. With a bucket you can transport and dump quickly. Buckets can be difficult for one person to remove, so an automatic removable bucket is a nice feature to have.
Harrow When selecting a harrow, Hill says to think about how you'll use it. "I have two: a rotary for grooming arena footing and an adjustable spike tooth to smooth out the pastures and break up manure clumps," she says. A rotary harrow digs and turns as it's pulled, which makes it an ideal choice for the arena. An adjustable spike harrow will break up soil, and an English harrow, which looks like a section of chain link fence, is typically used for smoothing.
Blade With a blade you can level pens and rutted driveways and plow snow. Blades are available to mount in the front, rear, and belly of the tractor. The front blade resembles a snowplow, the rear blade is handy for leveling, and the belly blade is set at angle to push snow to the side.
Auger or post hole digger When people have horses they are always putting in or repairing fences, so an auger is a feature you might want to consider. You can purchase a hand-held gas-powered auger, but if you're going to dig many holes, a tractor auger might be more convenient.
There's a lot to know when buying machinery for your farm. Our experts agree that you don't want something so small that you'll end up overpowering it, or something so large that it will be impractical. Consider your needs carefully and write a checklist of equipment requirements. When deciding on your vehicle, find out which of your desired implements and/or trailers will work with it and make your choice from there.
About the Author
Sharon Biggs Waller is a freelance writer for equine science and human interest publications. Her work has appeared in several publications and on several websites, and she is a classical dressage instructor.