Adding Trailer Bells and Whistles

With so many horse owners hauling their horses all over the country to equestrian sporting events and to fabulous places to trail ride, horse trailers have taken on a new purpose. Rather than just a box to transport horses, horse owners now look at the comfort and safety of the trailers for their equine partners and for the convenience of the trailers' features. Like trucks and cars, almost every year there is something more innovative and functional added to the trailers that you wish you had. According to Dean Jackson, an avid and veteran endurance rider who represents Sundowner Trailers for the American Endurance Ride Conference, many of the new features can be added to your existing trailer, no matter what brand or model it is.

"You can add electric jacks, stud dividers, water tanks, additional roof vents, hay racks, an independent power source, awnings, and change from a ramp load to bumper doors, or vice versa, for example," Jackson states.

"One of the first things that is often changed on a gooseneck trailer is the manual jack," says Jackson. "It is replaced with an electric jack that takes a lot of strain out of hooking and unhooking your trailer."

Jeffery Anderson of Cowboy Trailers in Monroe, La., says, "Manual jacks come as one- or two-speed models, and you have to know which one you have to be able to put the right motor on. It is basically the same motor, but geared differently for the two-speed jack."

Separating Horses

Adding stud dividers in the first stall is a common practice not only among trail-ride enthusiasts, but for anyone who has overnight stopovers with horses. The stud divider is a stall divider that goes down to the floor. It can be solid all the way down or a heavy mat hanging to the floor from the bottom of the existing stall divider.

"Stud dividers are popular," explains Andrea Snyder, co-owner of Sundowner Trailer Centers (Nashville and Memphis, Tenn.), "because they can be used to convert the forward stall into a storage area for hay, feed, buckets, corral panels, and such. Because the divider goes to the floor, it keeps the items you store from shifting under a horse's legs while you are traveling down the road."

But she cautions, "We don't recommend installing the hanging mat as a divider because it is not as durable. But more importantly, a stud divider is used to prevent a horse from kicking another horse or to prevent a horse from kicking or stepping over into whatever you've stored in that area. We always add a solid bottom half to the existing stall divider or a full-length, one-piece stud divider.

"The reason some people want the hanging mat is to give the horse more room to spread its legs during shifting in travel," Snyder explains. "But Sundowner stalls are 42 inches wide, compared to 36 to 38 inches wide in standard trailers. The 42-inch width gives a horse plenty of room and allows you the freedom to add a solid divider all the way to the floor."

Storage, Accessibility, and Air Quality

Another way to gain storage space is by adding a hay rack to the trailer roof. Besides the open hay racks, enclosed pods are available. Although these pods are nearly three times the cost of the open hay racks, they are totally enclosed and waterproof.

"Roof racks are also used to store feed and luggage, and some people put their generators (for their living quarters) up on top," says Anderson.

"A popular add-on feature," he says, "is a walk-through door between the horse compartment and the dressing room or living quarters. If it is raining, you can come in through the horse compartment, shed your boots, and maybe even wet and muddy clothes, before entering the living quarters.

"Another item that is being added lately," continues Anderson, "is an air conditioner. People are adding them not only in the living quarters, but in the dressing rooms. This addition gives them some place to take a break out of the heat at a horse show or roping event."

To deal with summer heat in the horse compartment, adding more roof vents is a consideration. While most trailers come with one vent per stall, some people prefer two per stall.

Although it increases the ventilation, it is too risky to open drop-down windows while in transit without having bars or screens to keep the horses' heads inside the trailer.

"You can always add window screens to protect the horses' eyes and faces from debris blowing in as you travel down the road," says Anderson. "However, you can only add the drop-down bars (so horses can't stick their heads out the windows) to some of the trailers. Although you can install drop windows to some trailers, you are talking about a lot of structure work, and it would be very costly," he warns.

Ramp vs. Step-Up

If your trailer has double-back doors for step-up loading, but you would prefer a ramp--or vice versa--then change it!

According to Anderson, "What most of us use is an 'add-on' ramp. It is a ramp that closes over the existing door. You don't have to remove the doors, but rather remove the rubber bumper from the trailer. The ramp bolts in the place of the rubber bumper. You can also change spring axles to rubber torsion (today's most state-of-the-art concept in axle technology), but that is costly."

More Additions

A separate power source for the trailer can come in quite handy when you are unhooked from the tow vehicle--you can add a battery pack. Usually it is in a fully enclosed aluminum box, and it is typically installed on the front of the trailer underneath the gooseneck or on the tongue of a bumper pull. It is possible to hook up the lights to it so that the lights can be turned on even if you aren't hooked up to the towing vehicle. For emergency situations, you can also carry a portable power source. This comes in quite handy when you have run your power source down too low and don't have enough juice to run the electric jack! Or you could use it in lieu of the fully enclosed battery for running a fan, your laptop computer, or to recharge your cell phone.

Monitoring the horse compartment temperature can be done by adding an indoor/outdoor thermometer, which you can purchase at several electronic stores or recreational vehicle sale centers. You can also observe your horse while traveling down the road with a wireless remote camera installed in the horse compartment and the monitor in your towing vehicle.

Then there are the usual additions that can make trailering more pleasant--bridle racks, blanket bars, and saddle racks. And extra lights, such as flood lights, are great to have on the outside of your trailer.

Even extra tie rings on the outside (or inside) of your trailer can make your life simpler. More ties allow you to put your horse where it is more convenient for you or to be able to tie several horses to your trailer.

Corral panels, although indirectly an add-on, can be a nice addition if you camp overnight or just need a place to contain your horse without having to tie him up for long periods.

"There are panels that you can bolt onto the side of your trailer," explains Anderson. "However, some aluminum trailer owners find it unattractive to have panels attached to their trailer, so they choose to use free-standing panels that they store in the first stall, using the full stud divider to contain them (for traveling)."

Another option for securing your horse is one of the several swing-arm ties that are on the market. Some swing arms permanently attach to the outside of a trailer, allowing horses to be tied with freer movement than with a metal ring on the side of the trailer. However, some people have discovered that it is hard to sleep in the trailer with the horse moving around, especially if the tie arm hits the side of the trailer.

For those days when you want to sit outside and enjoy the company of your trailriding friends or fellow competitors, an awning is a nice addition. "Awnings can be added to any trailer," Anderson says. "The cost depends on the footage, but you probably don't want to go more than 18 to 20 feet. It is recommended that an awning over that length should have a middle support, otherwise it tends to bounce when you are going down the road.

"There are several different styles of awnings," Anderson adds. "But basically there's the standard manual, the two-step model, or an electric awning that does everything by a touch of a button. The two-step awning is just that--it takes two steps to open or close it. You flip a switch, then pull a cord and it comes out and pops up on its own, whereas the standard awning has 10 to 12 steps involved in opening it out that are duplicated in reverse putting it back up."

Wash and Wear

When you stop along your route or settle in for the night, having water to offer your horse is a must. Rather than having to search for water spigots to fill your buckets, you can get water from the water tanks that you've added in your dressing room, under the mangers, or on the roof. There are tanks of various shapes made to fit into the corners of slant- or straight-load trailers' dressing rooms, and some are shaped to double as saddle racks. They are generally gravity-fed at the bottom, and typically hold 25-35 gallons of water.

While most horseback riders find that carpet on the floor isn't too practical in their living quarters, some have added indoor-outdoor carpet on the dressing room floor and wall. On the wall, carpet prevents bridles, bits, and other items that are hung on the bridle racks from marking up metal and aluminum walls. Some of the new trailers are now coming with a protective coating on the floors and walls of the horse compartment. Sundowner, for instance, offers a coating they call SunCoat.

"It is durable coating, heavy-duty like the Rhino lining, and it is easy to clean," explains Snyder. "SunCoat protects the aluminum and keeps the trailers looking nice for a much longer time."

Although you still have to use floor mats, SunCoat prevents erosion and pitting and the long-term care of the floor is greatly reduced. Similar products are offered by specialty companies, often at car and truck businesses, and they can be applied to trailer floors.

However, there is a coating that replaces the need for rubber floor mats. Monty Sides, trailer sales manager at Wriker Chevrolet in Winchester, Tenn., who offers WERM installation, says, "WERM is an acronym for 'We Eliminate Rubber Mats.' WERM coating can be applied to steel, aluminum, and wood floors. We do a lot of trailers. Since it seals right to the floor of the trailer, you don't have to worry about dragging mats in and out of the trailer. Plus, it washes up easily and looks like new.

"However," Sides continues, "this product does not adhere to the side walls; only to the floors. This is not like the spray-in bed liners that some people are putting on the floor of trailers. Spray-ons do not replace the rubber mats, they only seal the floors. So with a spray-on, you still have to have floor mats on top of that or else horses will wear it out rather quickly. With the WERM flooring, you don't need floor mats. It goes in about five-eighths of an inch thick, maybe a little thicker."

Some Changes Not To Make

"There are many items you can add or change on your trailer, but there are some that aren't cost-effective to change," states Jackson. "Things like adding drop-down windows or changing from spring axles to torsion axles can be quite costly. But for the most part, you can reasonably upgrade your trailer.

"For most additions, it is best to contact the manufacturer of that particular trailer," he suggests. "They would be more apt to have the exact part to fit."

For options such as water tanks, portable corrals, and swing-arm ties, there are specialty companies that you can locate through trade magazines and the Internet, and often by word of mouth from fellow horse owners. Another valuable source is The Horse Source, which can be used online at

So, don't feel left out because of all the innovative options being offered on the new trailers. Decide what you want and start getting your trailer up-to-date for those great times spent with your equine partner and friends.

About the Author

Genie Stewart-Spears

Genie Stewart-Spears resides with her husband on Runamuck Ranch in southern Illinois, in the Shawnee National Forest. Now a pleasure rider, she competed in endurance for 10 years and has served as the Media Chairperson for the American Endurance Ride Conference. Her photography and articles appear in several equine magazines and many books, brochures, and advertisements.

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