Towing Horse Trailers – here are some tips and advice if you are new to towing horses in trailers
It is not a definitive list by any means and could be much more comprehensive but I feel it gives the novice an insight and some useful pointers to consider and follow.
Does my licence allow me to tow?
Ensure that your driver’s licence allows you to tow.
Basically, if you passed your driving test before 1st January 1997 you should find that your licence categories will allow you to drive a motor vehicle and tow a trailer up to a combined weight of 8.25 tonnes.
If you passed your test after 1st January 1997 you are only allowed to tow a trailer with a maximum gross weight up to 750kg. If this is the case, you will be required to undertake a further test to provide you with the grouping that will allow you to tow a horse trailer.
Full information can be found on www.dvla.gov.uk.
Check your tow vehicle’s insurance policy to ensure that you are covered for third party liability/public liability for the towing of trailers.
This is a legal requirement.
Insurance guarding against the theft or damage to the trailer is a separate issue and can be provided by many reputable equine insurers.
Your tow vehicle
Ensure that it is roadworthy and importantly that the tow bar and ball are in good condition and that all the electrics function.
Check the tow vehicle’s towing capacity. You will find this in the handbook provided with your vehicle. The basic principle is that you must not attempt to tow anything whereby the maximum gross weight of the trailer and its load may exceed 85% of the tow vehicle’s weight. It is always better to be cautious, so the greater the leeway the better.
Remember that if you exceed the recommended towing weight for your vehicle you could be liable to prosecution if caught doing so.
There are many on-line sites whereby you can simply type in your make, model year of your tow vehicle and it will advise you of the vehicles legal towing capacity.
If you have no towing experience
If you have no previous towing experience, practise driving your tow vehicle in various weather conditions, and on different road surfaces without having a trailer attached. This will help you become familiar with the capabilities of your tow vehicle prior to introducing the trailer.
It is also useful to practice driving your tow vehicle off road as well and become familiar with the different vehicle handling characteristics which are evident when driving off road. This is particularly important if you own a 4 x 4 vehicle as often engaging the 4 x 4 gearbox will be a very different experience when driving. We advise doing this as many times when you attend shows and events with your trailer these are held in paddocks and fields which often become wet and soft and with your trailer hitched on and horses loaded this can prove sometimes to be a very testing experience especially if gradients and hills are involved.
Practise both on road and off road before introducing a horse to your trailer.
You may also consider obtaining one or two basic sessions with an approved instructor or other tutor.
Towing Horse Trailers can be just as easy as driving without a trailer on tow, it can be a pleasurable experience
There are products which will also assist you with towing or make the towing experience safer – one example which we sell is the extended vision towing mirror. This is a larger than normal mirror which is attached to your drivers mirror of your towing vehicle allowing your field of vision to extend down the side of your trailer. Often because your trailer is wider than your tow vehicle you cannot see clearly down the side of your horse trailer to the rear and these mirrors not only assist you but also make towing much safer. Sometimes people buy a pair of these mirrors and fit one to the passenger side of their vehicle as well. They are easily fitted and removed to your tow vehicle and only takes a couple of minutes to add or remove before setting off on your journey.
Buy a Horse Trailer on a Budget - by Mark Unsworth from Horse Trailer Parts Direct
Owning your own horse trailer can be a rewarding experience says Mark
It will give you the freedom to take your horse to places and events that previously you could only achieve by either relying upon someone else’s goodwill, or by handing over your hard earned cash to a horse transporter. It may also suddenly raise your popularity at your yard, as you become an attractive proposition for giving people lifts or lending them your trailer. This then raises other issues, which can be viewed as the downside of owning a trailer, as few people are aware of what legislation exists to cover such dilemmas.
Before you even contemplate looking at horse trailers there are several things to consider.
Will I use it? – I am sure that you have all seen trailers at yards that never appear to move week in week out. You need to assess realistically how often you will use a trailer as most people use it less than they originally thought they would. In some instances this can be as little as four of five times a year.
Can I tow it? – You need to check your driver’s licence to ascertain if you hold the category that allows you to tow a trailer. Check the DVLA web site, which should confirm that if you passed your test before 1st January 1997 you should be able to tow using your existing licence. You may also have to consider your driving confidence and ability to tow.
Is my vehicle suitable? – This is a major factor to consider. Check your vehicle handbook to locate its towing capacity. Always verge on the side of caution with regard to the towing capacity. It is better to under estimate this.
Where will I keep it? – Keeping your trailer at home is not always an option, so people tend to keep their trailers at their yard. You then have to consider the cost implication and security.
Insurance & Security – Allow at least £120 to insure your trailer and at least £100 for a good quality wheel clamp or hitch lock. Most insurers will stipulate that it needs to be of a certain standard and they may ask for the key number or proof of purchase in the event of a claim. What trailer do I buy?Your budget and the size and number of horses you want to transport will probably dictate this. Most popular makes of horse trailer fall into two size categories being capable of carrying up to 16.2hh and over 16.2hh. The larger trailers tend to be the most sought after when buying second-hand.
Buying on a budget of £2500:
There are many makes and models of horse trailers that you can purchase second-hand in the UK and you can buy from a dealer or private individual. The advantages of buying from a dealer is that they will be required by law to offer some form of warranty and they should have carried out all the checks necessary to ensure that the trailer is safe to use. Buying a trailer from a private individual may be a more risky option, but you can always have it examined by an independent body or person prior to purchase. If the seller is reluctant for you to do this then there may be a significant reason as to why they do not want this done.
There are numerous makes of horse trailers available, so my advice would be stick to the known popular manufacturers. Working to a budget of £2500 then this will eliminate certain makes of trailers.
Despite the current economic climate and the winter months the price of used horse trailers remains buoyant. There has been a noticeable shift recently from horse lorries to horse trailers mainly due to the rising fuel costs. This has resulted in the used value of some makes of horse trailers actually rising by as much as 15% in the past two years.
What to look for & ask when buying:
It may appear obvious but look at the seller. Simply speaking to someone on the telephone gives you a good indication of what type of person you will be dealing with. The ideal scenario is if you actually know the person or a friend knows the person selling and this can provide some reassurance. Ask the seller why they are selling the trailer, how long they have owned it, do they have receipts for when they purchased it, do any security devices come with the trailer, and if the trailer has a locking hitch do they have both keys.
Always view the trailer in daylight. Looking underneath or inside horse trailers is hard enough when trying to spot tell tale signs of damage, repairs or erosion, but is near impossible in the dark.
Outside the trailer:
Check the overall appearance and condition of the outside of the trailer body panels and roof. Don’t be put off if you notice faint green sap or watermarks on or down the side of the roof panels. This will come off by using the correct product and elbow grease.
Check the tyres. Look for a good tread depth that you can get your fingers into and check the walls of the tyres for cracking corrosion or signs of perishing.
Check all the ramps. Ensure that all the locking handles work easily and raise and lower each ramp individually. They should move easily without much effort. If you open it and have to bear the full weight of the ramp yourself and there is no resistance when lowering it, this may indicate that the ramp springs or gas struts require replacement. If the trailer has top doors open and close these as well ensuring that they engage in their retainers when fully open.
Check the trailer hitch and handle to make sure they operate and if it has a locking hitch fit both keys into the lock and operate it. At the same time examine the rubber ribbed cover on the hitch for signs of perishing or cracking.
Check the trailer jockey wheel operation and tyre. If the jockey wheel is hard to wind in either direction this may indicate that it is bent. The jockey wheel tyre is likely to be a one piece rubber one and if this looks frayed and chewed then it has probably come into contact with the road when the trailer has been towed and will require replacing.
Check the trailer handbrake operation. This should move freely and engage and release. If the trailer has been stood for some time with the handbrake applied you may find that the trailer brakes have seized on. To check if this is the case release the handbrake and gently move the trailer backwards and forwards. If one or all of the trailer wheels are stuck and don’t move then you may have to seek expert advice.
Check the spare tyre. If it has a cover remove it to do this.
Check all the trailer lights for damage or signs of water inside the lenses. Check the trailer front plug socket and curly cable for signs of corrosion or exposed wires. Then plug the socket into a tow vehicle and check the operation of all lights.
Check the underside of the trailer, this means checking the floor, the chassis and brake cables. For a budget of £2500 the trailers should have either an alloy floor or a thermoplastic floor. With the chassis you are looking for an even colour to the main body of the chassis and outer floor supports. If you see any signs of discolouration, paint applied or localised rust this could indicate that welding or a repair has been done so warrants closer expert examination. If you see areas of consistent rust seek expert advice. Check the underside of the floor for the same signs as the chassis and look for any gaps in the floor, in particular around the edges of the trailer where the sidewalls meet the floor. You should also see the securing fixings for the rubber matting – check these to make sure they are tight. You will see the cables that run to the brakes so check these for signs of breakage. It always good to take a large bright lamp with you when looking at trailers to use when checking underneath the trailer. If the trailer has a wooden or thermoplastic type material floor check this for signs of gaps, holes, repairs, rot or staining. If you locate such areas of staining or rot push them with your fingers and if they are soft or spongy seek expert advice. Finally, take a look at the springs on the trailer, which run behind the wheels and look for any signs of cracking to the metal or fractured springs.
Inside the trailer
Look at the floor inside the trailer and look for standing water. Look at the roof for signs of rust or water ingress. If there is a leak it should be evident. Check the open & closing operation of the roof vent.
Examine the rubber matting on the floor. Ensure it has securing points to prevent shifting and look for holes or perishing. If the trailer has an alloy or thermoplastic floor lift the matting back where possible to check the condition of the floor. If the trailer has a wooden floor remove the whole of the rubber matting to examine the floor for signs of rot. Examine very closely the edges of the floor where the sidewalls of the trailer meet, as this is often where the initial signs of rot appear.
Check the side kickboards for damage and check their fixings. The kickboards should be flush to the trailer sides and secure and should not move. They may flex but this is normal.
Check the partitions and the centre pole. The pole should be securely fixed and the partitions should move freely. Check the front and rear breast/breeching bars and the securing pins. Often the bar securing pins get bent.
Check the front, side and rear ramps and matting. Close the ramps and secure them and then stand inside the trailer and look for light around the edges. They should form a good seal and if the doors and ramps do not close flush this may be a tell tale sign of buckling of the chassis. Stand on the ramps and check for signs of flexing, they should be solid like the floor.
The next step is to take the trailer for test drive to ensure that it tows well. All trailers have a different tow feel to them but you should be looking for a free wheel tow whereby you experience little resistance from the trailer performing it’s natural action of the wheels turning. You should also be able to feel any unusual tendencies for the trailer pulling left or right on a straight level road, allowing for the camber. Do a break test as well. When you gently apply the brakes of the car the trailer should stop in a natural manner. If the trailer brakes immediately lock on, seek expert advice.
Whilst the trailer is hitched on look at it from a distance to ensure that it looks even and level from both the front and rear. If possible also ask someone to watch the trailer by following behind you to ensure that it is travelling in a straight line and is not ‘crabbing’. This occurs when a trailer has a twisted chassis and it will not travel in a straight line. You should also check the trailer when it is stood on flat ground to ensure it sits square and level.
Stolen Trailer Checks
On the front of most horse trailers on the A Frame chassis you will find a small metal plate known as the VIN plate. The chassis number and serial number of the trailer will be on this plate. If the trailer has had this plate removed ask the owner to explain why this has been done and seek expert advice.
Make a note of these numbers and most trailer manufacturers if you call their head office and quote them the numbers they will tell you from their database what model the trailer is, what colour it should be and when it was manufactured.
If the trailer is fitted with Datatag you can call them and quote the serial or chassis number and they will immediately tell you if the trailer has been reported as stolen. They will also advise you on transfer/update of their records should you buy the trailer.
You can also contact the national plant and equipment register known as TER and do a further check to see if the trailer has been reported as stolen. This can be done via their web site.
Always ask for a receipt when you purchase your trailer and ensure that it contains the seller’s full name, address and trailer serial number. It is also worthwhile asking them to include on the receipt that the trailer is not subject to any finance agreement. If it is then seek expert advice on what action to take. Also, obtain the trailer handbook and a copy of the original sales receipt together with the registration book if it has one that shows the serial and chassis number. If the trailer is datatagged then ask for the paperwork for the datatag transfer.
The perfect trailer
Buying a good safe used horse trailer is not rocket science. It is well within the abilities of most horse owners and their partners/friends/relations to locate a suitable trailer and apply the principles in this article to ensure that your purchase is a good one.
If you have any doubts over your abilities or lack the confidence to do this then enlist the help of a mechanic from your local garage who will know what to look for if you go armed with this article.
You will have to look hard with a budget of £2500 to find the perfect trailer, but what you will be able to find is a safe and serviceable trailer that will still give you many years of trouble free towing.
If you have any questions in the future on buying or selling horse trailers then please feel free to make contact – we are here to help!!
You can also check our parts web site which will assist you in undertaking repairs to any trailer you may be considering buying
First steps - before loading If your horse trailer is new, often the strong new smell of the rubber floor matting can be off putting for him, so before introducing your horse give the trailer a good airing and maybe for a couple of days stand a barrow of your own horses droppings in the trailer. Sounds off putting but it is effective as this is familiar smell to your horse and it will detract the rubber odour.
If you have just obtained a used trailer give the trailer a good power wash internally and then disinfect it using products such as ‘Virkon’ that is specifically designed for this to kill of bacterias and organisms specific to horses and other animals.
Do not use products such as Jeys fluid or bleaches or any other strong disinfectant because not only will it distress the horse in the lasting smell but it can also badly stain the rubber flooring or sides of your trailer.
Introducing your horse Park your trailer up attached to your tow vehicle in the yard or in the field and open up both the front and rear ramps and let the horse freely wander around the trailer and tow vehicle. Your horse will be naturally inquisitive so leave them to familiarise themselves with the trailer and tow vehicle, let them have a good sniff.
The next step is to practice loading your horse. Park the trailer on a flat level service attached to the tow vehicle and open up both the front and rear ramps. Don’t rush the process let your horse take it slowly when walking up the ramp and if need be in the early stages tempt them maybe with a treat.
Then walk them through the length of the trailer very slowly, talking to them and then down the front ramp and out. Repeat this process pausing in the middle or travel position in the trailer longer each time you do this until finally you can stop and your horse will stand for as long as required. Obviously then secure the lead rope to the internal tie ring using bailer twine and ensure that the horse has sufficient movement to reach a hay net positioned at the front of the trailer which you should now introduce.
Then introduce first the breast bar in place. Show this to the horse first and let them have a good sniff and let them see you putting it in place, then introduce the rear breaching bar. It is not usually the actual bar itself that panics the horse when doing this but any actual noise made in doing it. Some trailers are noisier than others in doing this process.
The next step once your horse is happy standing in the trailer for reasonable periods is first close the grooms door and get your used to the noise of this taking place. Next introduce closing the rear ramp and do this slowly.
Close it slowly because if there are any stones on the ramp they will roll down into the trailer plus also the rear ramp, springs create a certain amount of noise and doing it slowly reduces the noise this. The next step is to close the front ramp again slowly.
Next step is closing of the front ramp top door and certainly we advise never closing both the rear ramp top doors. We also recommend not to travel your horse with the front ramp top door open as not only is there a danger of your horses head striking on a object outside the trailer but there is the danger that your horse could receive a serious eye injury from fly’s and other insects whilst travelling.
Never attempt any of the loading processes we have described above whilst alone. The reason for this is that whilst introducing your horse to the trailer you do not know how your horse is going to react and if you are alone and the horse panics you could suffer an injury.
If you are alone and the injury is serious or you are knocked unconscious or trapped then no one would know this has occurred, at all times think safety.
Once your horse is used to loading and you become more experienced there is then no reason for undertaking the process alone.
The first few times you have loaded your horse before you go anywhere start your tow vehicle engine and leave your engine running and let your horse get used to the noise of the engine. Then introduce revving the engine so the horse becomes used to it.
Then move off slowly and drive around your yard or secure flat level area for around five minutes before stopping and checking your horse and giving them reassurance.
Then gradually increase the time you drive for until you can then actually venture onto the road for the first time.
Article written by Mark Unsworth owner of horse trailer parts direct
Horse Trailer Parts Direct provide a comprehensive range of horse trailer parts online in the UK. Our horse trailer spares are all oraganised in to categories to help you find exactly what you want. Simply move your mouse cursor over the category links at the top of this page to see a drop down menu of our categories. We provide parts for Ifor Williams horse trailers in addition to other popular brands and setups. So, if you're looking for parts for trailers or any kind of trailer accessories please take a look at our website to find what you need. If you any questions please call us on 01305 269393 and we'd be delighted to help you.