Criteria for Selecting a Horsetrailer
Many of the causes of stress to the horse, and to the people involved, can be eliminated by the design of the horsetrailer and the proper choice of the hitch and tow vehicle. Many of the design features we discuss are self-evident when one accounts for the nature of the horse as discussed.
No matter the construction material, the number of horses being hauled, or the price of the horsetrailer, three major criteria for trailer selection should apply.
Because the horse can easily become claustrophobic, the horsetrailer should have enough room and light inside for him to feel comfortable, therefore, reducing his stress level. A dark interior may cause him to balk when loading because the horse's eyes do not adjust quickly to light changes, and walking from daylight into dark horsetrailers can be frightening.
Windows, doors, and light-colored interior paint make horsetrailers seem open and inviting to the horse. Height, width, and length should be proportionate to the size of the horse.
He should be able to use all four of his legs to keep his balance. This means he must be able to spread his legs apart when he needs to and to slide them forward and backward with freedom of choice as this little box propels him down the highway, twisting and turning. He must have enough headroom so he doesn't feel cramped and can use his head and neck for balance. It is also very important that he be able to lower his head and cough to expel hay dust and other contaminants from his respiratory tract while in the horsetrailer.
This mention of the respiratory system leads to the next important criteria- ventilation. As previously mentioned, the environment inside the horsetrailer is easily contaminated by dust and mold spores from hay and shavings and noxious gasses from urine and manure. Extreme temperatures, hot or cold, may also cause stress to the horse. The environment can be controlled by smart management techniques and properly ventilated horsetrailers. Adequate windows or slats and roof vents are necessary to provide a friendly climate for the horse.
SAFETY IN DESIGN
Horsetrailers must be safe for the horse and the handler. There should be no sharp objects of edges that could cut or injure a horse. All latches, tie rings, butt bars, breast bars, and so forth, should be strong enough to withstand wear and tear from the largest, strongest horse that will be hauled in that horsetrailer. T
he entrance to horsetrailers should be non-threatening to the horse, and the handler should be able to exit the horsetrailer quickly if need be without the horse following. Dividers, posts, butt bars, and breast bars should operate freely and be easily removable in an emergency. Ramps should be solid, low, non-slip, and long enough to provide a measure of safety from a kick to the head of a person leaning down to lift the ramp.
Step-up horsetrailers (no ramp) should be wide enough to allow the horse to turn around to unload headfirst instead of backing out. A front unload ramp is even better. The floor and underbraces must be in perfect condition- there is no compromising on this point. All lights, brakes, and breakaway brake should be in working condition- the same for tires and suspension.
The construction material of horsetrailers should be strong enough to handle the size, weight, and strength of the horse(s) and equipment being hauled in it, and to hold up as well as possible in a traffic accident. It goes without saying that the tow vehicle and the hitch should be adequate to haul the horsetrailer and its full load.
These three criteria are the minimum to expect from a horsetrailer. Additional features are available that can greatly improve the well-being of the horse and handler. One of the most important features available in the last few years is rubber torsion suspension. This type of suspension is far superior to the drop-leaf suspension and not only reduces shock and stress, but also has other safety features. I
t is our opinion that rubber torsion suspension, more than any other factor, is responsible for lowering stress levels in horses traveling in horsetrailers.
Insulation, removable hay bags, mats, screens, bar guards on windows, removable or no rear center post, and water tanks are features that can affect the safety and stress reduction of the horse within the horsetrailer and may not always be expensive. A list of more expensive features includes interior fans, air-ride suspension, closed-circuit TV cameras, and even air-conditioning. Nice, but not always affordable for the average person.
About the Author: Neva Scheve is the author of The Complete Guide to Buying, Maintaining, and Servicing a Horse Trailer. She and her husband Tom are the owners of EquiSpirit Horse Trailers.