I have ridden horses since I was 9 years old. My daughter, Rachael, has ridden since she was 5. My husband, Bob, doesn’t ride.
He blew out his left knee playing soccer and skiing. So now he is afraid to ride because he has visions of falling off, but getting his foot stuck in the stirrup, and blowing out his knee again. So he won’t ride. Not even a walking trail ride.
Since Rachael and I both ride, we spend a lot of our non-school and non-work hours at the barn. Which leaves Bob alone for a lot of that time. But being determined not to have him relegated to the role of “Horse Widow,” I embarked on a plot to make him more of a “Barn Dad.” I was inspired by a baseball hat, shamelessly emblazoned with that title. And being a baseball hat kind of guy, he wears it proudly.
What’s the best way to get a non-horsey husband involved with our horse-filled activities? Well, I’ve discovered after 27 years of marriage that if it’s mechanical, then he’s in. Promise him a new power tool, and he’ll do just about anything. Using that as my “in,” I started him with minor repairs — like when the cavalettis we bought didn’t have an opening large enough for the poles to fit through. At first, he had no idea what the problem was. But once we explained how they were supposed to work, and what needed to be done to fix it, he took the project on with gusto. He dutifully carried each of the cavaletti ends home in his new car, removed the cross pieces, trimmed them individually on his fancy table saw, repainted them, and re-attached them to the cavaletti. All twenty of them!
Then we moved him up to assignments like seasonal jump repair and maintenance — basically anything except electrical work. Cut off a schooling standard from an unreasonable 6′ to a more usable 4′? No problem! Attach handles to all the jump standards and gates to make them easier to move around? He’s on it! Clean and repaint the jumps and poles, and arrange for winter storage? Done!
Most recently, we expanded his role to make him the van der Linden family’s official tow vehicle and trailer guy. We figured if we were going to do “this horse thing,” then we had better do it right. And that means a trailer and a truck to tow it with. It’s the only way to get Charlie Brown out to clinics, shows that are hosted offsite, or the myriad of cross country schooling opportunities. Any excuse to subscribe to a truck magazine would do. But that just made it an easier sell. He has gleefully gone to horse expos to check out the trailer sales. He has walked the parking lots at horse shows to see what vehicles are actually being used to tow what sized trailers. He has even noticed what size horses are getting on and off those trailers.
I’ve been researching trailers from the horse perspective for nearly a year – which is about as long as our horse buying adventure took. But I figured I needed to wait until we had the horse before we chose our specific trailer because some of the specs would depend on him, his size, his build, and his attitude. But then you get into the actual trailer, and it’s nearly as detailed as building a house or planning a wedding. Every little detail is up to you.
Putting our heads together, Bob and I have come up with the following major items for your consideration when looking at a trailer:
- New or used? There are merits to both ways of buying a trailer. The biggest advantage of a new trailer is that you can spec it out exactly the way you want it. That customization comes with a price, both in time and money. But a used trailer is what it is, and you can’t change it unless you take on doing so yourself. A used trailer on the other hand can be delivered immediately, and is typically a bit less expensive.
- Standard-size or warmblood-sized? Because Charlie is 16.2 and very broad chested, we opted for the larger warmblood sized trailer. It’s only 12-18″ wider, but those are important inches when you’re a big horse. Plus, one of our best buddies is a 17 hand OTTB. So we needed to make sure we could host group outings with our trailer.
- Straight load or slant load? With a straight load, the horse walks straight in and has to back straight out. With a slant load, the horses stand at a slant, which is arguably easier for them to maintain their balance. Also, with a slant load there is usually room for the horses to turn and walk forward to exit the trailer. Since Charlie is an old fox hunter, he has no problem backing out of a trailer. But I don’t know that my friends’ horses who will be traveling with us as quite as adept. Slant load trailers are a bit wider, but only by about a foot, so it isn’t as much as you think.
- Step up or ramp? My personal preference is a ramp. It’s just a whole lot easier for a horse to step or back off a trailer by going down a ramp, stepping on something solid with each footfall. Otherwise, you’re asking your horse to step down and off into what must feel like oblivion to them. Plus, I’ve seen some nasty accidents where horses have hurt themselves pretty badly trying to navigate a step down. Others feel it’s difficult to find a parking place with a good spot to drop your ramp and have it level. I’d recommend going to a hunt sometime and just watching the trailers maneuver, park, and unload. Form your own opinions from there.
- Fixed or moveable dressing room? With a moveable dressing room there is typically no divider along the floor to outline the end of the horse area and the beginning of the dressing room area. The functional problem with that set-up is that when the horses make a mess (and they always do), the waste can run forward into the dressing room. And if you’re picky about keeping your tack and equipment clean (especially your show gear), then that’s going to be a rough spot in your relationship with your trailer. A fixed dressing room comes with an immovable wall providing physical separation between the two compartments. So the horsey messy stuff stays in the horsey area. And your trunks, and tack, and show clothes, and other supplies stay neatly out of the way. Plus, it’s easier to hose out the horse area at the end of the day without risking dousing all your leather goods.
- Bumper pull or gooseneck? Bumper pull trailers can be attached to either an SUV or a pick-up truck. Goosenecks can only be attached to a pick-up. So if you have a strong sense of what kind of tow vehicle you want, this may drive some of your decision.
- How many horses? If you’re only towing one or two horses, then you can get either type of pull. If you’re towing three or more, then you’re generally getting into a gooseneck no matter what.
- Horses only or people too? Is your trailer going to tow just horses? Or do you want some living space for the humans who are accompanying them on the journey? Remember, living space makes your trailer significantly bigger and more expensive. There are some that are practically mobile homes with granite countertops. But even camping style space will boost the size and price of your trailer.
Then there are the extras. While they aren’t overly expensive on their own, they can add a lot of utility to your trailer.
- Hay racks — Consider how much easier it will be to carry your hay to a show on top of your trailer, instead of taking up room in the dressing room. I won’t mention the mess it makes all over your show clothes!
- Water tanks — I have been counseled by lots of people from a variety of disciplines to take your own water. It’s not that there is never water where you are going. It’s more a case of not wanting to be stuck somewhere without access to water that you’re pretty certain your horse will drink. There are now large tanks available that can be mounted to the inside or outside of your trailer to carry that vital supply. Some suggest going the extra mile of taking some Gatorade to spike the water with. If you choose to use the Gatorade, remember to only spike a bucket at a time, and don’t dump Gatorade (or any other food substance) into the larger tank for two reasons: First, you’ll risk mold and algae growing inside. Second, you may want to give your horse a bath or just hose them down to cool off. And Gatorade makes for a sticky bath! Depending on where you mount the tank, you may need a water pump, a battery to power that pump, and a spigot to connect your hose to in order to access the water.
- Escape doors — I say err on the side of safety and put in all the safety doors you can. They are usually around $100 or $200. The idea of getting pinned behind a spooked horse with no way out just doesn’t thrill me. It’s not what I want them to print on my tombstone. This is an expensive sport. And a safety door isn’t the place to suddenly get cheap. I would put this in the same category as helmets and safety vests.
At last year’s Maryland Horse Expo, we met a trailer dealer who was very helpful. He was willing to spend a good deal of time with both Bob and me to help us make all the selections for our trailer. He helped us spec out and price a trailer with just the things we wanted on it, and within our budget. So it has been ordered. Plus, the trailer dealer has offered Bob driving lessons when the trailer arrives.
As far as storage, I made an arrangement with my barn where I make the trailer available for emergency vet runs. In return, they let me leave the trailer in the barn’s parking lot. I’m pretty sure my neighbors will agree that it’s a good trade.
Bob has come to the conclusion that for our trailer, we will need an SUV to tow it with. But which one? Stay tuned…