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Tow Vehicles

Considering getting into the trailering of your horse(s)? It's not hard and you can avoid a lot of problems by learning the basics of trailering first. There are important parts to truck and trailer that you need to understand and maintain. And there are skills you want to learn so you can trailer your horse safely.

Trucks for Towing Horse Trailers
When considering the purchase of a truck for towing a horse trailer, or to use your existing vehicle, consider the following:

  • The truck's towing capacity rating must be capable of towing the weight of the trailer, the horses, the tack, the hay bales, water, and the weight of EVERYTHING ELSE you expect to carry at the same time with your horses.
  • The trailer hitch must be able to take this same COMPLETE load or more — NEVER use a bumper hitch, not even for a one horse trailer.
  • The shorter the baseline of the truck's wheels, the less weight you should haul, even if it is well under the towing capacity of your truck. When towing a load, long trucks are much more stable than shorter vehicles, such as SUVs. If you intend to haul with an SUV or similar shorter wheel-base vehicle, downgrade the tow weight limit significantly to provide a greater safety margin so the shifting weight of your horse in your trailer doesn't twist your truck and make you lose control.
Generally, small vehicles are not good for horse trailering. They usually have short wheelbases and not enough tow capacity for horse trailers. That means their small weight could easily be "towed" by the trailer rather than the other way around — trust me, you don't want to find yourself in that situation as the "towee". Plus short wheelbase vehicles are not stable for anything but the smallest loads.

Think about the fact that the average horse weighs around 1,000 pounds and even a light, single-horse trailer will often weigh at least 1,300 - 1,800 pounds empty. Empty two-horse trailers are usually in the 2,400 - 3,200 pound range or more. Add one or two horses, tack, hay, water, and such, and you're way, way over the average tow limit of 3,000 - 3,500 pounds of typical small vehicles.

Your operator's manual will list the maximum weight you can tow, your vehicle's maximum combined vehicle/trailer weight, whether or not you can use a weight-distribution hitch, and much more. If you can't find your manual, try searching the Internet or visit a dealer to get that information.

The full-size pickup trucks from almost any vehicle manufacturer will provide significant towing power for the smaller trailers carrying one to four regular horses. Even the latest models of those rated at just a "half ton" are generally rated to tow 9,000 or more pounds. But be sure to check the towing capacity of the particular model you're considering to assure it will tow your load before purchasing.

Another consideration is the engine size. Towing puts quite a load on the truck's drive-train and the engine. A small engine will not save any gas when towing — the reverse is true. A bigger engine with more power and torque will actually get better mileage under a heavy load than a small engine — it will also last longer. An undersized and over-worked engine will have a short life. To haul horses, it makes sense to seriously consider V8 engines because of their greater torque. And as you get into bigger horse trailers (five or more horses), it also makes sense to consider a diesel engine for its even more increased torque capabilities and better mileage under load.

You also should discuss this subject in-depth with your trailer and truck dealer. There are many other items that must be addressed, such as the hitch type, the electrical service connector, whether or not you need a weight-distribution system, and more. Your trailer and truck dealers will understand these topics and can assure that you drive away safely able to tow your horse trailer and horses.

Selecting the right towing vehicle is extremely important — it's not the kind of thing with which you want to take any chances. Your horse's lives, those of you and your passengers, and those riding in other vehicles sharing the road with you are all at stake.

More Information:
Towing Horse Trailers With Small Vehicles
Common Trailering Questions
Setting Your Truck's Mirrors
Learning to Back a Trailer
Tire Safety When Towing Horses

Besides being an avid trail rider, Jerry Tardif is a technology consultant and a horse and nature photographer in SE Connecticut — see his work at: www.jerrytardif.com. He is also co-founder and President of QueryHorse.

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