Wednesday, January 8, 2014

I have a pony, do I need a trailer?


The short answer is no.  You don't really NEED a trailer, but then did you NEED a pony?  It really depends on what you are doing with the pony.

Our first barn was very accommodating.  Not only did they drive our pony to all the shows my daughter attended, they were the ones to get up, load the trailer and get to the show grounds crazy early.  We got at least an hour or two of extra sleep as a result.  If we wanted to go somewhere, they could usually drive us and their fee was very reasonable - $75 roundtrip locally.  Shows, however, were limited to the shows they were going to as a barn.

When we changed barns, we had to find some other way to get where we were going.  One of the first things I noticed at our current barn was the huge number of trailers littering the property.  It was my first clue I might be in trouble.  There are transport companies out there and often someone is going the same place at the same time and can give you a ride.  I have friends who have supported equestrian daughters for years without buying a trailer, usually paying someone to drive them which can be very expensive - a ride to and from a long show day can be $200, more if it's far away.

I, however, am a control freak.  I like to know where I'm going, how I'm getting there and limit the probability for error.  I like making my own schedule, coming and going to horse shows when it makes sense for me, not when it makes sense for my ride.  I liken being at our barn without a trailer to living in the country, working in town and not having a car.  Our neighbors are all very nice and if they are going our way with a space, we are welcome to it, but on that day it just doesn't work out, what do you do?  Once we had a pony it felt like we needed a way to fit him into our car.  Our pony is another member of the family.  If you have 3 kids you buy a car with 5 seats.

Then again, as another horse mom recently reminded me, what works for one of us isn't necessarily what works for another.  I'll share my advice but you'll need to figure out for yourself if a trailer is in your future.  Here are some questions to ask yourself in trying to decide if you "need" a trailer:

  1. How many times a month would you use a trailer?  If it's 1 or less, you might hold off.
  2. Do you intend to take your pony anywhere other than the shows your barn is going to already?
    1. Are you joining Pony Club? (I'll post about Pony Club very soon to help you make this decision!) This is ultimately what pushed us.  With 2 mounted meetings a month in addition to an active show schedule, we needed a way to take our pony places pretty frequently.
    2. Do you intend to do some XC schooling (riding outside of shows) at courses other than the one available at your barn?  We did quite a bit of this last summer and I was really glad to have a trailer.  As plans and schedules changed a million times I didn't have to call my ride once a day with a change of plan.
  3. How likely is it that your horse situation is going to last?  You might try to make do for the first year you lease/own.  I would have waited if we hadn't changed barns and joined pony club.
  4. Do you have a friend who is ready to buy a trailer?  I know some people who sort of "share" a trailer because their kids are always doing the same things.  One family owns the trailer and the other buys gas.
  5. Do you have the proper vehicle for pulling a trailer?  This is not a deal breaker since you can always get a different car but it can get very expensive and will be a factor in making your decision.
If after thinking through this list you conclude that yes, I must have a trailer, then you are ready to think about what type and size trailer you need and whether you want to buy new or used.
Gooseneck Trailer

There are two types of trailers: Gooseneck and Bumper Pull.  A gooseneck has an extension on the front that goes over the flatbed of a pickup truck.  The truck has a hitch in the middle of the bed to which the trailer attaches.  A bumper pull attaches to the more traditional hitch point at the back of your car under the bumper.

Next you need to think about size and features.  Horse trailers are broken into categories by how many horses they carry, whether or not they have a dressing room (something worth considering) or living quarters (likely unnecessary but whatever floats your boat) and how they are loaded - slant or straight, ramp or step-up.  All of these things come down to personal preference.

Layout option for slant load trailer.
A slant load is a trailer in which the horses are set at an angle to the side of the trailer.  They are "slanted" when you are driving straight down the road.  These trailers usually have windows for the horses on the side of the trailer.  A straight load, conversely, has the horses parallel with the side walls of the trailer.  They usually load in from the back and face forward as you drive but there are many variations depending on the number of horses you carry.  For instance, a 2 horse will usually load from the back and have the horses facing front.  But a 4 horse might load from the side and have 2 horses on either side of the entry point, 2 facing forward and 2 facing back. 

Layout options for a 4 horse trailer.
Ramp Load and Step Up are exactly what they sound like.  A ramp load has a ramp that you lower to the ground and the horse ascends the ramp to enter the trailer.  A step up has no such ramp.  The horses just step on the way we get into a car.  

Trailers also have different kinds of dividers in them.  There can be a half wall or just an 8" plank like piece dividing the stalls at about shoulder height.  I like the wall because the horses can't kick each other and it allows me to store stuff on the empty side if I'm only carrying one horse but I know a lot of people who prefer not to have a wall so the horses have more room to spread their legs out to brace for turns.

A dressing room may sound like a silly thing to anyone who hasn't owned a trailer but don't write it off too quickly.  If you have your own trailer, you and your child will be getting to the barn early, hooking up, cleaning out shavings, putting in new shavings, hanging fresh hay, filling water bottles, loading tack, etc.  Even if you did much of this the night before there is a good deal of work to be done on the morning of a show and the rider is not going to want to do it in their show clothes.  When you get to the show and your rider needs to change, where is she going to do it?  If you are like my husband, you will say she can change in the now empty trailer.  He can say this because not being the parent to go to shows he is ignorant of how dirty the trailer is and how difficult it is to keep your show clothes clean while changing in there.  The alternative is changing in the car.  Not a lot better and an option that will get more complicated as our daughter gets bigger.  But by the time I was buying a trailer and a new car to pull it, I could tell the dressing room was pushing my luck so I backed off.  

Most trailers with dressing rooms have saddle and bridle racks in the dressing rooms.  We added such racks to the interior of our 2 horse bumper pull straight ramp load trailer.  Ours is pretty big inside and we mostly pull ponies so there is actually plenty of space for our muck bucket, tack trunk and tack.  Since our tack is in with the horses, we invested in saddle covers, helmet and bridle bags to keep things clean in transport.

Next you need to think about whether you will buy new or used.  This is when you need to think about your budget.  My sense is that trailers, especially those made by Kingston, Hawk and Featherlite, really hold their value.  A 2007 trailer sells used for close to what it cost new in 2007 in part because the new 2014 trailers are so much more expensive (I've kind of found the same to be true of good used saddles).  So you save money with the used trailer but not as much as you might think.  And resale value can be important, especially if you are buying a smaller trailer with fewer bells and whistles and planning to upgrade in a few years if all goes well.  We bought a 2007 Kingston from a wonderful horse mom in Connecticut.  The trailer looked completely brand new and she even gave me some driving lessons.  We got a great deal paying $6500.  Even though it was in great shape, I spent an additional $1000 having it serviced and adding racks before we used it.  When you buy a used trailer you should plan to take it to a local dealer to have the brakes, tires and wheel bearings checked.  

That reminds me.  Horse trailers have brakes.  The brakes are hooked up to your car and you will need an electronic braking system.  The car we had when we bought the trailer did not have one so we had one installed.  We went to a local trailer place, not a horse trailer place necessarily but one that could install a controller quickly so I could drive down to pick up my trailer.  The system cost about $350 installed but we should have spent a little more and gotten the higher end digital unit with more adjustment.   If I had it to do again, I would go to a bigger trailer shop and one that had some experience with horse trailers.  The unit is installed under the dash right where your knees like to be when driving so you have access to adjust it easily and your husband can frequently curse you for having a horse trailer that makes driving uncomfortable for him.

A month after buying the trailer, I bought a new car.  My 2011 Honda Pilot could pull the trailer but it didn't feel very good.  We were well under the 4400 pounds our Honda was certified to pull.  Our trailer weighs 2500 pounds and our pony was only 800 pounds.  There are different weight measurements you will see in your car manual about gross vehicle weight and what not.  I focused on tow capacity and that seemed to be a sufficient data point for determining the best vehicle for pulling my trailer.  Most trailers I am interested in are between 2500 and 3500 pounds.  If I have 2 big horses that's an additional 2200 pounds.  Add in a little tack, water, I'm guessing the most I will ever want to pull is 6000 - 6500 pounds.  Pick up trucks are great for this, especially a Ford F-150 or Chevy Silverado 1500 or Doge Ram which can tow 12,000 pounds, but I wanted an SUV that could do double duty as my people mover (I have 2 sons who want nothing to do with horses).  The best choices seemed to be the Chevy Tahoe and the Ford Expedition which can each tow around 9000 pounds (consumer reports does a good job with testing vehicles' tow ratings).  A Suburban would also be a good choice but I had recently downsized from a Suburban and didn't want to go back.  One of the things I really liked about my Expedition was that it had the electronic braking system integrated into the vehicle itself, installed at the factory.  So when I hook up my trailer, the digital readout in my dashboard acknowledges the trailer and tells me the level my brakes are set at. I LOVE LOVE LOVE towing with this car!!!!!!  You will see people towing horse trailers with all kinds of cars.  This is another one of those cases where what works for me does not necessarily work for you.  But I think this is something the owner of our old barn had in mind when she told me I would wreck my car if I bought a trailer.

So, where does one buy a trailer?  I found mine on equine.com.  You can create an account, then create a search with detailed criteria and save the search.  I would go back every day or two to see if there was anything new to look at.  There are new and used trailers listed on the site.  You can try Craigslist but I found the listings on equine.com were a better fit on average.  You can also go to your local dealer who will likely carry both new and used trailers.  There are several near where I live.  Many people around here use Yered.  I had mine serviced at Orchard.  Ask around the barn and at the tack shop and you'll find out where you should go.  If you are near Ohio or Massachusetts, attend the Equine Affaire.  They host an AMAZING horse trailer display.  It's so fun to run around dreaming about having a huge motorhome with seating for your entire equine family.

A few more things to keep in mind as you are looking at trailers.  
  • There are several shapes out there.  The trailers with really square fronts create more drag than those with rounded or pointed front ends, impacting gas mileage.  
  • Horses and all their stuff are really dirty.  It won't look new for long!
  • Even if you only have a pony now, are you likely to have a big 17 hand warmblood in a few years?  Probably not but think about it before buying the smallest trailer you can find.
  • My only pet peeve with my trailer has to do with the rings on the side of the trailer.  During a show, you will tie your pony to the trailer and hang a hay net for them to munch on.  The rings on our trailer are really low.  I am planning to take it in to have another one added higher up so the hay net doesn't hang so low.
  • Buy a muck bucket, muck rake, really good broom and shovel just for the trailer.  If you can, put a small trunk in the trailer and keep some basic supplies in it such as fly spray, baby wipes, bit wipes, water buckets for drinking and sponging, sponges, a big water tank in case water is unavailable where you are going and an extra medical armband if you have an eventer.  Nothing worse than getting somewhere to go schooling or to a show and not being able to participate because you left your armband at the barn.
  • I see trailers out there without windows.  That seems weird to me.  On a hot day I love opening all the windows and even latching the upper half of the back totally open for the drive home so the pony can have some air.
  • Practice driving your trailer!  It's great if you can buy a trailer from a place that will give you lessons.  It's really not that hard to drive one if you practice a little bit.  Be sure to learn how to back up and how to park so you don't embarrass yourself at a horse show.
  • I found the information on this site extremely helpful in learning about safe trailer driving.
  • You should also have a professional check the hitch you have for pulling a trailer.  Not all hitches are rated to pull the significant weight associated with horse trailering.  You want to make sure that the ball is the right diameter, the drop the correct height and the weight rating high enough for the load you intend to pull.
  • My dream Hawk 2 horse with dressing room is around $13,000 new right now just to give you an idea of cost.
I'm so excited for you to go get your trailer and become a mobile horse parent!  Happy trailer shopping!
Kristie



6 comments:

  1. Thanks for the information on trailers. My daughter just got a pony and we were wondering about a horse trailer too. I hadn't thought about putting a dressing room in the trailer. I wonder if we could buy a trailer without one and then add one in later. I am pretty mechanical.
    http://www.pards.com/storeinformation/pardsofurbana

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    1. Trailers either have a dressing room or they don't. Trailers without dressing rooms are really too small to add them into later. We were very happy with our little trailer that didn't have one until my daughter got a little older, a little more competitive and needed more space and cleaner space for all her tack. It really depends on your budget. We upgraded last summer and I can't imagine going back!

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