How Horse Trailer Towing Works

Horse entering horse trailer.
Be careful. Contents may shift during trip.
Masakazu Watanabe/Getty Images

It's said that dogs are man's best friend. However, if you look back over time, you might argue that horses mean more to mankind than any other single group of animals. Horses were the main mode of transportation until more mechanical travel methods came about. Even after railroads and ships hit the scene, humans continued to rely on horses for work. Not only did humans use horses for transportation, they used them to power farm equipment as well. Why do you think we refer to mechanical power as horsepower?

Let's fast-forward to today. In many instances, horses are still used by ranchers and cattle farmers who work their land and corral animals for a living. In cities, however, horses no longer serve the same purposes. Sure, some cultures like the Mennonites still use horses in the traditional sense, but horse-drawn carriages and plows have been replaced by automobiles and tractors. That doesn't mean people don't still love their equine friends. People all over the world own horses for riding, racing or just to have on their land as a large pet. Unlike little Fido, though, horses can't jump in the backseat of your Honda Civic whenever you need to take them to the veterinarian.


Just about everyone has seen a horse trailer on the road. If you own horses, you've probably had your own horse transported in a trailer. Whatever the case, towing a horse trailer is unlike towing any other load. Horses are heavy. Worse yet, they move around. Have you ever wondered what it's like for horses riding in one of those things? This article aims to let you know. More importantly, this article outlines the proper procedures and special considerations you should take when transporting horses. Let's learn about some of the things we should never overlook when towing a horse trailer.



Horse Trailer Towing Tips

Photo of empty horse trailer
Drivers must take extra care when towing a horse trailer.
Thomas Northcut/Getty Images

Whether you're towing a load of pine straw or livestock, you must always make sure you are using the right hitch. To determine the necessary hitch, you'll need to know your gross towing weight (the weight of the loaded trailer) and the ton­gue weight (the weight placed on the hitch). Consult the owner's manual of your towing vehicle as well as the specifications of your trailer. Remember, the maximum towing capacity can only be attained by using weight distributing hitches. These hitches require load bearing bars that distribute the trailer weight equally to the front and rear wheels.

You always should be aware of the sensitivity of your load when you tow a horse trailer. You aren't towing a fixed load; your horses are going to move around inside the trailer. Now, consider the scientific make-up of a horse's weight: The majority of a horse's weight is usually 4 feet (1 meter) or higher than the base of your trailer. This means your load will be top-heavy. That, coupled with the fact that horses move around to retain their balance, means your load will shift while you drive.


Some experts suggest riding in your horse trailer before using it to tow a horse. While it isn't recommended that you do this on a public road (as it is illegal for the most part), riding in the trailer will give you a better understanding of what your horse has to deal with. How do you make your horse more comfortable in such a cramped space? Make sure you always tie your horse to the inside of the trailer by their bridle so they don't attempt to turn around or stick their heads out any openings. Nobody wants to injure his or her horses. That's why it is imperative to remember that your horses will do what they need to in order to keep their balance.

After you've secured your horses, drive a short distance at low speed and pull over to check everything out before hitting the road. As you're driving, keep in mind your load will shift. Turns are now especially crucial since your trailer is top-heavy as well. Brake early into turns and drive through them smoothly. Give your horses an opportunity to get their balance before you accelerate out of turns. Always keep ample distance between your vehicle and those in front of you.

Braking is another tricky proposition. You must give yourself more time to brake. Again, your horses will take care of itself as long as you don't make any drastic moves. In addition, always park your horse trailer on a level surface. Should you have to park on a slope, make sure you properly chock your wheels and turn the front wheels in a direction that will hopefully slow a freewheeling vehicle.

Don't be duped by the maximum towing capacity. Make sure you understand the equipment you need and choose the appropriate hitch accordingly. If you don't use a weight distributed hitch, you are putting your horses' lives in danger. Always think about your horses and keep in mind that they aren't happy riding in an enclosed space. Brake early, give yourself time to make evasive maneuvers and don't be pressured to drive faster than what you feel is safe. It's OK to drive slowly. After all, the driver in the Honda Civic doesn't have 4,000 pounds (1,814 kilograms) of livestock depending on your safe driving.

Visit the next page to learn more about horse trailer towing and other towing techniques.


Horse Trailer Towing: Lots More Information

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More Great Links

  • RV Basics. "RV Fifth Wheel & Travel Trailer Towing Safety Tips." (Sept. 16, 2008)
  • Kittrell Scheve, Neva. "Tips on Driving a Horse Trailer." (Oct. 12, 2008)
  • Florida "Towing Your Horse Trailer." (Oct. 14, 2008)