By Hope Holland – There are lots of fancy trailers out there on the market for those of you who are going out solely to horse shows or trail rides, but, since our farm also raises a few steers for personal consumption, we are looking for a used livestock trailer.
I happen to be partial to used livestock trailers, because over the years, I’ve learned that any horse will load well into a stock trailer. It needs to have a fairly low step-up for ease in loading baby horses if you plan on hauling mares and foals, but other than that, a stock trailer is an open and inviting place to ask a horse to get into. The stock trailer also offers a wide enough base for the horse who wants to lean and scramble in stall-type trailers to spread his feet out and brace against the motion of the moving vehicle without panicking and most horses seem more comfortable after a trip in a stock trailer.
The most important consideration in getting a trailer for your horse is to make sure that the trailer is big enough for the horse. Actually, the trailer should be a little too big for the horse, so that you have room to move around the horse in the trailer and the horse has a bit of room to feel comfortable in, too. This goes for getting a trailer that is going to be high enough so that your horse can raise his head in there without getting his ears caught in the roof supports, as well. Most horses that have been jammed into a too-small trailer won’t be overjoyed about getting back into a trailer, and that can often mark the beginning of some miserable loading problems.
Make sure that you check the title to any used livestock trailer against the serial number of the trailer itself. After that, check the gross vehicle load, which is the weight of the trailer plus the horses that it will be carrying, against the advised amount of gross vehicle weight that your towing vehicle should be used for pulling. This will be written in the owner’s manual of your towing vehicle. Probably you can get away with going a bit over the limit on the perfect road in perfect weather, but what happens if conditions are not perfect? Do you want to be the one caught in the middle when that time comes?
On the actual physical side of looking for a used livestock trailer, this is how you start. If you are looking at a metal trailer, use your pocketknife to check any suspicious looking rust spots on the finish of the trailer. In coastal states like my home state of Maryland, rust can be a problem. If the knifepoint pierces the metal, you may be looking at a real problem that can at the least be expensive and at worst be a danger to the horse that you are planning to haul. Don’t forget to get up on something and check the roof for rust as well. I don’t know what the conventional wisdom is about this, but I always try to leave my trailers parked with the front end jacked up fractionally higher than the back to help the run off of any rain that might otherwise stand and rust the roof of the trailer.
Now get down and climb under the used livestock trailer. If there is anything more than the last bit of surface rust on the frame, forget it. Remember to check the shackles and the shackle bolts as well, and check each one of the cross support beams, too. While you are down there, take a good look at the axles to make sure that they are not bent and have not been welded. Check the spindles as well. Spindles are those arms coming down from the axles.
Next thing is to take a good look at the hitch, to make sure that it has no excessive rust on it, either. While you’re here, look at the hitch to make sure that it is dead center in the trailer where it is supposed to be, and not bent. Check the sleeve on the hitching apparatus to make sure that it moves easily over the ball coupler. This is a spring loaded mechanism so try it a few times to be sure that it feels like the spring is still in good repair.
Check the tires. Look for signs of rot on the sidewalls and make sure that there is plenty of tread left on the tires and that they are evenly worn. The wheels on a used livestock trailer should be pulled and the bearings repacked every year so ask if this has been done and then ask to see the receipt for the work.
Ask the people who own the used livestock trailer to hitch it up to their towing vehicle so that you can make sure that the lights work all the way around. Nothing is more of a pain than to have a deal with a phantom wiring problem with one light or one set of lights that work sometimes and doesn’t work others.
Now ask to ride along for a short ride, and feel how the trailer pulls empty. There should be no excessive bounce or rocking from side to side. When the brakes are applied they should pull evenly and not more on one side than the other. They also should not make any squeaking or squalling noises.
If you like the used livestock trailer so far, it is time to get inside and check the flooring. This is where you get your knife out again and especially check the flooring along the sides and back near the ramp or step up area. If there are mats in the trailer, pull them all out so that you can do a thorough job of this.
If the rest of the used livestock trailer is in good shape, it is not horribly expensive to replace the flooring in a two-horse trailer, but it is a solid week-end’s work and will inevitably involve power tools, splinters and sweat. It may also involve a few of those words that you really are trying not to use all that much. A good, safe floor is something that is non-negotiable for the safety of your horse. If you have decided to buy a trailer that needs the floor replaced, it must be done before you try to haul your horse even once, so the replacing of a faulty floor should be good for a solid discount on the price of that trailer.
Now check the rest of the inside of the used livestock trailer to make sure that it is not full of splinters, or rust. Don’t forget to look up at the inside of the ceiling and the roof supports while you are at it. Remember that this is where your buddy is going to spending a lot of his time and remember how big a klutz your buddy can be just walking across the barnyard. You don’t just want this to be safe; it has to be foolproof.
If there is a ramp, check the hinges for rust and the floor of the ramp inside and out for wood rot or rust. If it is at all questionable forget the trailer and look for another one. Ditto for the doors on the back of the trailer if it is a step up. If a horse sits back on one of those gates, you want it to hold, not pop off. Check the door locks, too. If they are bent, you will hate it every time you try to open one of the doors back there.
If the trailer was very recently inspected, okay, but if not, it sure wouldn’t hurt to just run it by your friendly garage mechanic and have him pull the wheels and also take a good look at the wiring for you. Compared to the cost of the trailer, itself, and compared to the repair bills that you might incur once you own the trailer, a little friendly preventive inspection charge is pretty insignificant and very good insurance.
Originally published in Countryside in 2002 and regularly vetted for accuracy.