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Good as New - Study up and save with a used horse trailer

Becky Mills, The Mane Points

Take inventory of your needs and be willing to invest time in place of dollars, and you can find a safe, affordable used trailer.

Pick a trailer to fit the horse. Obviously, the requirements are going to be different for a Shetland pony than for a Clydesdale. Even when comparing horses to horses, breed can make a big difference; a diminutive Arab can probably get away with a 6' 6"-tall trailer, while a strapping warmblood will need extra height and width.

Straight load versus slant load? "Any horse 15.3 hands or taller is too big for a slant load," insists Tom Scheve, a Southern Pines, N.C., horseman who with his wife Neva designs, manufactures and sells trailers.

Gooseneck or bumper-hitch? Consider the tow vehicle. A mid-size pickup won't - or at least shouldn't - pull a four-horse gooseneck with a dressing room.

When you've figured out your needs and your search of the want ads or feed-store bulletin boards yields a suitable candidate, the next step is the hands-on inspection. Start at the bottom, and work your way up.

"First, look at the axles," says Preston, Ga., horseman David Wagner. "Are they still straight? I bought a trailer where the axles were bowed and I had to replace them. Make sure the axles are lined up and the wheels are lined up so the trailer will pull straight."

"I look mostly for axles and tires that are heavy enough," says thoroughbred breeder E.C. Mundy, who hauls his thoroughbred mares from his home base in Barboursville, Va., to stud farms in Ocala, Fla. "If they are too light, they'll give you trouble on a long haul. Have axles and tires heavy enough to haul half again as many pounds as you think you'll be pulling."

Still at ground level, look at the wheel drums and the rims, and check out the springs to make sure they aren't rusted through and are still in good working order.

Now is a good time for the tire once-over, too, Scheve says, "Check the tires for uneven wear. The axles could be out of alignment, or it could be the tires weren't properly inflated over the years." Check for cracking, dry rot and sun damage. Even the spare can have dry rot, so give it the once-over, too, he advises.

No hoof, no horse, they say. By the same token, no floor supports, no trailer. "Check for rust on the steel cross-members on the side where the wood is braced," Scheve instructs. "See how well the floor is supported by the cross-members. Even a good board can break if there are not enough cross-members; a floor can practically turn to mush and still not break if there are enough."

Before turning your attention to the interior, look toward the front. "The longer the tongue, the easier it is to back up," Scheve advises. "Check to see if the coupler works properly and whether it is a two-inch or a 25/16. Some old trailers have the larger, and they will pop off a two-inch ball."

Wagner agrees. "Pay attention to the hitch. See if there is any wear that would keep it from locking down on the ball good and solid."

Trailers are often plagued with malfunctioning lights, so it's a good thing to make sure they work - at least for the moment. Look for dents or evidence of wrecks.

If you are looking at a steel trailer, you may well see rust on the outside. Much of the time that is only cosmetic and can be easily repainted.

When heading inside, check that the ramp is in good working order, if there is one. "It needs to lift easily and be solid and not too steep," says Scheve. "The springs need to be along the bottom, not on the side where the horses can get tangled in them."

Scheve favors a well-constructed ramp over a step-up because it eliminates the danger of a horse sliding under the trailer when he backs out. However, he emphasizes, "There are some really awful ramps on old trailers."

By now, ramp or step-up, you're in the trailer. If it has a wooden floor, roll the floor mats back and give the floor the devil, looking for weak, soft spots. Scheve goes a step further and takes a pocketknife to check for soft spots. He also wants to see the wood laid front to back instead of right to left, or the horse could wind up with all its weight on one side of one board. Some trailer owners like to see spaces between the boards to allow for moisture to run out rather than sit on the bottom of the trailer.

Wooden floors can be replaced fairly economically, at least if the supports are good. Not so with aluminum floors, so be especially careful to inspect for weak, thin, corroded spots. If you're dealing with steel, give the interior the once-over for rust.

"Check the hinges, the doors, the butt and breast bars, anything that opens or moves," says Scheve. That includes the roof vents. "They are very important," he emphasizes. "They ventilate heat out of the trailer as well as pull air in."

With aluminum trailers, look for anything that is dented or cracking. Aluminum can rip and leave sharp points and jagged edges.

Aluminum or steel, Scheve says, windows are a must. "Make sure it has big windows that work. Older windows usually come in safety glass or plexiglass. Safety glass works better over the years. It doesn't expand and contract, so it is less likely to crack and will slide more easily."

If your horse needs a tall trailer, get out your tape measure. "If the trailer has a round top, it may be seven feet high in the middle but only 6' 3" on the sides," Scheve cautions.

Before writing the check, put a used trailer to the ultimate test, if possible: Load your horse, and pull it with your vehicle to see if you are comfortable pulling that trailer with your vehicle with your horse riding inside.

Read the fine print
Tom and Neva Scheve of EquiSpirit literally wrote the book on horse trailers. For a copy of The Complete Guide to Buying, Maintaining, and Servicing a Horse Trailer, write the Scheves at: P.O. Box 1987, Southern Pines, N.C., 28388, call (910) 692-1771 (office) or fax (910) 692-1164 or visit

©Southern States Cooperative, Inc., Reprinted from Mane Points magazine, with permission of Southern States Cooperative, Inc.