Putting the trailer before the horse?

Hey COTH,

I’ve been a lurker, but not a poster until now. I’m a long time lesson student and leaser, but I’ve been working my post-college job for a few years now and I’m as close to buying a horse as I’ve ever been. Current plan is within the next 4-6 months barring no unexpected expenses.
The question is, do I want to buy a trailer before I buy a horse? And if so, should I buy something halfway decent?

My pros/cons list would be…

Pros:

  • If I buy the trailer first, I’m willing to put miles on the the rig to pick up a horse I buy. I’m really shopping most anywhere in the lower 48/nearish to us in CA - so we’d save on shipping. I was reading it’s ~$1 per loaded mile to ship a horse .
  • I’d also have the freedom to lesson as needed. I don’t want to pay low/mid 5s for a horse, but then have no freedom to train on cows. We only have a flag at home and I’m new to the herdwork aspect. I can catch a ride with other boarders to shows and potentially practices if they attend. It’s historically only been shows.

If I do buy a trailer, do I get a safe, but cheap steel trailer and sell soon? Or just a nicer aluminum 2 horse with tack that I would keep for the foreseeable future? Storing the trailer isn’t a concern.

Cons:

  • Most obvious, it sets my horse savings budget back a few months. How long really depends on how far below horse budget or above trailer budget I go. If I buy a cheap trailer to compromise, I have the hassle of buying and selling relatively soon.
  • We have an F150, and w the current truck market, that won’t be updated within a few years. So we’d be limited to a smaller trailer anyways. Whatever I buy wouldn’t be a forever trailer.
  • The horse and trailer market are hot… is it sensible to pay high for both at the same time?

I’m kind of leaning towards whatever the trailer market offers. Only buy if I find a deal I can’t pass.
Any thoughts, concerns, or experiences?
Thank you!

Horse first, then trailer.

You don’t want to be in a situation where your trailer is too small for the horse you buy.

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I’m assuming you’re buying a used trailer to avoid initial cost. A new trailer is always available in whatever size, shape you desire. Unless you’re considering a warmblood or such for dressage, eventing, racing, etc. most cow horses will fit ordinary two horse BP trailers. Think of your horse activity and watch the trailer market to suit. Having transportation, facilitates the horse purchase and your horse activity immediately.

As for cost of the trailer… Do you know what features you want and need? A low cost trailer allows you to learn what you need vs your desire. A high dollar trailer locks you in until additional money is there.
Finally, a trailer doesn’t eat and can be stored until the right horse comes along. The reverse is not true. A horse is a recurring expense.

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when I see this quote I wonder just what people think is a reasonable rate. A dollar per mile mile was the same rate we charged in 1974 when a complete Big pickup and nice six horse head to head cost under $30,000 and gas was well under one dollar (and that 55MPH speed limit sure made hauling times a labor intensive item)

But then again not much makes sense in the current horse world of things anyway.

Unless I ran across a really good buy I would not get the trailer first since as OP said this first trailer was to be of a short term use

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So between the smaller tow vehicle and my presumption that a cow horse will be a smaller horse relatively, I’d start shopping for a trailer now. Your going to be limited on what you can safely haul and if you’re working with a budget, it may take time to find the right deal on a trailer. Used trailers are hot, hot currently (in my area at least) so be ready to move quick if you see anything that really suits.

I have a bumper pull steel stock combo 3h slant with tack / dressing room. It’s not fancy or pretty but it’s very serviceable even if my big boy takes up two of the 3 slots lol. There’s a lot of security in having your own trailer if you own a horse. Vet emergencies, fire / hurricane / flood evacuations, moving horse to different barn, convenient hauling to shows/clinics/lessons/etc. Plus if you’re horse shopping, being able to show up to try a horse with cash and trailer is going to be a big help.

I’ve seen some very nice aluminum two horse trailers, if you can find one in budget go for it. IME the steel will be considerably cheaper all other things equal. IMO it would be more sensible to buy a cheaper trailer to stretch the budget further.

If there’s any chance you’ll buy a 17 hand plus horse you might want to wait on the trailer. A lot of bigger horses won’t fit on older (or newer!) trailers that weren’t manufactured as WB or TB sized. If you shop used, older trailers watch the interior dimensions. Some of the old school ones are so tight they look pony sized!

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With an F150 I’d be looking for a small 2-horse bumper pull, either a stock trailer with a center gate or a slant load, whichever you prefer. Endlessly useful (you can help your friends move their furniture!) easy to maneuver, and if the horse you buy ends up being enormous, you can configure it into a single stall and just accept that you have a “one horse trailer” until you are able to upgrade. And yes, it means that when you find a horse to buy you don’t have to mess around arranging transport. You can just go get the horse.

Sure, you could buy the trailer first, if you can locate one that will be functional for you. It seems that decent used trailers that are for sale are pretty rare everywhere right now, but if you happen to come across one, sure. The good thing about good quality used trailers is that they are like a bank account on wheels, they have lost their initial “new” value, but tend to hold their “used” value well. So you can probably sell it for about the same as you bought it for, if you want to later. I’d look for an aluminum one… they don’t rust like steel ones do. And tend to be lighter to pull for a small truck. Looking at used trailers, get them checked by a trailer guy, hitch, axles, electrical, brakes, tires etc. Wooden floors may need to be replaced- they can be rotten, but can be replaced pretty easily if necessary. Floor may be aluminum, which doesn’t rot, but may still be damaged… you need to take a look. If you find a good one, you may never even want to replace it with something fancier. Sounds like your western style horse will fit into just about anything you buy, so no problem there. If you are loading alone, an angle haul may be preferable, it’s easier to load and get the partition closed behind the horse with an angle haul, easier than getting a butt chain/bar up behind a horse you have just loaded (until you teach him to self load). Don’t tie the horse until the back of the trailer is closed, even if they tie reliably normally. If you are shipping a long ways, carry water as well as hay. I dunno how much of this you already know, but there’s a few pointers for you anyway.

It gives you freedom, if you have your own trailer. Not all commercial shippers are people or companies that I (personally) would trust with horse care and handling. “Your” horse isn’t their priority. No one looks after your horse like you do, no one cares like you do. Some people are idiots.

If you get the trailer first, and have not driven a horse trailer much before, go and practice before buying and loading the horse. There’s a learning curve. Drive sedately, take your time. A bad ride in a trailer will shake your horse’s confidence about shipping, problems that you don’t need and can easily avoid.

Happy shopping!

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Wow, thanks for all the thoughts!

@Alex_and_Bodie_s_Mom As far as trailer size, that a few have mentioned, the horse I buy is unlikely to be much more than 15 hands. I hope I won’t be needing a warmblood size trailer!

@hosspuller Fair point on no necessary upkeep bills with a trailer, adding board/farrier/vet/etc to the monthly budget would slow trailer saving post horse purchase. I think all the “nice to have features” are unlikely to be a deal breaker with my budget… beggars can’t be choosers if I shoot for a small OLD aluminum trailer I think. But you’re right, I would definitely be more informed for a later purchase.

@clanter Seemed a bit low to me too, but I guess it depends if it’s a loaded trailer or a heavily traveled route? Would you expect 2 or 3x that? I didn’t want to hassle any haulers for a quote until I had a real situation to consider.

@lenapesadie @wsmoak I was pleasantly surprised with the hauling capability of the F150! Maximum trailer weight of 10.6k, so payload will be the limiter for us at 1.9k lbs. With that said… I guess the budget for “nicer” trailer really does come down to aluminum vs steel more than large vs small. Rust is an issue in our area, but if I do go steel, it would probably only be with us until we can upgrade the truck in a couple years.

Thankfully, buying a little cow pony, I should be relatively safe on trailer size.

@NancyM Definitely used! I’ll probably stay that was even if we upgrade in the future. The fact that they hold value seems to be a blessing and a curse while shopping.

I’m used to horses that self load in a slant - I’ve never hauled in a straight before. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit nervous to take on the responsibility of hauling on my own… but I guess you’ve got to start somewhere. Thank you for the tips!

I think it may well come down to timing at this point. I’ve waited ~15-20 years to have my own horse, it might make sense to bump it a few more months for a good deal and some logistical benefits in hauling said horse home.

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My Chevy 1500 has a listed tow capacity of 11600. I promise you want to prioritize light weight when your comparing trailers. Promise. You will never be hauling horses and think gosh I wish this trailer was heavier.

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OP: I don’t know what trailer prices are now in your area, but here (Midwest US) they are crazy high.

IIWM, I’d get the horse first.
Those prices are also high now, but if you board your new horse most boarding barns have a trailer available to haul in an emergency & possibly to get you to a lesson (at a price).

You do need to get some hauling practice in before you buy your trailer.
My first haul was a trailer filled with jumps, no horses & it was a short, white-knuckle trip on a highway :flushed:

Do you have any friends who might let you practice with their trailer?
Without horses to learn to maneuver, turn, back, park, etc. Then with horse(s) to learn to adjust for the live weight.

Buying a bigger trailer is never a bad idea. Resale will be easier.

To a point I think. Locally, the absolute best deals on trailers are big goosenecks. Not everyone has a truck big enough to tow them. Little bumper pulls sell like hot cakes (and at crazy high prices right now)

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I think it would be safe and reasonable to board without a trailer. Many of the boarders there don’t own one. There are a few daily rental places for trailers nearish us as well.

ETA… my husband is a farm boy who’s experienced w hauling - so should we buy (or rent), he’d be the horse hauler in the near future. I definitely need some practice before subjecting a horse to my hauling!

I know none of us can time the market, but do we expect a drop soon?
At least what I’ve been seeing… for ~5k you can get a steel bumper pull that maybe has a small tack area and needs some rust mitigation. To be expected for the area. If I get into the ~9k+ range, I have seen some aluminum options if we travel a bit.

I think @lenapesadie is right that a 3/4h+ GN w no LQs seems to be the best “deal”, but that’s not feasible for us. Planning to only haul one horse mostly, a 2h GN with no LQ would be technically doable, but not ideal weight wise I think. I’ve seen that quoted at about 4000lbs, but more tongue weight than a BP.

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I am seeing many trailer dealers with trailers advertised as ordered but not arriving to the dealership until October of 2022. Most trailer dealerships have very little inventory on their lots right now, and probably will not have much for quite awhile.

Until they can get more inventory, prices will remain high. Expect they are not just high- they are borderline outrageous! I have a 1999 Featherlite stock trailer here that is in great shape, especially for its age. I could get twice what it sold for new in 1999 right now!

If you can wait to buy a trailer, definitely wait. Financially, now is not the time to be buying one. In other words, if you buy now you could take a loss if you want to resell in a couple years because prices are so badly inflated now.

I bought a used LQ last December, right before prices went crazy. I put some money into it for some necessary things- tires, added lights, making the ramp easier to use, and some unnecessary things-electric awning, dual hydraulic jacks. I could sell it today and still come out way ahead because the market is so whacky with not much inventory. Now is the time to sell!

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I know the used boat market has seen the same peak and some theorize that because new boats have become so expensive and upped replacement costs, the used ones are also selling for more. Regardless of supply.

I guess it’s a bit tough for me that I have no idea what a “normal” price is. If paying an inflated price still saves me money compared to hiring a shipper and buying later, maybe it makes sense?

By “bigger” I meant at least 7’ high, 7’ wide. Not on-the-ground bigger :wink:

OP:
:+1:DH can get you experience hauling.
But unless you can store indoors, aluminum trumps steel.
Both for weight & maintenance.
The rust you can see, generally means there’s rust you can’t see.

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You say this like it’s a good thing! :rofl:

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Learning to drive one… IF you are a skilled and “defensive” driver already, and don’t have a “lead foot”, it’s not that difficult to learn how to pull a trailer, and how to back one up etc. You have to learn how closely the trailer follows your vehicle through turns, backwards and forwards. And learn how to back your rig up. Sounds like your SO can help you with some of this, so that will be helpful.
Bumper pull trailers react very quickly, faster than longer wheelbased trailers- so take things SLOW. The longer the trailer is, the slower it reacts, and the easier they are to back up.

I started to drive our truck and trailer soon after I got my driver’s license, at 16 years old (and that was a LOOOONG time ago). So really, it’s not difficult to learn how. Start out in an empty parking lot or dry field, where you have lots of room, and get used to using your mirrors etc. Then do some backing up in this area. Then drive only on quiet roads, without a lot of traffic (if you can find such a thing these days), and drive SLOWLY. Brake SLOWLY. Accelerate SLOWLY. Corner SLOWLY. When you graduate to highway driving, watch for other idiot drivers, who may cause an accident in front of you… trust no one. And never forget the precious cargo in the trailer, who trusts you to keep him safe.
You can start to look at trailers. Go look at whatever you can find locally, waste the seller’s time. That’s OK. Give yourself plenty of experience in looking at trailers. Don’t buy the first one you see!

You likely already know this, but make sure you check the towing capacity for YOUR specific F-150 configuration. There’s a huge range within the model based on 2WD v. 4WD, etc. It likely won’t matter for an aluminum trailer and one horse, but may if you decide to go with a steel trailer. My first trailer was steel and that sucker was heavy!

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I doubt they are only charging $1 a loaded mile? with the cost of fuel they would be losing money on every haul? Even small, non professional haulers charge more here in the Mid West.

You always want a well built and dependable trailer, sound and in good repair. Steel trailers do cost less than aluminum but if you find a good one there is no reason you have to sell it asap. Find one that is tall and wide and any horse you find will fit.

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Personally, I would buy the trailer first. Then you have to freedom to go pick up your new horse when you find one. It’s such a pain to rely on others or arrange transportation, IMO.

I boarded my horse(s) for a year or two before getting my own trailer, and I wish I would have had one sooner!!