A Trailer of One’s Own

WM trailer Nova

A horsewoman told me that, at sixty-three, she was the proud owner of her very first horse trailer. I let out a congratulatory yell and I’ve been smiling all day. Trailers add a layer of independence to the freedom we feel with horses.

Do you remember your first horse trailer? Mine was a navy blue two-horse straight load. It was the late ’80s and no one I knew wanted to show their horse but me. I’d been preparing for years, buying spare buckets and hay nets and trailer gadgets. Finally, I talked a friend into buying one together. It weighed a bit more than my truck–without horses in it. The inside had rust that you couldn’t really see because it had been spray painted silver. There was a tiny dressing room up front with saddle racks at an impossible angle and I could not believe my wild luck.

Then came the day I grew up. I loaded my horse and my gear and headed off alone with Jerry Lee Lewis roaring from my tape deck. Driving with all the tense earnestness of a high school student with a learner’s permit, I made my way carefully to the fairgrounds in the next county. It might as well have been another country; I knew no one but it was my first Appaloosa show and I was sure it would be perfect.

There was also a goat show at the fairgrounds that weekend. Have you ever heard a few hundred goats bleating? No? Neither had my young horse. He visibly quivered–out and out vibrated–as I tacked him up. It was contagious. I’m always saying goats are the remedy for Type-A personalities, and this is where I learned it. Lucky we were a day early.

I wanted to quit and go home, but I’m no quitter. Quite a dilemma. So we worked a while and the best I could say was that I managed to stay on. Before dark I was laying on a camp cot in my trailer and wishing it was over. By morning my horse was a little better; no one can hold that level of adrenaline forever. I hosed off my head and felt awkward in my show clothes.

Naturally I’d entered every class I could because I didn’t know any better. It was probably more about persistence then riding well, but by the trail class Sunday afternoon, we counter-cantered, just on the other side of the fence from the goat pens. Intentionally counter-cantered. No blue ribbons, but I did win the reserve high-point award, I think just by sheer numbers. My prize was a purple plastic spray bottle–like the $1.29 ones at the drugstore. I was insufferable. After thousands of dollars in board, training, this trailer, and a truck to pull it, I won a prize!

 In my years since that first haul, I’ve honed my skills. There have been sunny days at horse shows and trail rides with friends, but much more important trips, too. I’ve pulled horses from auctions in the nick of time and picked up rescues from people heartbroken to surrender them. I’ve hauled foals to vet schools for surgery and made midnight emergency colic runs with sick horses.  A trailer buys safety for your own horse, but also the ability to help others. We’ve had some fires in recent years and I’ve gotten choked up seeing lines of trailers ready to help evacuate. It makes me proud.

The new trailer owner’s husband asked that the trailer be her responsibility. That’s good news. Husbands and wives tend to agree about trailering about as much as they do driving, I suspect.  Beyond that, no one prioritizes horses like an owner does and the ability to not be dependent on others is priceless. With no objection, she soon hired a trainer to help sort out the details. She had to overcome some nervousness of her own, so she’s feeling pretty proud of herself now, I’ll bet. Enjoy the new layer of confidence, my friend, it’s never too late to hit the road, singing along with Born to be Wild.

I know owning a hauling rig is expensive, in ways you can’t imagine in the beginning. But at the same time, it isn’t really a luxury, either. I prefer a simple, affordable stock trailer. At the risk of sounding dramatic, lives do actually depend on it.

If it’s fear holding you back from hauling, maybe now is a good time to step up to the challenge. Yes, it’s traditionally been men’s territory, but it wouldn’t be the first time you’ve been stretched out of shape for your horse. Take a ride in back and figure out how slowly you should corner the thing. Spend some time pulling it empty at first. Head to a parking lot and take your time. Make a mess of backing until it gets easier because having people direct you is just crazy-making. Now head for a gas station and work on steering through narrow places. Notice that slight swagger as you walk back to check the latches? Take a breath; the whole thing is so much easier than learning to ride.

WM trailer goatIf a trailer isn’t possible, do you have an emergency plan for your horse? Does that trailer owner know she’s your emergency plan? Now might be a good time to consider asking that person for hauling lessons. Offer to be a back-up driver and learn to hook up. Trailer knowledge shouldn’t be limited to owners; in the worst case scenario, you could save the day.

Owning a horse requires an unusual and ever-growing skill set. Hang around a barn long enough and there is nothing you won’t be asked to do. It takes a fair range of courage out of the saddle, too, because horses depend on us in this messy world. We’re lucky we’re such hard-headed, relentlessly persevering folks.

And oh, one last thing. Practice your steering wheel wave. It’s like our secret handshake. Traditionalists like a subtle one finger lift, an acknowledgment of solidarity. It’s understated but the meaning is clear: I’ve got your back. You can count on me… and so can your horse.

Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Equine Pro

36 thoughts on “A Trailer of One’s Own

  1. I smiled every time I walked past dad’s horse trailer while home this summer. It has been parked for years now, and the front glass got broken in a hail storm somewhere along the path. I doubt it was ever used to trailer Rio more than a trip to the vet if needed. I found myself recalling your post about the trailer is not the problem and sharing it with my sister.

  2. Lisa

    Loved the purple, spray bottle prize description! That was a great laugh with my morning coffee!
    I have had horses for several years and still do not own a trailer. My new goal is to plan to obtain one next year. There have been so many shows I would have participated had I way to transport my horse. Thank you for including the pointers on how to practice driving around with a new trailer. I will remember those pointers and use them when I do get a trailer. 8 months ago, I purchased my first truck so I am getting closer to independence! Lisa

  3. Genta

    How timely this blog is!! I acquired one of those 1980s straight load two horse bumper-pulls with lots of rust about eight years ago for $350! And it has sat, needing new wiring and tires for all of those years, but I’ve had it inspected to know that the welds are good and the rust simply cosmetic. It’s got decent floors still and a ramp (which my horse will be a great fan of since that step up & down is one of the scariest things in life). But today – this morning! – I have finally gotten the money together to get it fixed and unlike all the other times I’ve made it to this step, I don’t have something else that the money must be desperately diverted to cover.

    I think that the change in priority of the money for the trailer has come with our recent move. I moved my horses to my own house in May, something that had been a dream for over 30 years. I no longer have someone at the boarding barn I can borrow a trailer from for an emergency jaunt up to the Vet School, so now I – and more importantly, the hubby – recognize that the trailer HAD to become a priority. You are so right about the independence! With a working trailer and my horses at my house, I am finally, FINALLY an *independent* horse-mom. 🙂

  4. sharon

    I love it. Although I’m still not great at hauling it is good to know I can load all of the horses (two at a time), into my little two horse blue trailer (yes, it is a cave…) but an awesome trainer once told me if I can get my horses into that … I can load them anywhere :). Have gone anywhere this year, but know I could if needed. Thanks for helping me get to where I could load those horses into the little trailer and the times we came to your place for training and fun!

  5. Loved this! I still have a tenuous relationship with my trailer after four years, but I’m working on it. I still go to the gas station to practice, and when people try to help give direction, I definitely just smile and pretend I enjoy making 500 attempts at backing into a space.

  6. andrea pratt

    I am currently vehicle shopping. What would be your absolute minimum towing capacity, when considering short distances and a light 2-horse trailer?

    1. Well, I’d need to weigh more factors; where you live, what horses you have, etc. When I first truck shopped I got bad advice from dealers and the horse people knew more. I recommend asking some one local for your area. Hauling in Colorado can be kind of extreme, weather and terrain, and your locale might be easier. To tell the truth, I don’t know minimums well, I’ve always gone big, truck wise. I’m in a F-250 Heavy Duty now and I’ve never hauled with a smaller engine… sorry. Not my field of expertise. But good luck. Gotta hate vehicle shopping…

  7. Cathy Grimes

    I bought my first truck and Trailer after being dependent on someone else evacuating my horses from the Hayman fire. It is a huge sense of independence and freedom. My 2nd evac was simple and I could help others as well.

  8. I will never forget the first time I bravely drove the truck to the barn, took two hours and a lot of tears to get it hooked up (then finding out I had done it right the first time but didn’t realize it), loaded my mare I had never ridden solo before and headed out to my favorite trail. I had gotten tired of always waiting until the husband was free to do it and go with me. It was terrifying and liberating at the same time.

  9. Terry Golson

    At the barn where I board, we might be women in our fifties, but we call ourselves “The Truck Girls.” Five of us own pickup trucks and trailers. and we give rides to those who aren’t as fortunate. We go places. We just hauled 70 miles to take our horses to a horse-friendly B&B. I shopped for my trailer and my truck without my husband. The salesman was condescending. I’m now shopping for a new truck. I walked in and told the salesman exactly what I wanted, and that I was ready to trade-in. He didn’t call back. Do they not know that we truck girls have buying power?

  10. Shelagh

    Now I am “transported” back to the days of showing & trail riding. We had a great double driveway and huge door yard for practicing loading youngsters, backing it up, all that good stuff. I was fearless trailering around Vermont for shows & competitive rides, but out-of-state I let DH drive. We coped with vehicle flat tires & engine malfunctions, unloading App stallion on to the side of the NYS Northway once, a young gelding throwing himself to the floor after a bee stung him, yikes – all coming back to me now!

  11. It is indeed liberating to have one’s own trailer. My husband was amazed at how much I used the first one just because I had it! And the second one even more so.

    I can say with pride that one of my claims to fame is parallel parking my full-sized van and two-horse straight load bumper pull trailer in downtown Warrenton, VA.

    And currently I’m the only one in the family who can successfully back my rig into the “lane” beside my barn. Neither my husband, who started out as the family expert on backing trailers no my daughter who also has a horse and recently borrowed the trailer to show. I’m still the one who has to park it by the barn.

    I think there should be friendly trailer backing competitions. 🙂

    And here’s my blog on retraining horses on their trailering skills if they decide they don’t want to load anymore: http://www.clickerchronicles.wordpress.com.

  12. Susan Rifkin

    Late 50’s ( age not date) I got a trailer that suited my focus on safety and total lack of experience. So it was a gooseneck, 2 horse straightload, all steel with back and side ramps. Pulled by a Ford 350 turbo diesel, just in case I needed the power to get out of trouble. My dreams of going places for FUN didn’t happen. But my regular holistic vet and I went to the Super Specialist, and her magic helped save my horse from losing his eye to cancer. Maybe that trip alone was worth it. He is now healthy and has a new job at a therapy facility. And the trailer is patiently waiting for a new owner.

    1. Quite a rig, but a bigger story…horses don’t always take us where we thought we were going,… and so it goes. Thanks, and bless this good horse!

  13. Jeannie

    Great stories! I bought my first horse trailer in 2009, before I bought my first horse! (Or a truck to pull the trailer!) A $1200 white WW 2-horse bumper pull straight load with half doors in the back, in good shape! I was 52 years old. That trailer represented a dream I’d had for years! The trailer stayed at a friend’s house in another town for awhile, and I hugged it every time I visited. I eventually found my horse, then a friend went with me to get the trailer, then I bought an old truck to pull the old trailer. The friend taught me how to hook up and haul. I swelled with pride the first time I hauled the trailer and horse by myself to a riding lesson!

  14. Queen of the Roads, we be! I sing loudly and feel fabulous when I haul “my rig and my ponies”. I feel so badass. At 60, I bought myself an F-250 last year. 1978 Camper Special. She is marvelous, especially after all the “fixin'” we’ve done and the dead by side of road moments, when the key turned and nothing happened. But over the last 15 years I’ve progressed from the $900. antique 2 horse Miley, to a late model Brenderup that I can totally do everything with myself. And all 3 of my horses think I AM the boss, so whether it’s a trail ride or a rated dressage show, look out world.
    I do love the look on men’s faces when I back it around by myself, and ask them kindly to keep the chatter down so as not to distract me. hee.

  15. Oh my gosh – LOVE it! I couldn’t wait to get my first trailer – I think I had just turned 30. From the beginning it was my domain. As my best friend is fond of saying, “I can back that thing up a gnat’s ass.”

    Even today, 16 years later, I still grin like an idiot as tow my trailer down the road. There’s not much that brings me a greater joy than when I sit behind that wheel with my boys in tow. Your blog post definitely nailed it. :0)

    1. Thank you; I spit my coffee. I humbly admit I would need a much larger……… well, we have donkeys here so I won’t use ass! Thanks, you made my day.

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