Horse Trailer Types – A Pocket Guide to Horse Transport

Of all the horse trailer types on the market, which one is right for you? The choices are vast and there is no perfect answer. But there is always a well-researched, best answer!

Buying a horse trailer involves some real careful thought about what you actually need as far as functionality, purpose and budget. You want the best horse trailer you can buy for the money, but one horseman’s needs does not fit all.

Research the diverse choice of horse trailer types before you buy!

Understanding Horse Trailer Types and Options

There is a big difference between taking the family horse to the show a few hours away, and going cross country with young horses to distant trainers, breeders or competitions.

So what questions should you ask to decide on a type of horse trailer?

  • Do you want living quarters?
  • How much tack / equipment / feed storage should your trailer have?
  • What about the brands of horse trailers, and does “brand” really matter?
  • Will livestock horse trailer types suffice or is a fully enclosed trailer the way to go?
  • How much room does your horse need in a trailer? Do you need a custom size or special fittings? Will you need an open “box stall” type trailer or one with dividers? How about one that converts?
  • Slant load or straight load? Ramp or step up? Steel or aluminum?
  • Hitch type – bumper pull, gooseneck or fifth wheel?
  • Horse capacity – you may have minis, ponies, arabians, quarter horses, thoroughbreds, warmbloods, drafts, or a barnful of everything. From single and two horse bumper-pulls to multi-horse transport, consider what you will really need and will want to tow 90% of the time.

Our guide covers the basic types of horse trailers regarding hitches, capacity, enclosed vs. livestock types, loading configuration and materials.  Remember, well-maintained used horse trailers can be just as good a choice as a brand new trailer.

Type of Hitch

Bumper pull horse trailerBumper pull horse trailers or tag-alongs can be towed by a variety of vehicles and do not require an open bed truck as long as towing requirements are met. Bumper pull horse trailer types are generally less expensive to purchase and maintain than gooseneck trailers.

A two horse bumper pull trailer is the usual choice for people hauling one or two horses, versus a larger trailer that may be more expensive and require a heavily built and more expensive towing vehicle. Some manufacturers do offer three and four horse bumper pull trailers, but most haulers use a gooseneck trailer for three or more horses.

For more, see our article describing the “pros and cons” of buying a bumper pull.

Gooseneck horse trailer types are designed for various load capacitiesGooseneck horse trailers are generally equipped to haul 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and even 8 horses. The gooseneck trailer hitch requires an open bed truck to attach it to the towing vehicle. They offer a better ride for the horses, more stability and control, more storage room, and a tighter turning radius.

These horse trailer types are typically more expensive to purchase and operate. An additional consideration with a gooseneck trailer is weight. If your trailer and towing vehicle reach a certain weight, you may be required to obtain a commercial license to haul with it.

Check out our tips and checklist for buying a gooseneck trailer.

Commercial horse trailer rig with fifth wheel trailer hitchFifth Wheel trailer hitch trailers are generally used by commercial haulers and horse trainers hauling large numbers of horses over long distances, via tractor trailers or 18-wheelers. Professionals, avid competitors and trail riders who often travel with several horses on long hauls may also have the fifth wheel trailer hitch configuration for their truck or dually. This requires larger trucks with higher towing capacities, such as long bed 3/4 or 1 ton pickup trucks.

Horse Trailers with Living Quarters

Living quarters horse trailers are a good choice if you attend horse functions and you want to stay on-site in comfort close to or with your horses. These horse trailer types come in all sorts of price ranges and designs.

The living quarters compartment can be scaled down in a weekender type configuration or have an upscale design complete with appliances, slide outs, bathrooms, and televisions. Sometimes trailer manufacturers will send horse trailers to conversion companies who custom install the interiors for high end comfort. A living quarters horse trailer may be essential for certain equestrians who log many miles and attend multiple venues.

Gooseneck living quarters designed with slide out for more living space

Stock vs Enclosed Horse Trailer Types

Stock Trailers or livestock trailers can be a reasonable choice if you are concerned about your budget, haul in good weather, and do not need dividers in between the horses. A stock trailer is open on the inside and appears inviting to the horse. This type of horse trailer also allows for turning the horse around to unload head first.


Stock horse trailer types generally have slatted sides with open box stall

One caveat to bear in mind when considering a livestock trailer is that they are first and foremost designed for different types of livestock and not created exclusively for horses. Due to this fact they do lack some of the “creature comforts” that horse owners might desire such as dividers, side padding, breast bars, butt bars, drop down or sliding windows.

Weather can also play a role when considering stock horse trailer types since they almost always have partially open sides that are slatted. This can make hauling a livestock trailer in wet or cold climates more difficult.

Enclosed horse trailers are made with horses in mind and therefore have many features tailored towards the horses’ comfort and safety. This type of trailer is usually fully enclosed with windows and vents for ventilation. An enclosed horse trailer has dividers and other options such as butt bars, breast bars, mangers, and side wall padding and are generally more expensive than stock trailers.

Basic Load Types

Straight load horse trailers are preferred by some haulers who feel that horses balance better during long hauls and arrive less stressed by riding in this type of trailer. They feel that the horse is able to balance its weight between the front and rear legs in a more natural way during stopping and acceleration of the towing vehicle and trailer since the horse loads straight into the trailer and rides facing forward towards the towing vehicle.

Straight load horse trailer types - this one's a two-horse bumper pull

There is another side to this debate with haulers who believe that horses ride with less stress and better balance in the slant load trailers. One big advantage of the straight load horse trailer versus the slant load horse trailer type is longer stall length in the straight load which is a huge plus for larger horses.

Slant load horse trailers are preferred by the haulers who think that horses can balance better in the turns on a diagonal which is provided by the slant load trailer design. In this type of trailer the horses ride on a diagonal facing the middle of the road.

Slant load horse trailer positions the horse to ride on a diagonal facing the middle of the road

Slant load trailers offer better utilization of floor space with an additional storage area located in the back of the trailer. One major advantage of a slant load trailer is the fact that you can haul multiple horses on a shorter wheel base for more maneuverability.

There are several draw backs to the slant load horse trailer however, beginning with the inability to access the front horses without unloading the others. Additionally, the horse stalls in a slant load trailer are shorter in length than the stalls in a straight load trailer which can make it uncomfortable for larger horses.

Center load horse trailers are usually longer in length than other horse trailer types because of their configuration. In the center load trailer there are usually two horses in the front of the trailer facing towards the rear of the trailer and two horses in the rear of the trailer facing forwards towards the front of the trailer. In between the two sets of horses there is a space in the middle which allows for the loading and unloading of horses thru a side ramp in the center section of the trailer.

Example of a center load horse trailer

Horses typically ride well in center-load horse trailer types due to the fact that they are facing each other and can see the other horses at all times. This can be an advantage when hauling horses that are nervous in a horse trailer.

Step Up or Ramp Load Trailer Type?

Ramp load horse trailers are a popular choice for many owners. A ramp is attached to the rear of the horse trailer to aid and assist horses when loading since the horse can simply walk up the ramp. A ramp load also adds a measure of safety when backing a horse off of the trailer because it eliminates the need for the horse to step down when disembarking.

Ramp load on a bumper pull horse trailer

Bear in mind that anytime a ramp is used it must be solid and of good quality. A hollow sounding ramp can spook the horse. The ramp should be constructed of materials that are not slippery since lack of good traction could cause injuries. It is also advisable to select a ramp that is low in relation to the ground, and if possible, a spring assisted ramp helps with raising and lowering it.

Step up horse trailers are preferred by owners who want their horses to simply step up into the trailer. When choosing a step up trailer make sure that the bumper step edge is encapsulated, cushioned, or covered to reduce the chance that the horse might skin or injure its leg when backing and stepping down simultaneously out of the trailer.

Materials Used in Most Horse Trailer Types

Steel horse trailers are less expensive and provide added protection in the event of an accident, since steel is the strongest construction material available in horse trailers. In addition, repairs on a steel horse trailer tend to be simpler and less expensive than other types of trailers.

The two big draw backs with steel trailers are the tendency for them to rust and the fact that steel trailers tend to be heavier to tow. Using galvaneal and powder coated materials are good options to help prevent rust from becoming an issue.

Aluminum horse trailers are a popular choice with horse owners because of their lighter weight, in addition to the fact that they do not rust. There are some negative properties of aluminum however, that should be taken into account when making your trailer choice. Although aluminum trailers don’t rust, they do have a tendency to corrode from animal excretions.

In addition, an aluminum horse trailer may offer less protection in a collision since aluminum tends to be rigid when impacted and does not absorb a jolt well. Also make sure that any aluminum roof in a trailer is insulated to aid in horse comfort since aluminum conducts heat readily on hot days.

Hybrid horse trailer types combine materials from both worlds during horse trailer construction. Hybrids utilize multiple materials allowing for the best use of each. One popular hybrid combination involves using steel for the frame and the chassis and using aluminum for the outer covering or skin of the trailer. This combination is very versatile allowing for both strength and lighter weight, coupled with the ease of maintenance that the aluminum covering offers.

Mini Horse Trailer Types

Miniature horse trailer with equipment storage in frontMiniature horse trailers provide the means for miniature horse owners to ferry their minis to work and play in the style, comfort, and safety afforded to them in trailers built specifically and proportionately to accommodate their smaller stature and specific needs.

A “true” miniature horse trailer is not a scaled down horse model, but instead, is deliberately designed to be the correct “fit” for the mini horses. For example, a shortened standard horse trailer might have a lowered roof, but the windows remain too high up for the miniature horse to be able to see out of. Contrast that with a “true” miniature trailer where the windows have been designed to be at eye level for the minis to look out of with ease.

Miniature horse haulers are a horse trailer type of box without the wheels which simply slides into the back of a truck bed. Some people prefer this for several reasons, including the ability to use the rear pass thru glass of the truck to be able to see the horses at all times, plus you can heat and cool the mini hauler in the same manner for great comfort for your “travelers”.

Additional advantages to the miniature horse haulers are that they eliminate the chance for flat tires and mechanical break downs while on the road, and save lots of money in gas usage. Miniature horse haulers also save maintenance costs since there are no moving parts to break down.

Get more information about miniature horse trailers and local dealers in our mini horse trailer directory.

Find Quality Horse Trailer Types Near You!

As a starting point in your search for the right choice of trailer, this guide identifies the basic differences, pros and cons in most horse trailer designs. For more assistance, visit our directory of trailer dealerships on the East Coast.