Several significant changes have occurred to the trucks we pull our horse trailers with, and to the trailers themselves, since we last reviewed trucks six years ago. Some of these changes may affect the most important factor in this transport process—safety. Horse trailers already represent some of the heaviest loads non-commercial drivers pull on the highway, and trailers are getting heavier. This places greater demands on truck and driver.
The most significant change in trucks, though, has been brought about by the manufacturers’ market battle, which has led to a wide variety of platform setups. A quick web search found over 30 different setups for a Ford F250. Your grandfather might have had four or five such options for his F250. Options that affect towing capacity include engine and transmission size, cab size, bed length, rear end axle ratio, tires and traction (4WD/2WD), plus braking and hitch systems. Changes unrelated to safety include such things as fuel economy and adjustments to meet new fuel regulations for diesels, and comfort and other luxury options not usually found on trucks in the past.
If you’re looking for a new truck, you must first know the weight of the trailer you will tow—the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR). This is the maximum amount that the trailer will weigh, fully loaded with horses and gear. Trucks use the same rating. Engineers use this information, along with information on the weight of passengers and cargo, to size things like the cooling system, engine and transmission, axle ratio and brakes. Choose a truck with a comfortable safety factor built in. That is, if your trailer’s GVWR is 10,000 pounds and a vehicle has a towing capacity of 10,500 pounds, it would be best to move up in capacity.
Trailer weight is a key issue. People are pulling heavier trailers. This doesn’t necessarily mean all trailers are getting heavier; use of aluminum and polymer plastics has, in fact, reduced trailer weights for some models. But if you are hauling more than a couple of horses and their feed, along with other supplies for a number of days, towing weights go up quickly.
In addition, living quarters trailers are following the trend of many other luxury items: they are getting bigger—and heavier. A quick tour of options found on these trailers includes such things as pullout vestibules, marble showers and sinks, water heaters, leather couches, and ducted AC/heat systems. One trailer we found had a GVWR of more than 20,000 lbs. If you have a newer trailer or are planning to purchase one in the near future, take its weight into consideration as you shop.
Expanding trailer weights have led to an increase in what is now called heavy range capacity trucks, such as the Ford F450, with a towing capacity of 24,000 pounds, and the Sports Chassis P2 by Freightliner, which can haul considerably more than that. However, be aware that these upper range weight categories may require a commercial driver’s license to operate them. All states have combined truck-trailer weight limits (gross combined weight rating, GCWR) that determine what weight rigs you can operate without a commercial driver’s license (CDL). The GCWR of the F450 and the 20,000-pound trailer cited above would exceed the non-CDL limit of 26,000 pounds in many states.