When horse owners decide to transport their horse for a short or long distance drive, they tend to focus on choosing the most suitable trailer to either purchase or rent. Of course, since the horse’s safety and comfort is of primary concern, the choice of trailer is key. That being said, one of the biggest mistakes people make is neglecting to also consider the tow vehicle they intend to utilize as well. The overall safety and well being of your horse, the vehicle driver and passengers, as well as others on the road, depends upon choosing a vehicle that can handle the combined weight of your trailer, horse, passengers and equipment. The key metrics to keep in mind to ensure you have the right trailer/tow truck combination are the Trailer GVWR and the Tow Vehicle GCWR.
If you already have a trailer picked out (or already own one), and are ready to choose the proper tow vehicle, you need to know how much your trailer weighs. More specifically, you need to know the GVWR, or Gross Vehicle Weight Rating. The GVWR, which is usually printed on a sticker on the inside door of your trailer, represents the manufacturer’s recommended capacity, or the maximum total weight of the trailer itself and whatever you are hauling in it. Importantly, the trailer should never be loaded past the GVWR.
Why use the GVWR as the weight metric that will help determine the tow vehicle you use, even if you never intend to load the trailer to maximum capacity? Because that will help give a margin of safety to the driver in light of the uneven weight distribution of a horse (they are top heavy), and the shifting weight that results from the fact that you will have live cargo.
Tow Vehicle GCWR
Now that you know the weight of your trailer when it is full, the second key metric that is important is the gross combined weight rating (GCWR) of your towing vehicle. Similar to the GVWR of the trailer, the GCWR of the tow vehicle represents the maximum recommended weight that a vehicle can safely pull, which includes the weight of the vehicle itself, its passengers and its load, including the fully loaded trailer.
As a result, the GCWR of your tow vehicle needs to be higher than the weight of the tow vehicle, plus the GVWR, or the maximum total weight of the fully loaded trailer. In other words, as the required weight of the trailer and the amount for the horses you’re pulling increase, the GCWR of the vehicle must increase as well. Say, for example, the GVWR of your horse trailer is 7,000 lb, and you are considering a half-ton (5,000 lbs) pick-up truck such as the Chevy 1500. You will need to make sure that the vehicle has a GCWR of at least 12,000 lbs. Of course, the closer you think you will actually be to the 12,000 lb limit, the more you should probably consider the next truck size up. The additional cost of $3,000 or so should more than pay for itself in less wear and tear on the vehicle over time.
It is also important to consider the terrain you expect to ride most frequently. Mountain driving, for example, is difficult on the ascent, but even more difficult on the brakes on the way down, so it’s better to have a significantly higher truck capacity if you plan on hauling your horse in the mountains often. Keep in mind, also, that depending upon the weight of your trailer, you may be able to use an SUV or other light truck, unless you are hauling a gooseneck trailer, which requires a pick up truck or larger unit with a bed for the gooseneck hitch.
As a general rule, it is best to be conservative and choose a more powerful trailer/tow capacity combination than you think you will need. The bottom line is, maneuverability and the ability to accelerate and/or brake without difficulty can be the key to a pleasant trip, for sure, but more importantly, it can also be the difference between life or death on the road.