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Trailers - slant vs. straight-load

From: Eric

Dear Jessica, I have just discovered your Horse-Sense mail service. It is great. I would like to comment on the question of "Trailer Selection". I purchased a Sooner slant load trailer last year. I did some research before getting it.

WESTERN HORSEMAN; January 1995, page 78: "Slant-Load or Straight-load? Slant! Slant! Slant! The angled configuration of the slant-load trailer enables your horse to ride more comfortably and safely. Rather than balance himself through starts and stops, your horse can lean into the dividers and absorb the impact with little effort. Most importantly, in the event that you have to make a sudden hard stop, your horse is not propelled directly into the manger or over the bars into the horse in front of him, as would happen in a straight-load. He is simply thrown a few inches to the right to lean against the divider. Impact and chance for injury are greatly reduced. Horses travel most comfortably if they can drop their heads to the midchest area in order to balance. If a horse is not fractious, I like to tie him loose enough that he can touch his nose to the floor. A slant-load enables you to do this without worry of slamming a horse's head into the wall during a sudden stop. Personal safety is also enhanced with a slant-load. You can lead your horse in without being trapped. This is especially comforting if you are handling strange or fractious horses."

HORSE & RIDER; February 1995, page 51: "In terms of how well horses haul, most experts are convinced that the slant-load configuration is the best choice, for a number of reasons: Horses tend to load more readily into one (a slant-load is more openly inviting than a side-by-side trailer); horses have better stability standing sideways than standing straight ahead (because they can more easily respond to braking or accelerating without falling forward); and they're kept separated by diagonal gates, or bars. If your horses are difficult at unloading time, you also can turn them around and walk them out a slant-load trailer, eliminating the need to back them out. Furthermore, a slant-load trailer, with compartment dividers easily affixed to an interior side wall, can accommodate livestock, and other cargo." This article list some of the disadvantages of a slant- load, size; they are bigger, and they cost more.

One of my horses is just over 16h and he fits in the trailer just fine. The stall space if measured diagonally is 10 ft. (8ft if measured front to back. I have seen some trailers that had adjustable dividers that could be attached to the wall in one of three spaces which changes the length ,and width, of the stall. I have read other articles which said that a small horse on a long trip may have to hold his head up slightly in a side-by-side trailer to clear the manger which may cause him to have a sore neck. I remember one article that said that a horse hauled loose in an open stock trailer will stand at a slant.

Thanks, Eric

Hi Eric! You clearly did your homework carefully, good for you! If you and your horses are happy with your trailer, that's all that matters.

There are a few things not mentioned in those particular articles, though, that may affect other buyers when they select a new trailer. The slant-load vs straight-load question isn't quite as black-and-white as those articles made it appear.

Loading: Horses don't necessarily load more easily into a slant -- they will load very easily into an open, airy, light trailer of ANY kind. Horses are generally quite happy to load into a Thoroughbred-style front-door trailer: the handler can lead the horse in and then duck under the chest bar. Horses will also load more easily when they have been taught to load correctly - and when they aren't anticipating a rough ride, which has much more to do with the driver than with the trailer design.

Unloading: It's not possible to lead horses out of all -- or even most -- slant-load trailers! If you have a large three-horse slant-load trailer and small horses, you can generally lead the last horse out, but the first two will need to back out unless they are truly small and short-backed. Thoroughbreds and other long-backed breeds will almost always need to back out.

Dropping heads: It's very true that horses travel much better when they can drop their heads, both for muscle comfort and because their respiratory systems can function MUCH better that way. But again, unless you have small, short-backed horses in a slant-load, they won't be able to do this even if you tie them long. There just isn't enough room in most slant-load trailers -- the stall length is measured diagonally, and horses don't stand diagonally! If you measure the stall length from nose to tail, there is usually significantly less space available in a slant-load -- sometimes several feet less -- than there is in a comparably-sized straight load. Again, the horse would be better off either loose in a stock trailer (or in half of a stock trailer) or in a straight-load Thoroughbred-style trailer with only a chest bar in front, and a LOT of room in front of the chest bar to accomodate the horse's choice of head/neck positions during the trip.

The dividers in a slant-load are similar to those in a straight-load, and in either case, a padded partial divider is vastly preferable to a floor-length divider. Horses should be able to spread their feet to balance themselves, and a partial divider will allow them to do just that.

It's true that horses will naturally tend to place themselves at a slant; many will turn all the way around and face backward, which is probably the MOST natural way for them to travel in a trailer. Unfortunately, few trailers, and no towing vehicles, are designed to allow this! Horses like to stretch to take up whatever space is available, which is why it's always nice to remove the divider or tie it back if you are hauling ONE horse in a two-horse trailer of any kind. But whether they are expressing a strong preference for travelling at a slant, or whether they are simply standing on the diagonal because that allows them more freedom of movement, isn't entirely clear.

Some people perfer straight-load trailers; some prefer slant-loads. Either way, it's a good idea to learn as much as you can about BOTH types and all the variations available, before you make up your mind to buy one -- whatever you get is something you and your horses will probably be living with for a long, long time.

- Jessica

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