Jan 3, 2014

Trailer Shopping - The Basics–Part 1




I didn’t really have plans to buy a new trailer this year.  I knew it was in our future but hadn’t thought a lot about it until a friend started looking and then I got the bug really bad!  I had been camping with horses long enough to know what I really wanted and thought would work for us and to actually apply that to a search was exciting.  The biggest problem was not having a big enough dealership in the area to be able to really shop the brands and options.  Trailer shopping for us is really an online adventure via Horsetrailerworld.com, Facebook or Craigslist.  And I have to say that if I bought the first one I liked online, sight unseen, I would have been disappointed.

Luckily for me, the AQHA World Show was going on in Oklahoma City about the time that we started looking.  Not exactly in our backyard, but a couple tanks of gas would get us there and back.  What they bring to World is the best of the best and most more than our budget, it really gave us a flavor of the quality of trailers and what we could or couldn’t afford. 

Since we bought ours fairly new and lightly used, I’ve had a lot of people ask me about finding out value of trailers and how to finance a new trailer and lots of other questions.  So I thought I would share here what I learned.  I am in no way an expert and a lot of this is based on opinion or what I learned from others who may or may not be experts either.  But it could be a starting place for you.  I realize as I begin to write this that I am not even sure where to begin. 




First, as far as I know, there is no Kelly Blue Book for horse trailers.  And even if there were, many our after market conversions which increase their value.  The best idea I had was to look at a lot of trailers online – even those I couldn’t afford – so I could get an idea of what I would be paying.  Unfortunately, it was more than I wanted to pay, but then again, you get what you pay for, right?

I learned that what I wanted in a trailer would most likely cost me over $25,000.  In my research of middle market trailers (the Chevys, not the Cadillacs), 3 horse with full living quarters, I would expect to pay over $25,000 if the trailer was newer than a 2005.  If it was older than a 2005, I would hope to pay less than $25,000.  There are exceptions such as onboard generators and other goodies that probably increased the value initially, but that is where I drew my line.  And after drawing that line, I decided I would most likely be spending more than $25,000.  While I saw some nice trailers older than 2005 and under $25k, I had to take into consideration that the appliances were older, the floor was older, the tires were probably older, etc.  My Sundowner was all wood paneling and while tastefully done, it was dated.  I was ready for a change. 




I am sure many of you have enough cash handy to buy a new trailer but not in this household!  After I determined I was going with a pricier trailer, I had to figure out how to pay for it.  At the World Show, I could have financed a $70k trailer for 15 years!  And while the interest rate wasn’t loan shark high, the idea of continuing to pay for something for 15 years – long after the new wore off – was just not appealing at all.  Luckily, the credit union at my job offers RV loans the same as auto loans low interest rates and financing up to 72 months depending on the year of the trailer.  When doing the paper work, my loan officer told me that this is the first “horse trailer RV” she has ever financed.  And she did have some sort of “book” to go off of as she was asking me questions about appliances and slideouts, etc.  When she got to “bridle hooks” she did ask me what the heck that was all about? 






First, you need to decide on the size of the trailer and if you have the truck that can pull it.  To give you an idea of what a trailer weighs, my 2 horse all aluminum Sundowner was 17’ on the floor with a weekender living quarters.  It weighed 4,300 lbs. empty.   Add 2 horses (2,100 lbs), 500 lbs of tack and supplies, 320 lbs of water (8 lb per gallon), etc., you will see that it adds up quickly.  My new trailer is a 3 horse aluminum skinned over steal with an 11’ living quarters, 25’ on the floor and weighs just over 10,000 lbs empty. 

Can I haul it on my current truck?  While there was a lot of things I took into consideration, the important number to me was “GCWR”.  GCWR is an acronym for Gross Combined Weight rating. This is the set limit for the maximum weight that should be considered by a vehicle including what the vehicle weighs and what the load or what it is towing weighs.  You will need to know the following numbers: 

  • What does your towing vehicle weigh with a full tank of fuel & passengers?
  • What does the trailer you are interested in purchasing weigh (ask for “empty weight” or “curb weight” – NOT what it can carry)?
  • Consider the weight of your tack, horses, hay, water, camping supplies, etc.
  • Add the weight of the first three bullets to get your GCWR.  Then get out the owners manual of your towing vehicle and what is stated for your particular truck. 
  • Do you have enough truck to pull what you want to buy?

Do note that not all trucks are created equal.  A 2500 diesel Ram with 4WD will most likely have a higher GCWR than a 2500 hemi Ram with or without 4WD.  And there will probably be a difference between 2500 Ram and the same 2500 Chevy.  I’d also like to mention that when I had a 2 horse aluminum trailer, I considered whether or not it could be pulled with a 1/2 ton truck (1500).  At that time, there were very few 1/2 tons (if any) that were rated for that GCWR.  I know people do all the time.  But anytime you are pulling a load heavier than it is rated, you are working your truck harder than it is equipped to work.  I want my truck to last a long time.  I think we over-pulled with our old Chevy truck and that is why we had so many issues.  In addition, you want a truck that can stop a trailer.  Do your homework if you don’t plan to replace the truck you currently own. 






There are a lot of questions that go into that decision.  The type of truck you drive, how good you are at maintaining a vehicle and of course, your budget.  Aluminum trailers are your most expensive trailer.  I learned quickly that a brand spanking new aluminum trailer with all the things I wanted in it was not in my price range.  The Elites, Harts, 4-Stars and other top of the line would have to be pretty old for me to afford.  New, their “basic” featured trailers were $60 – $70k.  And they went up from there.  (The one pictured above is $280,000).

Those in what I consider the “middle market” with Sundowner being at the high end of that middle market were still more than I really thought we should spend.  Again, looking at options that I wanted, I would most likely be spending $50k give or take.  Big Gulp!  Some of the trailers you might recognize that I would put in this category are Featherlite, Exiss, Lakota, and Sooner to name a few. 




The one I ended up buying, a Hoosier Maverick, is aluminum skinned trailer over steel.  The biggest concern I have read online is that the two metals don’t play nice with each other.  However, on these same forums, owners of these type of trailers defended them by saying they are not only affordable but they would be a repeat customer.  And some of the Sundowners are the same composition.  While I was really close to signing on the dotted line of what could have been a 15 year commitment on an Elite with a custom design (big sigh…), we ended up going with the more affordable Maverick. 

Bison is another trailer that I hear a lot of negative about from people who haven’t owned one but positive from people who do own one.  I think perhaps they may be just a victim of bad press.  It is made a lot like the Hoosier – many are aluminum over steel frame but with a wood floor but they also make an all aluminum trailer, too.  We did not see anything that jumped out at us that would steer us from a Bison.  You see a lot of them on the road and a lot of them for sale.  They are affordable and what we saw, a nicely equipped Chevy. 

We did not look at any all-steel trailers this time around.  We have owned a Titan and had no issues at all with it.  We also have looked at Trails West in the past and were impressed with how they were put together.






We were shopping for a 3-horse trailer.  Like the Three Bears, we had a 4-horse (too big) and a 2-horse (too little).  A 3-horse would be just right.  I didn’t want to pull over a 30 foot (on the floor) trailer and wanted the space in the living quarters, not in the stock part of the trailer.  Because this was non-negotiable in my search, the market was smaller for me.  In addition, 3-horse is the most popular size so the good used ones went fast!  You do have more options when you are open to other sizes, but don’t buy what you don’t want.  Be patient.




Two words.  Eight foot.  Non-negotiable for me.  If you get a 10’ living quarters, you gain 10 square feet over a seven foot wide trailer.  This is my first 8’ wide trailer and what a difference!  Don’t worry about it being too wide to pull; your 7’ trailer is just as wide over the fenders.  And did I mention the extra square foot? 






Wow.  Do slide outs add a lot of room!  Whether a dinette or a couch, pushed out really opens up the floor space.  I really thought my next trailer would have one.  Well, it doesn’t.  While price may have ended up being a factor, John would not get on board with a slide out.  First, he didn’t like how they were made and secondly, he thought too many things could go wrong with it.  From not having the power to putting it back in to twigs and dirt getting caught up in it.  He had a long list of doomsday issues and I decided to choose my battles and this wasn’t one of them.  The 8’ bought me a lot more space than I had before.  Perhaps my next one will have a slide. 




Once again, I had a trailer with mangers and one without and definitely with is better.  It would be a deal breaker for me not to have mangers.  And don’t get hung up about the horses not having enough room as the mangers are under their necks.  Unless they are a giraffe or ride with their heads out the window, their space is the same with or without mangers.  The only time I think mangers should be considered is if you haul something other than horses and need the full width of the trailer.  But even then, it would be tough for me to give up the mangers. 

We have never had one with a haypod or hayracks before.  While I think it would be nice to have, putting the hay up there would be an issue without a tractor with a loader or some other heavy equipment.  It is much easier for me to put hay in the back of the truck or in the stall.  They would be nice for hauling generators (that never come down) or water tanks. 




Most of the larger trailers have drop down windows or some sort of window designed to give the maximum airflow for your horses.  My Sundowner had slide windows and while they were okay, I much prefer the dropdowns on the head side.  You will also see them on the butt side but I learned they were more common in the hotter weather states. 


horse head


And while I have your attention, NEVER NEVER NEVER do this!  It goes without saying that the least that could happen is the horse will get something in its eye.  But there are a lot of worse things that could happen.  Please, just put a fly mask on your horse when traveling and keep its head behind the bars like it was meant to be. 




I had one with a ramp and I had one without.  I hated the ramp!  It had nothing to do with how the horses loaded with it, but everything to do with having to open the ramp and then 2 dutch doors to unload one horse in the cold, windy Nebraska weather.  Or anytime for that matter.  If I haul one horse, I only want to open one door.  If I store stuff in the stalls, I only want to open one door to get it out.  Let’s just say to me the ramp was a PITA and I will never have another one. 






I’ve had a trailer with one and one without one.  I could have gone either way.  The important thing to remember is the sun moves and the awning does not.  So you may still be chasing shade.  We were always very paranoid with the wind was blowing and ripping it down.  We would never sleep with it out or leave camp with it out. 




I’ve reached that age where the warranty is up on some of my body parts.  My shoulder is one of them.  I’ve found that anything I can do to take the pressure off will help preserve it for the time being.  Jacking up a trailer is a waste of good shoulder strength.  If you have never pressed a button and watched the trailer go up and down, I would suggest you do so at the next opportunity.  It is truly a life changing event.  Enough said. 




Things you may not think about are items on the outside of your trailer that come in handy while camping.  Electrical hookups, sewer tanks, fresh water tank for you and your horses, gas lines for gas grills, and outdoor kitchens.  In addition, try to find a trailer that has 2 batteries and 2 propane bottles.  Then you always have a spare.

We do not have a generator.  Do I want one?  Heck, yeah!  But it was not a “must” when purchasing a trailer.  They are available after market and really, in my years of travel, there have only been a handful of times that we would have “needed” one.  Used one?  Yes.  But needed?  No.  It is on my list of things to buy in the future.  If you can find one with your new trailer, you scored well!




Tires are expensive.  While tires may look to have little wear, the age of the tire could cause you as much grief as a worn tire.  Tire Identification Numbers are used to identify the week and year the tire was produced.  See photo above for an example of a tire that was produced in 2007.   


While admittedly I have not hit every option available on the outside of the trailer, I tried to include all those items you might look for when shopping for your next trailer.  I am sure by next year there will be even more gadgets available which is another reason not to tie yourself in with a 15 year loan! 



Next, make a list of what you want in your living quarters.  What are “deal breakers vs. nice-to-haves”.  For example, a propane furnace was a deal breaker for me.  I do not want to spend another fall in a cold trailer.  Granted, you could have one installed but I have found that saying you will have something installed and doing it are two different realities.  Consider for yourself how likely that would happen. 


My next post will go over some of the items I found important when shopping for my trailer. 


Stay tuned.


  1. Good run down, we are one of those Bison folks you talk about. We have had two and enjoyed both of them. Were there things I would have liked better, you bet. But the price point was great and I talked to a lot of folks from other Bison owners to the local trailer repair places and didn't hear anything that made me change my mind. Had good luck with the first one so why not go with them for the second.

    1. That is good to know and exactly what I have been hearing from Bison owners. The ones I have seen are nicely equipped and look comfortable. Being a repeat customer speaks for itself. Thank you for sharing that.

  2. This is a fantastic post (and I know you've put a ton of time into it!) One day, when I upgrade the whole shebang, I'm gonna use this for reference!

    1. Thanks, Funder. It did feel a bit like a term paper. But the topic was fun!

  3. Tammy, I'm so glad I saw this post. Article really. We are getting ready to go trailer shopping for exactly what you got. 3 horses with LQ. Kurt is asking why you went for the aluminum clad steel, as opposed to all aluminum? If you get a chance, email me so we can talk. I want to ask you some other stuff. ponyhoney@aol

    By the way, I love what you did when you added the color to it. I saw that in the other post. Looks fantastic!

  4. So, how is the trailer workingv oout for you? Any issues, problems? I'm looking at getting a maverick.

    1. I have gone thru 2 seasons with it and put on over 20,000 miles and I'm very happy with the trailer. I did have a weld break on the saddle rack during the last trip but that is the only thing I have had go wrong (knock wood). Seem to be a good trailer for the price. Good luck!

  5. Kathleen Belmont, NH3:21 AM

    I am trailer shopping and going crazy trying to find everything I want in one trailer. I live on the east coast and everything I want is on the West Coast. It's becoming very frustrating after having looked at over 5000 horse trailer ads.

    I was one of the Bison owners who sold mine as quickly as possible because it leaked horribly and had rusted out in a very short time. I had a girlfriend who owned 2 Bison goosenecks and they both leaked and flooded her bed and dressing room. But I do know others who have had very good luck with them.

    This is a fantastic article. I'm saving it to use as reference.


I am so glad you stopped by and look forward to hearing from you! Do come again.