There’s no doubt, horses are beautiful animals. And their owners want to take the best care of them. But when your money is going into making sure your horse is looked after, you may not have enough cash to splash on a full sized pick up truck to be your tow vehicle.
While they may be nice to have, and compliments on your rig are always good for the ego, but do you really need a pickup, when there are so many smaller, but capable, options around? And is a crossover going to able to tow a horse trailer, or do you need to step up to a large SUV to tow?
There will be plenty of people that tell you that you need a huge pickup. A Ford F-350 should do the trick nicely. And if you really want to spoil yourself, why not an F-550.
But here’s the thing. Those sort of vehicles are fine if all you’re using them for is towing. But try taking an F-550 down to the shops for a loaf of bread and some milk. It’s honestly a bit of a mission.
What if there was an SUV that would do the work of the tow vehicle and the family vehicle, combining the two roles? Really, having a super-sized truck during the week when you’re not towing the trailer could be more painful than it’s worth.
That’s why we’ve outlined the top ten SUVs which are best for towing a horse trailer below. But to work out which one is best for you is going to take a little time.
So let’s go through some of the things you’ll need to keep in mind.
The first thing to do is work out the numbers
It sounds kind of obvious, but do you know how much your horse(s) weigh? If not, it’s time to get out the scales, because you’re going to need to know that figure to find out what kind of trailer you need first.
This comes down to your needs. Do you want it for just one horse? Or will you be carrying two? This will make a huge difference in size, and also length, and therefore weight (More metal equals more weight).
Your horse (or horses) may have certain needs, so you may need a slightly bigger trailer than the next person. It may need to be wider, or taller. If you have more windows, then that may add to the weight as the openings need to be strengthened. Are you going to be carrying a lot of water? If you are, then it’s worth thinking about how much that adds to the trailer’s weight – remember, each litre of water equals a kilogram of weight.
So, once you’ve determined the trailer, you can move on to the next step – finding out which vehicle is suitable.
Because horse trailers (also known as horse floats) aren’t the lightest pieces of equipment when they’re loaded up with a couple of thoroughbreds, you’re going to need an vehicle with a fair bit of torque. Yes, forget power – torque is what you need.
Torque is the how much twist your engine makes, and once sent through the gearbox and differential it boils down to the pulling power of your engine. It’s what enables it to tow a heavy trailer and carry several passengers at once.
Diesels traditionally have more torque than gasoline engines, which is why huge trucks often have diesels under the bonnet.
But with the advances in turbocharging technology, gasoline engines are now producing a lot more torque than ever before. In fact, some are rivalling diesel engines – check out the Bentley Bentayga W12 with 664lb-ft of torque.
So, choosing a torquey vehicle, no matter what its overall size is will be the key. And this is why we say that it’s not always about the size of your two vehicle. Full size pickups can be matched by large SUVs in many cases, so it’s what’s under the hood that counts.
Trailer towing capacity
This is the most critical thing you need to think about. The limit for most midsize SUVs is around 4400lbs, and that’s not so much because of the engine, but rather, the gearbox.
Towing puts a massive strain on the gearbox which is constantly shuffling ratios to keep the engine in its peak torque band to enable you to tow. In fact, because it’s changing gears all the time, it’s the weakest link in the whole driveline, which is why some manufacturers keep the tow capacity to 4400lbs to be on the safe side.
You may also have heard that a manual transmission will be stronger and last longer, but while that may have been true several years ago, it’s not the case today.
Automatic transmissions won’t suffer from clutch wear like a manual vehicle will, and with both of your hands on the wheel instead of one hand changing gears, you’re able to steer your vehicle more safely.
You’ll also notice that all of the vehicles for towing we’ve listed below have auto gearboxes. That’s because the auto of today is definitely up to the task and should be your, ahem, automatic choice. Check out the Cayenne towing in the video below; it has an automatic transmission.
First, you’re going to need to find out what the towball down-weight is.
If that term isn’t familiar to you, it’s how much weight is being pushed onto the towball by the trailer. There are some towballs that can only take 220 lbs, whereas others can take 350 lbs.
How to find out the towball down-weight
You can ask the trailer manufacturer for this detail, or you can use a rule of thumb, being the towball down weight is usually around 10 per cent of the total weight of the loaded trailer. This is rough, so you may want to find a weighbridge and do some sums.
The weight of the horse trailer
To know what vehicle you need, you need to know the weight of your horse trailer.
Look for the trailer manufacturer’s sticker which contains the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR). This is the maximum load possible for that trailer. The sticker may also have the empty weight listed. If not, then you’ll need to work it out on a weighbridge.
When you know what you’ll usually carry, adding the weight of the horse(s), feed, water and any riding gear, add that to the empty weight and you’ll have a rough idea of what you’ll be towing.
To give you an idea, if you have a two horse trailer (a tag along style), it will probably weigh somewhere between 4500lbs and 5500lbs.
Choosing the right SUV
Immediately you can see that a crossover with a 4400lbs tow capacity will be out of the question. With a couple of 1500lbs horses on board, the weight quickly adds up. And to ensure you’re not on the limit, you need a vehicle that can tow at least 6000-7000lbs.
Forget what the sales people will tell you – “It’ll be fine” simply doesn’t cut it when it comes to towing – make sure the vehicle you get is sorted for the job. There needs to be a healthy margin of safety.
The other thing to keep in mind is that the tow capacity listed on each vehicle includes only the trailer, and no passengers in the car. Once you start adding people, you actually reduce the amount you can carry in your vehicle.
So if you decided to tow your two horse trailer and then put seven people in the vehicle, then you’re realistically going to need to have an even higher tow rating.
Also bear in mind the overall size. Buying an SUV with a long wheelbase is worth considering as the longer the wheelbase, the more stable the vehicle, which is especially important when towing on the highway at high speed.
This is why full size SUVs are definitely worth a look – check out the list below for our picks.
The weight of the vehicle will be critical, though. It’s all well and good to have something light and uses less fuel, but if that trailer starts wagging, there’s only so much that electric brakes can do. Having a bulkier and heavier machine will make it easier to control the trailer – or at least to stop the trailer controlling you.
Of course, it’s worth being reasonable – no need to buy a semi to tow a couple of horses.
Of course, as we mentioned earlier, having a lot of torque is what you need, which is the reason that our list has a lot of V8-powered machines. Clearly, more torque and towing means more fuel used.
Towing a horse isn’t going to be cheap, so be prepared for the gas bills that go along with it.
Rear wheel drive or all wheel drive?
Most large pickups are rear wheel drive only, as are some large SUVs, and it makes sense, with the trailer’s hitch putting most of the weight over the driven wheels. However a snowy winter will quickly see to it that you’d wish you had all wheel drive.
All wheel drive allows all four wheels to distribute the drive power and putting that to the road more effectively, especially in slippery conditions. Our pick would be an AWD machine, and it’s safer even when you’re not towing a horse trailer.
Tow vehicle construction
Most of the older SUVs we’re used to were made with the same technology as a truck – a ladder frame with a body attached to it. While it’s definitely a heavier construction method, it’s by far the strongest way to make an SUV.
Today, you can buy both body-on-frame SUVs as well as unibody or monocoque bodied machines. These use the body to form part of the chassis, instead of the body sitting on the chassis. It’s a lighter method and also gives more space inside.
But when towing something as heavy as a horse float with a couple of equines inside, the ladder framed SUV is going to be much heavier and more stable on the road.
Of course, times are changing – both Porsche and Volkswagen tout their SUV’s towing capacity, and both of these are monocoque construction.
Fitting the trailer
When you’re attaching the trailer to the tow vehicle, it’s crucial to ensure that the trailer is sitting on the towball properly. Seems obvious, but when it’s on, give it a push or a kick to make sure it has slipped over the ball.
Here’s a good demonstration of how to hook up your trailer properly, and what to look out for.
Of course, if you’re towing with a gooseneck style hitch, then attaching is a different ball game altogether, so check out this video below, which goes through how to attach a gooseneck trailer properly.
For most horse trailers, a standard tag-along hitch will do the job just fine, so you don’t have to go and buy a pickup just to have a gooseneck style connection. And that’s why we haven’t listed any pickups in the recommendations below.
One area which both gooseneck and tag-along trailers share the same issue is braking.
Electric brakes are a necessity (hydraulic brakes will do, but aren’t nearly as effective), and if the trailer does start to sway, you’re able to tap on the brake controller to reduce the wiggle.
When it’s fitted, also make sure the breakaway chains are always attached, too.
Top ten SUVs for towing
We’ve listed ten full size SUVs, for both their towing capacity, but also their space and driveability.
- 2018 Ford Expedition – Max towing: 9,300 lbs
- 2018 Lincoln Navigator – Max towing: 8,700 lbs
- 2018 Dodge Durango SRT – Max towing: 8,700 lbs
- 2018 Chevrolet Tahoe – Max towing: 8,600 lbs
- 2018 GMC Yukon – Max towing: 8,500 lbs
- 2018 Nissan Armada – Max towing: 8,500 lbs
- 2018 Infiniti QX80 – Max towing: 8,500 lbs
- 2018 Chevrolet Suburban – Max towing: 8,300 lbs
- 2018 Cadillac Escalade – Max towing: 8,300 lbs
- 2018 Toyota Land Cruiser – Max towing: 8,100 lbs
Of course, there are plenty of full size pickups around, but they do limit your passenger options. And clearly a crossover can’t tow a horse trailer. But with our list above, you should be able to find a suitable option.
A few other things to consider for the tow vehicle would be factory-fitted tow packages.
If it’s available, this gets the vehicle specially ready for towing, such as adding in stronger rear suspension – which stops the springs from sagging after a few years – as well as stronger brakes to allow for the extra weight. After all, electric brakes on the trailer will only do so much.
Tow packages can also add a radiator with extra volume and therefore cooling capacity, and also a stronger transmission which sometimes includes different shift points. Some tow packages also include larger wing mirrors, or mirrors that are further out from the door so you can more closely monitor the trailer.
We’d also suggest getting used to towing the horses as well, by taking them on small trips. Not just for the horses sake, but for the driver as well.
Unlike a normal trailer, horse trailers have live animals on board – they like to move around. And when their centre of gravity sits a few feet off the deck, that means that if they move, the trailer is going to move as well.
It takes time and practice (read: skill) to get used to a trailer that seemingly moves all on its own. Don’t set out on a cross country journey on your first outing. Spend a few hours getting a feel for how it all comes together when driving.
Another top tip is to ensure your trailer and vehicle’s tyres are all in serviceable condition. The last thing you want is a blowout halfway down the interstate. You can read our piece on tyres here.
Follow these tips and you’ll have many years of happy motoring with happy horses.