We’ve all seen the typical picture of a cowboy driving his rusty truck with his horses in tow. However, it’s a more unusual sight to see a modern SUV with a horse trailer in tow. It is possible, but it is important to know which SUVs have the ability to tow a horse trailer.
What is the Best SUV for Towing a Horse Trailer?
We will discuss all of the factors that play a part in SUVs towing horse trailers, especially taking into consideration the horses and the overall weight of the horse trailers.
Weight of Horses
The most important thing to consider is your horse; that is your priority. Making sure that you give them a comfortable and safe ride in a suitable trailer will be crucial to making it a worthwhile journey for them.
It is important to consider the breed of horse you have. If you are going to tow a Shetland pony vs. a palomino, you’ll have to factor in wildly different weight ranges. A Shetland pony weighs from 400-450 lbs, whereas a palomino weighs anywhere from 1000-1200 lbs. This is going to significantly influence the type of trailer and towing power necessary for the SUV to handle.
Calculating the horses’ weight is the first step to figuring out what type of SUV you need. You also need to consider how much force your horse is able to exert. If you’re transporting an animal that moves around a lot and disrupts the trailer’s torque, you may need to get an SUV that has a higher towing capacity. For example, if your trailer weighs 4,000 lbs total, which includes the gear and horse, it would be wise to find an SUV that can tow at least 5,000 lbs. This will help to account for the extra force that the horse can apply.
Weight of Trailers
The next thing to take into consideration is the trailer that you are going to use for your horses. You want to make sure that is something that fits them comfortably. Once you have found that, you need to assess what the GVW and GTWR are. The GVW (Gross Vehicle Weight) accounts for the weight of the empty trailer. The GTWR (Gross Trailer Weight Rating) accounts for the total mass of the trailer. This includes all of the equipment you are going to use, the horses, and the weight of the empty trailer.
To give an example of this, the average GVW of an empty trailer is between 2,300-3,900 lbs. Once the equipment and the horse(s) have been loaded, the GVWR increases significantly ranging from 7,000-8,000 lbs. Of course, these numbers are going to differ according to the amount of gear you are hauling and if you are towing one or multiple horses.
Towing Capacity of SUV
After these two outside, but crucial, factors have been considered, you can start to figure out what SUV you want to buy. You need to consider the towing capacity and the GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating). These ratings are essential because they indicate the value that is considered to be the maximum load the car is able to haul. Once you know what this rating is, you need to combine that number with the GTWR. This will become the Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating (GCVWR).
It is important that you find a trailer and an SUV that does not exceed the amount of weight you need to haul. If you do not take this factor into consideration, this can lead to stress on the engine, transmission, and brakes. When this occurs, it can make any car difficult (and dangerous) to drive.
Specific SUVs for Horse Trailer Towing
One of the SUVs mentioned above, the Ford Expedition has a high towing capacity. A normal Ford Expedition can tow between 6,600-7,200 lbs, which applies to most models made in the 2000s. There are options to buy a heavy-duty trailer package that has been added in recent years. This allows the towing capacity to maxed out at 9,300 lbs and 9,200 lbs in 4WD.
The Dodge Durango SRT, R/T model also has a decent towing capacity. The towing capacity of these models ranges from 6,200-7,400 lbs. This model of car is also smaller to the Ford Expedition, which may appeal to those who don’t want a big vehicle. A heavy-duty trailer package can also be added to this model which has a maximum of 8,700 lbs.
Although not mentioned above, the Lincoln Navigator has a significant amount of towing capacity as well. The towing capacity without a heavy-duty tow package ranges from 6,200-6,600 lbs of weight. With the package installed, this car’s towing capacity increases to 8,700 lbs and 8,300 lbs for cars in 4WD.
The Nissan Armada is unique to the other models mentioned above because its towing capacity is consistent for all lines. There are no heavy-duty towing packages. The towing capacity of this vehicle model makes begins at 6,000 lbs and maxes out at 8,500 lbs. These towing capacities remain consistent whether the car is in RWD or 4WD.
Disadvantage to SUVs
Perhaps the biggest argument as to why a truck is still the classic choice for towing a horse trailer is the difference between the make. A truck has a chassis design, which is a much more rigid structure. The ladder-like form of the back of the truck helps to provide more stability to the horse trailer being towed. In comparison, the SUV is built with a more body-like form. When traveling, this means that there will be more air pressure hitting the trailer.
Most trucks are rear-wheel drive. This means that the power is generated from the back of the wheels, which is a more effective use of force when pulling a horse trailer. An SUV typically functions in forward drive, which does give it more traction in the rain and snow. However, this limits the control of the trailer because the force reaching the trailer is weaker.
SUV Towing: Additional Thoughts
Not all SUV models are rated equally. As such, the best SUV for towing a horse trailer should have a recommended curb weight of 4,800 pounds because horses are not the dead weight and they shift inside a trailer. This is also so because a typical horse trailer weighs just under 3,000 pounds.
Although the answer seems so simple, the truth is, your SUV may fail to pull the trailer. Weight is all that matters. And to understand weight, you must familiarize yourself with the following terms:
- Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW or GW) – This refers to the actual weight of your SUV, including passengers and other cargo, or your trailer with the dressing, the horse(s), the necessary equipment, and the hay if any.
- Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) – This is the maximum loaded weight your vehicle can handle, as specified by the manufacturer.
- Curb Weight – It is the total weight of your vehicle or trailer with the standard equipment it comes with. This value is not usually indicated on the trailer.
- Towing Capacity – Refers to the maximum allowable weight your SUV can safely tow as indicated by the manufacturer.
- Gross Combination Vehicle Weight Rating (GCVWR) – This is the sum of the maximum weight your SUV and trailer can weigh, as determined by the manufacturer.
Armed with these terms, you can safely determine whether the rig is safe regarding weight distribution.
Usually, it is always a smart move to choose an SUV with the capability of pulling at least 10 percent more than the trailer’s GVWR.
You can confirm this by checking the GCVWR when the whole rig is set up and ready to tow. If your load exceeds these ratings, your SUV will struggle and your engine, transmission, brakes, and other parts might fail.
So, if for instance, you have a two-horse tag-along trailer weighing at least 2,400 lbs., two horses, one weighing 1,000 lbs. and another 1,500 lbs., hay weighing 50 lbs., and 50 lbs. for the bridle, saddle, and a tack box; the trailer’s GVW will be 5,000 lbs.
This is still within its safety limits. As long as the load is equal to or less than this value, then the trailer is towable, but what it means is that you cannot add anything else.
Now, even though we are using these figures as an example, note that you would be better getting a trailer with a higher rating. In this case, a GVWR value of at least 7,000 lbs. is recommended. And that is your horse trailer – enter your SUV.
Don’t make the common mistake that people usually fall for. Some think that because their SUV has a GVWR of 9,000 lbs., for example, they can haul a 7,000-lb trailer.
No. It is more complicated than that. This is because SUVs are not entirely like trucks, they are a little different. Particularly in this context.
How Is Towing A Horse Trailer With An SUV Different From Using A Truck?
• Horses are not dead weight
Although it is entirely possible to tow more than the specified GTWR, it is wise to remember that in this case, you are not pulling dead weight, you are towing a trailer with animals in it. The center of gravity of a horse cannot be compared to that of an inanimate object, it is higher than that.
Also, unlike unmoving objects, horses throw their weight about the inside of the trailer even as you tow. You’d know this if you have ever seen a horse shift his weight or paw and kick while in transit.
When this happens, the otherwise calm trailer will suddenly feel like it is coming to life. And this is why to compensate for the stresses caused by the animal(s), the 10 percent rule applies.
Some experts argue that the actual limit should be between 10 and 20 percent lower than your SUV’s rating.
• The Wheelbase
The wheelbase of your SUV also contributes to the whole maneuverability of the rig. By wheelbase, I mean the length in relation to the trailer, that is, the distance between the front and the rear axle of your vehicle. The argument here is simply that a longer wheelbase increases the safety of towing.
A long wheelbase reduces the chances of the horse trailer’s tongue weight – the force it exerts on the hitch – exceeding the required limits. When the tongue weight is more than the recommended amount, the front end of your SUV could be lifted.
Also, if you have a longer wheelbase, you have more control of the whole rig and your SUV will perform better as you tow.
Notably, there is no rule of thumb for how the wheelbase affects towing in SUVs. Neither is there a standard length for how long a wheelbase should be for it to be safe to tow with an SUV.
It is, however, true that even if your SUV meets the towing capacity requirement as well as the curb weight, if it has a shorter wheelbase, it may be challenging for you to control the trailer. The tongue weight will rock the rig from front to back, resulting in floating or trailer hitching.
In such a case, you need a set of other towing equipment to make some modifications. This equipment, which will include additional springs, bars, and brackets will stabilize the hitch allowing for a balance in weight distribution.
Those two factors are what make SUVs different from trucks in terms of towing. They can combine to create a potentially dangerous situation.
What SUVs Can Tow a Horse Trailer?
There is a significant number of capable SUVs on the market today that can tow a horse trailer. Some of them include:
|Type of SUV||Max Towing Capacity|
|Ford Expedition||9,300 lbs.|
|Dodge Durango SRT8,700 lbs.|
|Lincoln Navigator||8,700 lbs.|
|Chevrolet Tahoe||8,500 lbs.|
|Infiniti QX80||8,500 lbs.|
|Jeep Grand Cherokee7,200 lbs.|
|Land Rover Discovery8,201 lbs.|
|Toyota Land Cruiser8,100 lbs.|
|Nissan Pathfinder||6,000 lbs.|
All things considered, here are some safety tips on how to tow with an SUV.
How to Tow Horse Trailers Safely with Your SUV
1. Don’t overload the hitch
Regardless of the type of load you are towing, inanimate or alive, it is always important to ensure that the hitch you use is the right one. This is determined by the weight of a loaded trailer and its tongue weight.
If you cannot establish this information easily, you can easily check from the owner’s manual and any specifications indicated on the trailer. Your SUV’s maximum towing capacity will only be attained if you distribute weight evenly.
2. Consider the weight of the load
Horses move, even when inside the trailer. Moreover, due to their height – which is usually about a meter high – horses are quite heavy. This is higher than the base of your trailer, which will make it even heavier.
Factor this in your calculations and don’t go by assumptions. This way, even when the load shifts, you will remain in control of the vehicle and the trailer for the sake of your safety and that of the horse.
3. Secure your horse inside the trailer
It isn’t recommended, or even legal, to ride in a horse trailer. But some owners try it to determine how it will feel for the horse. This way, you can better understand how comfortable your horse will be.
Also, ensure that your horse is secured inside the trailer to prevent them from turning around or sticking their heads out through any openings.
But while you do this, always remember that your horse will do what it can to maintain its balance as you drive along.
4. Give the loaded rig a test drive
After your horse(s) is secure inside the trailer, tow the trailer for a short distance and pull over to check if the horse(s) are comfortable and to confirm if everything is okay with the rig.
If everything is in order, you can hit the road, but maintain a low speed. Corners are now very crucial, and you should be careful because of the heavy and shifting load.
Before making turns, brake gently and go through them smoothly. Also, allow your horses to regain their balance before accelerating again. And most importantly, keep a safe distance between you and any other vehicle in front of you.
5. Give yourself more time to break
Hauling a horse trailer may make braking in your SUV quite challenging.
Therefore, before you brake, give yourself time. Avoid making any hasty moves. And if you must park, ensure that the rig is on a flat surface. If you have no choice but to park on a slope, chock your wheels properly and turn the front tires in a direction that limits a freewheeling vehicle.
Towing A Horse Trailer
Towing your horse trailer, whether it is a single trailer or a bumper-pull horse trailer, can be done safely with your SUV. It might even be the most economical solution for owners who have only one vehicle.
However, it is highly recommended that you spend some time researching the specifics about your type of SUV and the available horse trailers, and I hope this article will help.
Remember that there are hazards that could compromise your safety on the road, so, make sure that you match the trailer with the capabilities of your vehicle.
And if your SUV needs a weight-distribution hitch, have one installed before hauling the horse trailer. Don’t look at the maximum towing capacity of your SUV and assume that it is big enough to handle the task. Ensure that you understand the equipment you need before deciding to haul a horse trailer.