Horse Trailers, Slant Load vs Straight load - Which is Better?
You have decided it’s time to invest in your own horse trailer but there are so many decisions to make and choices to consider. One important decision is the choice between a straight load design or a slant load. Which is better? It’s a question we hear every day at our dealership and is debated by horse owners as one of those hot topics with strong opinions. But the short answer to this question is there is no “best” for every person or every horse. What works well for one person and their horse, is not necessarily best for everyone else. Before you make a decision, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each design and debunk some of the myths that surround both. In the end, what you choose is really a matter of preference for your situation.
One of the big misconceptions about both the straight loads and slant loads, is the idea that one straight load represents all straight loads and the same with slants. People make the mistake of saying for instance, “slant loads are 7’ tall and straight loads are 7’4” tall. The uninformed will base their decision on this information. But its not that simple and this line of thinking is far from true. Both come in different heights, different lengths and different widths. Some straights have very small stalls and others have large warmblood size stalls. Its the same with the slant loads. Either model can have a rear ramp or be a step-up. Either model may or may not have escape doors or the escape doors may be different sizes. And the list goes on. Many options are available for each design and some of the differences will have to do with the age of a trailer because models change over the years. What you find on the new-trailer market today, is much different than what we found 15 years ago. So let’s talk about some pros and cons for each configuration and consider the options for each.
In this design, horses are generally loaded from the back and the horses stand facing front to back after loading. When unloading, the horses must back out. The older straight load trailers tend to be smaller in width, length and height. Hauling a larger horse in a tight stall can be uncomfortable for the horse and cause problems in the way of scrambling, nervousness and difficulty loading. Generally in today’s market, manufacturers are building the straight load in a “warmblood” size trailer, meaning they are allowing for the larger horses. The trailers will often be 7’4” or 7’6” with extra width and length in the stall also but again, there are always exceptions. So measure a trailer before making a decision.
Generally a straight load will have escape doors which allow for walking in the trailer with a horse when loading and then going out the escape door. Their usefulness however, can depend on the size of escape door and the ease of getting out of it as needed. Some doors will be full size and some are very small, limiting the ability to get through them quickly should it become necessary. Some people feel walking in a straight load is safer than a slant load because of these escape doors but it often depends on an individual's horse handling abilities. So try this out when considering a trailer, making sure the doors work for you if needed. There are many different opinions on whether you should or should not be walking in with a horse but that’s a subject for a different blog. Same with having a ramp on the rear of the trailer, a hotly debated subject for another day. But either way, you can choose what you would like.
Straight loads can have a walk-in dressing room in front of the stalls,which is the floor plan you will see offered by most manufacturers today. This creates an open floor plan with no mangers which is considered safer by some people.
You have a breast bar in front of the horses’ chest and a feed bag if desired. A horse with his front legs in the manger (yes, it happens!) is in a predicament to say the least. The breast bars have their own issues, with some horses getting legs over them or smaller horses getting caught under them.
Some manufacturers still offer the tack area under the mangers in lieu of the walk-in which gives you a shorter trailer with smaller tack area. It’s not a design you see much anymore but is still desired by some who want a smaller, lighter trailer and can be popular to pull behind the smaller tow vehicles. This configuration also allows for mangers to feed from but of course also brings up the pros and cons of the mangers themselves. This was once the most popular design in horse trailers before the slants were available.
There is a lot of discussion as to whether a straight load or slant load causes less stress on the horse during a long haul. Most believe that riding at a slant allows for less stress when bracing for turns and stops, than does facing forward. Actually, most trainers have found that when a horse is hauled loose in a stock trailer some will choose to ride at a slant but most will ride facing backwards. I haven’t found a report that says they ride facing straight forward. It stands to reason that moving with the back and forth of turns would be easier at a slant but I think the jury is still out on this one.
Two of the biggest cons with a straight load would be first the need to back out a horse versus turning them around and second the frequency of scrambling. There isn’t room to turn a horse around in a straight load so they must back out. Whether this is an issue or not is generally a question of training and is also a hotly debated topic. So for the purposes of this blog, it just needs to be considered for your situation and your horse. Then you can make an informed decision. In regards to scrambling, some horses just need more room and if there is a wall to climb, they will climb it. This tears up the trailer and obviously the horses' legs. In a slant load, only the first stall has one wall against the horse with the other stalls having no wall up against the horse's side. This allows a horse to spread out his legs for better balance when bracing for turns and stops and can calm a nervous horse. This solves the scrambling problem for most horses.
Of course, if you need to haul more than 2 horses, the slant load is more common. In a 4 horse straight load configuration, the trailer will be much longer than a 4 horse slant and be in a different price range, and so is not normally the trailer of choice. Still, the advantage of a 4 horse head to head trailer, is that each horse can be unloaded individually without the other horses being unloaded, a big advantage over a slant load. So again, the choice is available and will depend on your horses, the size of trailer you want to haul and the price you are willing to pay.
All slant loads are not created equal. I found so much incorrect information out there stating that slants loads are too small. The stall size in a slant load depends on the configuration of that brand and model. The width and length of the trailer will determine the pin settings for the dividers. Moving the pin settings back creates a longer, wider stall. The height can vary also. The standard size for most brands today is 7’ tall. A warmblood size will normally be 7’6” but taller heights are available. The older slant loads tend to be smaller in length, width and height, just like with the straight loads. Also, the entry level trailers (less expensive) tend to be a smaller size than the higher priced units. That’s why the price is lower, because they have less material in the trailer. (The better made brands tend to have the larger roomier stalls no matter if straight or slant load. A higher quality trailer won’t include a small stall.) So, take a tape measure when you visit a dealer’s lot and if extra-large stalls are your wish, consider ordering a custom trailer specific to fit your need.
Claustrophobic horses can cause all sorts of trouble by climbing the walls, scrambling and needing to spread their legs out beyond what the typical straight load may allow. A slant load has the advantage of allowing for a little more flexibility with a troublesome horse. Try moving a horse to the back stall which is generally the biggest or opening a divider to give a horse 2 stalls instead of one. A 2 horse trailer becomes a large 1 horse, or a 3 horse slant becomes a 2 horse slant.
A rear tack is an option in a slant load and can be a benefit or not depending on the situation. As a benefit, the rear tack provides extra storage for tack, feed or buckets and fills the dead space in the left rear corner of the trailer. A rear tack can be either collapsible (and removable) or permanent meaning the walls are welded in place. A permanent rear tack is cleaner, not allowing urine or manure to leak under the walls but a collapsible tack has the benefit of being folded up or removed when needed. If you have a horse that is difficult to load or you need to haul a quad that is too wide for one door, just collapse the tack wall. It’s a common misconception that all slants have a rear tack but it’s obviously not true. Some feel that the partition is dangerous for loading so this comes back to knowing your horses. I happen to love a rear tack because I like the extra storage space but I realize this is a personal preference.
The same can be said about mangers in a slant load. Having built-in mangers provides a solid place to feed horses without messing with feed bags and gives you storage space under the mangers. They don't make a stall shorter as it appears because the manger is built in the space available under the horse's neck. However their are obvious situations when mangers would not be a good choice including hauling rambunctious youngsters. The point to remember is that some slants have mangers and some do not.
Walking into a slant load with your horse while loading can be good or bad depending on the situation. A slant load is more open and inviting when training a horse and allows for leading a horse in without worrying about escape doors. Most of us can safely walk in with our horse, tie him and walk out but there are times when walking in puts you at risk of being pinned by a horse or stepped on. Most trainers will agree that this is a training issue but we all know there are horses that are just going to have a few challenges. The same is to be said about whether you should back your horse out of a slant load or let him turn around. Slant loads often give you the choice of turning a horse around to unload. But this isn’t always good or safe. Turning a horse around can put you in a sticky situation if he rushes, and backing takes more control and restraint from the horse. Some bigger horses won’t have a choice, not having enough width in the trailer to turn around and it can even be unsafe. Flexibility is the key here, as choices are available with the slant.
Slant loads also come with or without escape doors in the first stall. These can be used when loading a difficult horse for you to escape through or also as a way to gain access to the first horse without unloading all the others. A drawback to a slant load is that the horses in the back need to be unloaded before any horses in the front stalls can be unloaded. The escape doors can alleviate this problem to some degree but they are not intended to unload a horse except in an extreme emergency.
Slant loads are also available with or without ramps. They are an option along with the configuration of the ramp. A ramp can be installed over the rear doors or can be a replacement for the rear door with small "tail curtain doors" above the ramp to offer a fully enclosed trailer.
Of course a slant load allows for a walk in dressing room that most horse people love for storing all their horse paraphernalia. This dressing room/tack room usually comes without adding as much length as is needed in a straight load to have the same amount of space.
If you want to haul more than 2 horses, you will need
to consider a slant load. As I already mentioned, 3 or 4 horse slant loads are much shorter and more economical than a 4 horse straight and you won’t find many of the latter on a dealer’s lot.
Neither the slant nor the straight load is perfect for every horse and horses have a way of getting into situations we would never dream of! Many will tell you a stock trailer is the way to go if you really want safety and ease. Just load them up let them stand how they want.
The point is, there is a lot of variety out there, so there is no reason to have something that lacks an escape door, or adequate height or a ramp unless you choose that. Slant loads do not "lack escape doors" nor are all slants the same width -- these features vary by brand and model. Straight loads do not all have a ramp, they come both ways. Remember, if you want escape doors; buy a trailer that has them! Or if you want more width or height; buy a trailer that has that!
Many issues that people mention regarding either design have to do with training or purchasing choices, as well. How well a horse loads in any trailer depends on whether you put the work in to train it and how good your trailer loading skills are.
Choosing whether your trailer should be a slant or straight needs to be based on more important issues than ramps and escape doors. There are a lot more variables at stake than just which way the dividers face. Visit our sales yard with your tape measure and explore the differences available!