Note: Thanks to Irv L. in Pennsylvania for the inspiration to write about this subject. I have used several of his thoughts freely in this post.
Ramps into horse trailers have been a great addition to facilitate ease of loading for horses as well as all the other things that we put into trailers when there aren’t horses in it (Come on, how many of us haven’t put the lawnmower or the ATV in there to go to the dealership? And I have used my trailers for moving friends on numerous occasions).
Many horses prefer a ramp instead of having to step up and down going into and out of a trailer.
Photo: Anne E. Eberhardt
Many horses prefer a ramp instead of having to step up and down going into and out of a trailer. However, just like everything else on the trailer, they require occasional maintenance and if you are looking at a used trailer for purchase you might want to know a little more about them for safe use.
Trailer ramps are normally on the rear of a noncommercial trailer and may be external to the back doors or the back door on some trailers. There are other larger trailers that have ramps on the side of the trailer so that horses can be loaded and unloaded in many configurations and walked through the trailer as well. To me this offers more access to the horses in an accident, so I think it is a good thing.
Commercial haulers may only have ramps on the side of their trailer and it will be a much higher deck, so they even use protection on the side of the ramp and cocoa mats to prevent horses from sliding or falling off while unloading and loading. In my opinion there should always be two restraints keeping horses in a trailer (i.e, a butt chain or bar and a ramp or door).
Some trailers, such as my slant load, have three (butt restraint gate, back doors, and ramp). This is safer for people because it prevents horses from getting excited and attempting to unload themselves before you have untied them or slamming the ramp down onto you while they leave the trailer over you (I actually know someone to whom that happened from a stock trailer with a huge ramp as the back door. He survived to tell the tale and I haven’t used that type of trailer since).
Ramps are pretty substantial in size and weight to be able to support the weight of a horse standing on it. They should mirror the full width of the trailer in the back, up to 8 feet wide and often ½ to ¾ to the full height of the trailer. The ramp should be covered with a non-skid surface on the inside to prevent animals from slipping when entering or exiting, and usually with some kind of rubber bumper on the end that touches the ground to minimize trauma to the ramp.
Ramps should be built to hold a horse with no support except at the hinge and end on the ground. Because the ramp may weigh hundreds of pounds, most companies make lifting the ramp more manageable with assists. Modern trailers will have torsion spring-loaded hinges in the bottom attachment point to the trailer. Older trailers may have garage-door type springs attached to the sides of the ramp. Springs can break, and they usually do so while in the extended postion (loaded). Others may include a small winch and cable substituted for the springs--a cheap solution and since these winches have little mechanical advantage, they only expose the wire rope to excessive wear (and eventual breakage), and stress the trailer frame especially if only one is used.
Using a Ramp
While loading or unloading the horse, you should choose a trailer with a ramp that does not force you to stand between the ramp and the ground while being locked/unlocked, especially if the springs should fail or if a horse should overcome its restraints and charge backwards into the ramp. All trailer ramps and doors should have sturdy latches and in my case I use a heavy duty carabiner to positive lock the latch in place. (I replace these with padlocks when not in use or in storage, so that no one can get into my trailer, but in case of emergency on the road I do not use padlocks while horses are inside.)
As part of a pre-trip check ensure all latches, gates, hinges and safety restraints are in working order. Latches, locks, and all moving parts of the hinges and springs should be lubricated regularly to prevent rust, lack of motility (seize up), and breakage. And when you return, clean the ramp and door hinges. The ramp location at the bottom of the trailer easily traps water, manure, road crud, and dirt, none of which are good for steel or aluminum. Check for corrosion frequently.
Have you seen anything go wrong with a ramp on a trailer? What did you learn from the experience? Please share with us.