Turn Your Horse Trailer into an All-Purpose Base of Operations

Here's how to turn your parked horse trailer into an all-purpose base of operations when you haul in to a show or other horse event.

With good planning and a few extra touches, you can turn your trailer into a personalized, all-purpose base of operations–and have some fun while doing it. | Photos by Jim Bortvedt

Operating from your trailer.
Whether this is something new to you or something you’ve long accepted as the norm for the particular horse game you play, headquartering from a parked trailer, not a rented showgrounds stall and tack room, happens to be your reality.

Once you arrive at your activity, the trailer that just transported your horse now becomes his stabling as he’s tied to or corralled next to it. It also does all-weather duty as your tack room, wardrobe stowage and dressing area, lounging/social spot, and refreshment center.

That’s a lot of necessary function (and related stuff!) to pack into what’s essentially a horse-sized box on wheels. Making it all happen also requires a fair measure of effort on your part.

But, there are some tricks to operating from your trailer that will make your haul-in show day, practice day, even a trail-riding day less laborious, more convenient, and more comfortable for both you and your horse.

From our own experience, we know that utilizing these simple tricks adds up to a day of better results
and a more enjoyable experience.

We’ll share our key favorites here. Some may be tricks you’re already using, butothers are bound to hit your “aha!” button, and perhaps even stimulate ideas for new trailer tricks of your own.

Stress Control
Use good organization to your advantage.
If there’s anything we’ve learned from our combined years of hauling and setting up for horse events, it’s that chaotic tack and dressing areas will translate to a chaotic, stressful day. And a sure way to end up in the midst of that chaos is to use the last-minute-grab method of packing, and the spreading-it-all-out technique of organization once you arrive at your destination.

Create a master checklist of everything you need to pack, make copies, and work from a fresh copy each time you load up. Don’t assume that an essential item, such as your show saddle or necessary paperwork, is in your rig until you’ve seen it there and checked it off your list.

Maximize cargo space by investing in several stackable, heavy-duty plastic toting tubs with snap-on lids. Use to organize, then pack and stack such necessities as grain, horse clothing, grooming gear, emergency supplies, and so on. Besides helping you compress equipment to maximize space, stackable tubs can double as bench seating and/or makeshift counters for quick access to supplies.

Every traveling horseman fears leaving something critical at home on show day. To eliminate this possibility, replicate the true essentials of your home tack room in your trailer. If possible, give spare sets of grooming equipment, buckets, repair and first-aid kits, longeing gear, halters and leads, and other necessities a permanent home in your trailer.

Be sure to keep valuables, such as your show tack and wardrobe, in a lockable compartment whenever you’re away from your rig. | © Jim Bortvedt

Self Security
Plan ahead for securing valuables and keys.
When you’re away from your trailer for whatever reason, your gear will be vulnerable to theft at worst, and to “borrowing” (shall we say), at least. If your trailer doesn’t have a key lock to its tack compartment, look into having an alternative locking system installed at a trailer repair shop. If you’ll be using your trailer’s horse compartment for gear and clothing stowage, be sure you can lock that area as well.

One worry we’ve experienced is that of being so preoccupied by something that we’ll absent-mindedly lock our keys in the truck or trailer–guaranteed to ruin one’s day. As insurance, we keep extra keys in hidden key boxes made for this purpose. Pick up your own key box (or boxes) anywhere that sells keys.

Playing By the Rules
Be a good guest and a good neighbor.
If you’re headed to the most common type of single-day events, like an open show or barrel race, a stalling option is a rare thing. Often, you’ll be able to haul in and park wherever you wish, usually for free. Other times, you may be charged a nominal (typically $5 to $20) haul-in fee, payable at the secretary’s table when you pick up your exhibitor number, or when you pre-register/pre-pay.

This fee is relatively new, and some shows will refund it if you leave your parking spot as clean as you found it. Don’t bristle at the fee–often, these fees are charged by the showgrounds’ host, and the show organizers are simply trying to be fair about covering these costs. (Look at the grounds in mid-afternoon, and visualize everyone heading home. See the mess of paw holes, loose hay, manure piles, and trash that has
to be cleaned up? Someone has to pay for those services.)

Follow the unwritten rule to always leave your parking area as you found it, especially in gratitude if your event doesn’t charge a clean-up fee.

There are unwritten rules of courtesy as well. Don’t block another trailer’s exit path. Don’t play music or other entertainments loudly enough to annoy your neighbors. Keep your kids and pets under control. Clean up after yourself and your horse. Smile and say hello to your neighbor.

Smart Parking
Park with your horse’s comfort in mind.
When you pull into the grounds, your first thought shouldn’t be about getting the closest parking space to the
in-gate (actually, avoid this–it’s usually one of the dustiest locations on the grounds). Instead, consider the orientation of your trailer in relation to the sun, and to the safety of your horse and neighbors.

You’ll get a better effort from him throughout the day if you keep your horse’s comfort–not just your own convenience–in mind when selecting your parking spot. Think about such factors as afternoon shade and level ground and be diligent about keeping the area clean. Remember to bring your muck bucket and fork! | © Jim Bortvedt

Parking in an area that puts the morning shade on your horse’s rump, when he’s unloaded and tied, will result in a nasty afternoon tradeoff as the sun starts reflecting off the trailer and onto your horse. This can lead to heat stress, sunburn, and your horse’s diminishing desire to give you his best performance. If you have a choice, park with your tie-ring in the morning sun, so your trailer will provide some performance-
boosting shade in the afternoon. If you don’t have a choice, don’t sweat it–just plan to move your horse to the other side of the trailer for a shady mid-day power nap.

When you pull up beside another trailer, be sure to allow enough space so your neighbor can tie a horse safely to his trailer. This means allowing enough room for two horses to be tied, so that when they’re hip to hip, they can’t injure each other by kicking. A mature horse tied comfortably to a trailer will require a safety radius from the tie-ring of roughly 12 to 15 feet. Visually, that’s about two trailer widths. Two trailers,
side by side, with tie-rings opposite one another may require 24 to 30 feet between them.

If this much distance isn’t permissible by the show-day squeeze to get all participants’ trailers on the showgrounds, consider two options. First, you can cut a few feet by parking nose-to-tail with a neighboring trailer–your truck’s hood is near the back of your neighbor’s trailer. Or, you can find an alternate place to park so you don’t risk injury.

Put your horse’s hay source up high enough that he can’t paw at it or get tangled up trying to get to it. Intead of settinghis water bucket on the groud, where he could knock it over and create a muddy mess, either tie it high, or hold and offer it to him often. | © Jim Bortvedt

A Happy Horse
Tend to your horse’s needs first.
After you park, don’t rush to unload. You have some set-up to do first. Depending on your horse’s feeding routine, you may wish to hang a filled hay bag for him. Of course, he needs access to fresh water, so be prepared to take care of these chores immediately upon arrival.

If you didn’t bring water from home, carry it by bucket from the nearest spigot. Place the bucket on the trailer fender, and secure it to a tie-ring with twine or a nylon strap. Tying the bucket will prevent it from being knocked over and creating a muddy mess around your trailer.

Next, scout your surrounding area, looking for holes, sharp rocks, or other objects that could ruin your day if they were to injure your horse (or puncture a tire). Tidy up your area asmuch as possible. Stage a muck bucket and manure fork to pick up piles quickly, the better to keep those hard-scrubbed hooves and legs clean.

Now it’s time to unload. Do so quietly, without disrupting other nearby horses that may still be acclimating to their new environment. Tie your horse up properly to the trailer, with a quickrelease knot and the rope tied high and comfortably short.

Don’t be in a rush to get your horse’s blanket off and head to the arena for early practice. If you start rushing the moment you unload, your horse will be in a rushing frame of mind all day. Give him time to relax, settle, and take in his new surroundings. This will give you time to clean up the back of your trailer for the ride home (do it now, while your pre-show energy level is high).

Remove manure, spread a tarp over the floor (so you don’t have to remove the shavings) add a few accessories, and the horse compartment of your trailer can readily do double-duty as your dressing room/lounge area for the day. | © Jim Bortvedt

Clever Space Use
Turn your trailer into part tack room, part green room, part lounge.
Not all trailers come with separate tack/dressing compartments, and even if yours does, chances are you’ve found the space a bit cramped for performing both functions.

To create an expanded dressing room in less time than it’d take to find and check into a motel, you only need to look to the back of your trailer. Pitch any manure or dirty bedding into your muck bucket, smooth out the bedding, then spread an ample-sized plastic tarp over the floor.

Place several folding camp chairs down to keep the tarp in place, and to provide you with a seat to put on your boots and spurs. Plus, the chairs will give you a place to sit, relax, and catch up with friends (in the shade!) during your downtime.

Your ice chest, packed with snacks and beverages, can double as a table. (It’s also a good place to store things that have the potential to melt, such as makeup.)

Fold back and secure any dividers, and mount an inexpensive, spring-loaded closet rod across your trailer and above the windows, to hold your show clothes and gear bags. Or, use an over-the-door hanger to suspend garment bags from a divider door.

Create privacy by clamping towels or a shower curtain over exposed areas. Affix a magnet-mount mirror on one of the trailer walls, or simply prop one up, so you can easily apply your makeup, fix your hair, and check your overall look before mounting up. Keep your area cool with a battery-operated fan, and don’t forget a trash can–an average-sized bucket will suffice.

Finally, if there’s any risk a door could be whipped open by the wind and hit or spook your tied horse, secure it with rope or twine so it can’t blow completely open, but still allows you access to your newly-created dressing room.

As an alternative to converting your trailer’s horse compartment into a dressing/R & R area, shift feed and tack to the rear to free up more space in the regular tack compartment of your trailer. Then place your chairs and ice chest wherever they’re most convenient and out of your horse’s way.

Your home away from home is all set, and will now be a safe, secure, and organized base of operation.

Enjoy, and remember to take notes on ways to make it even better next time!

This article originally appeared in the June 2010 issue of Horse & Rider magazine. 

Are you looking to upgrade your trailer? Go to Equine.com, the premier classifieds site of the Equine Network to search for the perfect trailer for you!

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