If you’re a regular and feeling starved for photos, today’s your day! (All photos are courtesy of Rowland Trailer Sales, who do a great job. Check out their inventory!)
So what, you may ask, did I buy?
Spoiler alert: it wasn’t a Shadow, though I would have been happy to if I hadn’t found the one I did.
I bought an all-aluminum 1998 4-Star Warmblood Straight-Load Walk-Through with mangers and a dressing room.
I count myself supremely lucky to have found this trailer, in this condition, in my price range. 4-Star is still regarded as a top-of-the-line manufacturer but, from what I’ve been able to glean, they pretty much ruled the industry in the late ’90s. Moreover, this trailer has been meticulously maintained. From the photos on the dealer’s website, the only give-away that it wasn’t a new trailer were the black marks where bridles had swung against one wall in the tack room and the previous owner’s trail-riding club sticker in the window.
As you know from previous posts, my first priority was a trailer big enough for my biggest horse, a 16.1 hh OTTB with a relatively long horizontal construction but also a high head carriage when he’s excited. This trailer has a 7’6″ interior height and it’s built to ‘warmblood’ size specifications in the width and length of the stalls. It’s 6′ wide inside, so each stall is a full 36″, and it’s long from front to back. The stall floor itself is 7′ long and the mangers offer a further 3′, giving the horse 10′ of front-to-back room to relax his neck, clear his airways, and use his head for balance. When I measured Houyhnhnm eating grain — about as long and horizontal as I can get him while standing still — he was 105″ or 8.75′ from nose to tail, so this should give him plenty of room.
The size of the dressing room is much less important in the grand scheme of things but, all else being equal, I wanted a dressing room big enough to sleep in for a couple of nights of showing or camping. I’m pretty sure I’ve found something that will do quite nicely for primitive camping for now and give me a few options if I decide I want to install a few amenities in the future.
The saddle rack under the road-side manger is removable so there’s quite a lot of floor space available for a cot once I get to my destination and get unloaded. I figure I can keep my sleeping and clothing arrangements in the dressing room while a cowboy shower and storage will fit easily in the horse compartment and stay accessible through the walk-through door. It’s a modified version of how I’ve been camping, with a few changes that should make it much easier and more comfortable. One bonus that will make loading, hauling, and camping much easier is the deep-cycle marine battery wired to dressing-room, horse-compartment, and loading lights so they’ll all work whether the truck is hitched up and running or not.
It’s also important for a trailer to be strong enough to stand up to the hard use of the biggest horse that will ride in it. Horses don’t usually mean to be destructive (at least, my horses don’t) but they are big animals and if they get surprised, upset, or off-balance, they can put some real pressure on the structures around them. I need to know for sure that, if my horse stumbles sideways and needs the divider to help him get his feet back, it’s going to do that. I need to know for sure that if he has a leg go wayward, it’s not going to get caught over, under, or through something. That’s one thing that really impressed me about this 4-Star trailer: it’s extremely sturdy.
Like the Shadows, the horse compartment is double-walled but it has has heavy, extruded aluminum exterior walls and rubber-padded aluminum interior walls, which is an upgrade over the Shadow’s aluminum skin and rumber interior walls. The hinges, latches, and other moving parts are larger and heavier than on the Shadow and they operate easily. All latches, hinges, and doors fold fully out of the horses’ way during entry and exit and they stay put. There are no sharp edges or corners in the horse compartment or along the edges of fenders and running boards where they’ll stand tied and anything the horses can reach inside is made of aluminum or rubber. In my last trailer, large portions of the horse-facing walls were fibreglass, including the escape doors down to knee level, which will not hold up to a wayward hoof in an emergency.
Finally, I like the walk-through arrangement and the drop windows at the head, which, combined with butt bars and double rear doors, allow quite a bit of access to the horses without getting them out. I’ll have to test it, but the horses may even be more comfortable standing in the shade inside the trailer during a long summer day at the horse park, rather than tied to the side.
Also like the Shadow, my 4-Star has a solid divider with no holes but this trailer also has padding all the way around the horses at the belly-shoulder-bum level and strong butt bars that attach more sturdily (quietly) and release more easily than in the Shadow design. The pins that hold the butt bars and centre divider in place release quickly to get them out of the way, if needed. It has bars on all the windows and a reinforced aluminum ceiling. The drop-down head windows are well out of reach of hooves and diagonal breast-level chains keep the horses from getting thrown toward the walk-through door in a lurch. In short: this trailer is well built and designed to hold up to big horses.
The other main features that positively distinguished this trailer from the new Shadows on the lot I visited were the noise level inside, the ventilation, and the axles and suspension. When I walked in and jumped around in this one, the moving and removable pieces really didn’t make much noise at all, even though they all operate smoothly, easily, and quickly. Connectors for moving parts and removable components in the Shadows rattled with even one human moving around inside a stationary trailer, so I’m pretty confident the 4-Star will offer a much more pleasant ride for my guys in that respect.
The Shadows I saw had two-way ceiling vents and 12-volt fans installed in the horse compartment but both are considered upgrades for which one has to pay. This trailer has the same ceiling vents, one at each horse’s head, but no fans. (Fans are easy to find and cheap to install yourself.) It also has 3 sliding windows with screens for each horse compartment, so I’m happy with the amount of ventilation I should be able to provide and the extent to which I can regulate it for different conditions.
This trailer has rubber torsion axles in good working order, whereas the Shadows still have leaf springs unless the buyer, once again, pays for an upgrade. Even if I end up having to replace my 20-year-old torsion axles, doing so is relatively easy and inexpensive, as I learned while planning to make the exact same repair to my old trailer.
In short, the older 4-star boasts quite a few upgraded features, better-quality construction, and meticulous maintenance so it was the better deal. That said, I didn’t see anything personally that would tell me not to buy a Shadow if that was what was available in my price range. I’ve heard some people say to avoid them and others say they love theirs.
One Potential Drawback: Mangers
One feature I could have gotten in a Shadow (granted, a Shadow outside my budget) was the manger-free walk-through configuration. Based on my reading, mangers can be less safe because horses have less space to spread their legs forward for balance, horses have less room to lower their heads and clear their airways, and horses in emergency situations sometimes jump up into them and can’t get back down. On the other hand, this ‘drawback’ is still an improvement for my horses because the mangers are better and the floor space in front of them is bigger. My horses have hauled well with mangers so far, so I have no reason to think the mangers themselves will present any increased risk.
The pony-faces will also have more space outside the mangers since the stall area is a full foot longer than in my old trailer. In theory, straight-load designs that don’t have mangers let the horses push their front legs as far forward as the head can go. On the other hand, I’m confident that 7′ of floor length will give my horses enough room to brace their legs in all directions during travel, even if they can’t quite go to that extreme. I’m also happy the 3′ long mangers will give them plenty of space to relax and eat without feeling crammed into their hay bags.
I also recognise that, because these mangers have a solid aluminum wall separating them from the walk-through doorway, they could feel a little bit enclosed and claustrophobic for a horse and they might not let the horses see their traveling companions. I’m expecting these drawbacks to remain on the very short list of features that may not be the most ideal thing I could design today but, in reality, are pretty minor concerns.