Equitana Transport Review
One of the things I really wanted to do at Equitana this year was take a close up look at horse transport – floats, goosenecks, trailers and trucks . There were around a dozen different models displayed and just over half of these were from overseas (USA or European).
Over the last few months there has been a bit of discussion on both our forum and our facebook page about floats, what brand is best, what features are good, what people like and don’t like. Having had two float incidents – both involving chest bars – earlier this year; and then attending a Large Animal Rescue evening with Rescue expert Dr. Rebecca Gimminez, I thought a great way to approach the horse transport issue would be from a safety point of view. I have to say, I had hoped there would be many more – given there are probably around 80 or more float, trailer or truck companies across Australia. Equitana is really the penultimate place for displaying stock and directly interacting with the market. I was also disappointed that there was no Ifor Williams there as I was really looking forward to having a good look at these UK horse boxes, particularly their front “walk off” ramps. My biggest beef with Australian made trailers at the moment is the lack of vision and innovation. Really guys, as we get flooded more and more with overseas imports you need to keep up. I don’t think Australian Float design has advanced much in more than 20 years. It is boring and outdated and has more to do with trailer quality / towability than it does with actual horse safety. Yes, I agree, a float that tows well, brakes well, handles corners well, is solid etc, is important but, at the end of the day, getting your horse to its destination in one piece is the aim, so horse safety must be a consideration when designing your float. Out of five Australian trailers on display, only one company had collapsible chestbars (so the manufacturer told me, they didn’t actually have one there to demonstrate) and that is Rowville. (And one only had an angle load on display; apparently their straight load model also has collapsible bars). Having had two incidents with chestbars this year, if a float does not have collapsible chestbars I won’t buy it. Please see the attached pic (right) of my stallion hung up on a chestbar earlier this year. If you think the type with the removable pins each side are ok, safe even, think again. The bar he is hanging on is one of those. When they have 500kg of horse on them, they are not getting removed except by an angle grinder. Crisfloat have a good spring loaded chestbar but, again, with 500kg of horse hanging over it, you have got Buckley’s chance of releasing it. The issue of chest bars applies to trailers and trucks too. Logan’s have gorgeous trailers, specifically designed for Australia, but one of their straight load trailers had a solid wall at the front instead of a chestbar. On the other side was a bed platform at about nose height. A few issues sprang to mind with this. Firstly, if a horse goes over it, and we have also seen inquisitive horses who like to get up on the tack box, there is no way to get them down without getting the SES in to dismantle it for you. Secondly, there is no jockey’s door. Once you have one horse in, you have to rely on the second horse self loading because if you lead it in, you are staying there for the ride. There is no way out. I’ve been looking at small UK horse box trucks online for a while and some of the models I have seen also have this solid wall instead of a chest bar in their models as well. A horse can go over them and then they find themselves in the jockey compartment with a tiny access door at the back. Then what? Thankfully the two models available in Australia – Equi-trek (UK) and Theault (France) – both have removable chest bars that can be collapsed from the outside. Theault goes even further with solid doors under the chestbars that open forwards into the jockey compartment and a big wide back door which would allow for safe exit of a horse in an emergency. The only option for safety are chestbars that collapse when a screw on the outside is turned. Aussies, get a clue, this is what is needed! Internal metal frames. Cover them up! If a horse can bang its head against it, they will. Theault’s Proteo horse box had a beautifully padded roof around the area of the horse’s head. But the number of floats and trailers I saw with exposed frames, or other attachments sticking out that horses could get caught on, scraped against, banged against, was eye opening to say the least. They are disasters waiting to happen. Another one was the metal grill inside Logan trailer’s windows; yes, I understand they are there to stop the horse kicking your window out but the grills are wide enough for him to get a hoof through and get caught! German made Bockmann’s are almost an exception to the rule – it’s interesting to me that the two floats I would rate as the best, are both so simple in appearance, almost to the point of being austere. While other trailers are layering on the “extras” Bockmann and Andaway keep it simple and above all keep your horse safe. We chucked my mate’s husband (typical farm bloke, does a bit of everything, knows his machinery, runs a trailer parts business) underneath the Bockmann and he came out beaming, which says alot. He was also very complimentary of Andaway’s Air Bag Suspension. Bockmann also don’t have the big front windows we are so prone to having on our floats here. I’ll spell it out as slowly as I can for you. Windows – especially large ones – are a super quick escape hatch for panicked horses that don’t understand the concept of “solid but see-though”. Big windows are about the dumbest thing you can put at the front of your float. Even small windows as the pic (right) will attest. The less windows the better. If you want light, get an internal electric light bulb (appropriately out of reach and protected with steel mesh). Spring loaded drop pins / bolts. I can’t tell you how much I want to see these banned from Horse Floats and Trailers. They are just a disaster waiting to happen, begging for legs straps or halters to get caught on them. A complete bugger to do up in a hurry, can be difficult to release, and if a horse is actually caught on whatever they are holding closed, forget it. Nearly every model we looked at had one somewhere, usually for closing angle load gates, or breaching gates etc. With the exception of Andaway Floats Angle Load. I wish I’d taken a picture of this, and they don’t have a photo on their site which is a shame, because it is a fantastic feature. The stall gates on Andaway’s Angle Load Floats simply click into a panel that sits flush on the back wall. Just push the gate shut and it latches itself; press the panel to release quickly and efficiently. Love it!!! There is nothing for the horse to catch itself on and no fiddley latches or lining up bolts and holes while your horse fidgets and pushes against you. In general Andaway’s float was very basic, very simple, and the features it had were understated to say the least but with quite big impacts; eg, the latches mentioned above, barn style doors on the rear that can be used as loading gates each side of your ramp, and a remote controlled ramp that lifts itself. Of the Australian Floats it was definitely one of the best that I saw. Dissapointingly the Equi-trek (trailers and horse box) have a big drop pin that holds their divider in place, and it’s at the head end. In both their trailers and horse box, being side loaders, the centre divider is hinged at the rear. After the first horse is loaded it is swung shut and a drop pin bolts it to the chest bar. The pin is easily accessible to the horse’s head so that it can either be played with or a halter or lead can catch on it. I have a real problem with angle load gates in goosenecks and trailers because they are never floor length (yes, sure someone must do it, you see it in trucks after all). There’s nothing to stop horses going under them and I know it happens, they either slip and thrash around on the floor or they somehow wriggle through and get up in the next stall jamming their travelling partner against the back wall.Granted, I bet like everything else you can “custom” order a feature like full length floor drops on the gates but it just seems to me, that such an integral safety feature for your horse should be standard. It’s like the direction the horses face on angle loads – the standard here is to the left, which was modelled on USA trailers originally. And ok, so we are used to leading our horses from the left too. But here’s the thing, our road surfaces are slightly curved with the apex in the centre and dropping off each side to allow for drainage. When we put our horses on a left loading float we are angling them downwards. That might be fine for short trips but it actually makes it harder for them to brace and find stability when their weight is pitched forward. Right facing angle loads would be so much better. A few of the floats and trailers did have it, but when I mentioned it to one manufacturer I got a bit of a blank stare and the rest responded, “oh but you can custom order!” Something that came up at the Large Animal Rescue evening the other night was the internal temps of our floats, trailers and trucks. Dr Gimminez recommends that we get one of those digital outdoor temp measuring thingies where the read out display is inside and we put it in our float, trailer or truck, and have the monitor in the cab of our car or cab. The reason I mention this is because I believe that temperature was the cause of my stallion going over the chestbar in the float earlier this year. It was a hot summer’s day and we were leaving the Royal; he was already pretty sweaty (and in hindsight I should have hosed him down before loading him) and we put him on the float and headed off. Before we even got to the gate he had gotten up on the tack box and then come down on the chestbar. As it turns out he had managed to pull one of the bar pins out and was now hanging on the bar which was angled down under his weight in such a way that it was impossible to remove the second pin and dismantle the bar. As I mentioned it was an incredibly hot day and my mate’s float is one of those fully enclosed types with the solid upper door. Here’s what I think happened. As we trundled out of the royal at 5kph the internal temperature of the float rose dramatically because we weren’t going fast enough for any good ventilation. It was probably getting quite hard to breathe and, in panic, my stallion started looking for a way out. That’s when things really came unstuck. He tried to get out the front window and ended up hung up on the chestbar. As it turns out, we got him out unscathed – literally without a scratch – hosed him down, vet checked him and did get him home safely. But it scared me enough that I vowed I would do everything possible to never have that happen again. Ventilation, particularly in Australia which does get extraordinarily hot, is the key and this is where I think the beautiful little horse boxes from the UK and France might fall down. Don’t get me wrong, I am totally sold on these little drive-on-a-car-licence trucks, I want one, but the limited ventilation from side windows and roof vents on a 40c day concerns me a bit; actually anything over 25c might be a bit of a problem. I’d like to test drive one with a temp gauge to see what the story is. It’s a similar story with the Andaway floats which either have the otherwise fabulous barn style doors (perhaps these could be split and the top half left open on a hot day?) or a solid top door like my friend’s float mentioned above. Lakota are also fully enclosed. On the subject of Lakota ... Oh My Freakin Gosh! Fabulous trailers, beautifully made, really well put together (says my farm / trailer expert), worth it if you have the money. But one of the rudest sales people you can imagine. When I am at events I deliberately hide my media pass because I don’t want the whole over the top niceness, I just want to experience people, the sales pitch etc, like anyone else. I might, after a while, let people know that I am going to write an article. I would have to say that every other float stand we visited the sales people were wonderful, really nice, very friendly, very helpful. Rowville were great on the information and answering questions; The people from Bockmann / Crisfloats similarly were just fantastic – thanks guys – as was Dorothy at Lara Floats. But Lakota ... boy, what a letdown. Consequently, I didn’t bother to learn much about the trailers. Ok ... the horse boxes. The newest thing on the market and it will be interesting to see if they make a dent, or perhaps see someone here building local versions. I love these little horse trucks, they are just perfect for me, side load, drive on a car licence, they look and feel very secure. For starters both the Equi-trek and Proteo have full length drops on the centre divider. Both are side load – though curiously the Equi-trek opens on the road side; Proteo opens curb side. While the Equi-trek has an emergency release bar the Proteo really wins because a horse can be exited through the rear of the vehicle in an emergency. Both are diesel, both will take a bigger horse. In both the centre divider can be adjusted for many different stall widths to accommodate large horses and small ponies or even mares and foals. Both load the horses facing to the rear which allows the horses to brace themselves against the back wall when the vehicle brakes. The Equi-trek has loading gates which then close across the outside stall keeping a horse secure while the ramp is lifted. If there is one feature where the Proteo falls down it is this. By comparison it simply has a seatbelt type strap that stretches across the open door – there is nothing to prevent the horse stepping out or putting a leg out while you are trying to put the ramp up. It’s a real let down because to me, this little truck is a real winner in the safety and transport stakes. At $110,000 I would think it could include loading gates. Equi-trek has them and is $77,000 but it’s also less ... Oh My Freakin Gosh than the Proteo. :) The Theault Proteo is the one I am buying my tatts ticket for. I love it. Absolutely rock ‘n’ roll. By the way, their website sucks, but their sales guy is spot on, very nice. My Farm / Trailer guy really pointed out some stuff to me on some of the floats where the quality was a real let down – welds with porous surface (lets rust in); jockey wheels rated for 350kg when they should be 500kg; rubber mats in two pieces on the ramp when it should be one (let’s water underneath); etc etc. I won’t name them because I’m not an expert, but when looking at a float, please take along a technical expert who knows what to look for. You and your horse’s life could depend on it. In the end it usually does come down to “you get what you pay for”. Personally I saw a whole lot of things where, in general, the float build was great, but it was let down when it came to horse safety. Things sticking out, things the horses could get caught in, things that would be difficult when a critical situation arose, things where only the SES would be able to get your horse out if he got stuck. I don’t understand why, when so much effort might be put in to the body of the trailer, or the finishing touches like colour and scroll work, the whole thing is let down by stuff that, at the end of the day, is going to damage the very thing you are trying to protect – your horse. So, a short list to finish with:
• Yes, look for a well made float with good fittings, get a technical expert to check it out for you; don’t compromise safety for price.
• Avoid large front windows
• Avoid anything that sticks out that your horse can catch themselves on – pins, bolts, spring loaded pins, sharp edges, window grills with wide spaces between bars
• Insist on a collapsible chestbar at all costs
• Think about the potential temperature inside the float and make sure there is good ventilation that a horse can’t use as an escape hatch Thanks very much to all the horse float, trailer and truck display people! Equitana proved to be a brilliant venue to go and shop for a horse float or truck; what better way to do research than to be able wander at leisure and really get up close and personal with the various models. Post Script. I just wanted to add some more details as a few of the manufacturers have been kind enough to provide me with extra information. Obviously ventilation is a huge issue here. I totally forgot to mention that Australia’s Andaway Floats use the PerformAir Ventilation systems which cycle air through the trailer at a rate of once every minute when travelling at 80kph. The PerformAir system constantly filters the air inside a trailer preventing overheating, reducing the levels of toxins that build up and reducing dust and pollens that can lead to travel sickness. Kevin Blake, from Theault, also let me know that they are looking at adding the PerformAir system to their horse boxes. In the mean time he said that the Proteo horse boxes already have 9 ventilation points in the trucks - an electric air extractor, two skylights, two pop up vents near the horse’s heads, sliding windows to the side of their heads, sliding window in the rear door, sliding window on the side wall and the option to have another one on the loading side door. One of the things I completely missed when looking at the Proteo was that they are fitted with temp gauges as a standard feature. “All our trucks are all fitted with temperature gauges as standard, with a digital display just above the centre of the windscreen on the Proteo,” Kevin told me. “In fact despite our milder climate in Europe there are very strict rules on temperature control and monitoring for horse and cattle transporters throughout the EC. We apply that same level of attention for our private users too.” I can also say that gates on the ramp are available as an option. One thing I hadn’t considered was the strength of the bulkhead behind the driver. In the horse boxes the horses are positioned facing to the rear, with their rumps right behind the cab. As Kevin explained, they can suddenly become a dangerous projectile during an accident. “Many forget that putting half a ton of solid but shifting load behind you without strapping it down could be a recipe for disaster in the event of a road traffic accident. Half a ton of horse can turn into 5 tons of missile very quickly and remarkably some vehicle manufacturers believe a standard van bulkhead will be as sufficient as it is in stopping half a ton of individual boxes for example.” “The bulkhead of the Theault has however been put through destructive testing and consequently is fully certified for the job in hand having been pull tested to over 9 tonnes without failure. You might not notice it on the surface but it is a complex, strong and cleverly designed structure that sits between you and your horses keeping you both safe and it is something that I am very proud of in our product.” He finishes. Boeckman are also introducing a horse box to the Australian market in early 2013, bringing out their Boeckman Compact range which is exciting! We’ll be doing a test drive so stay tuned!