Owning a horse is not a hobby to get into if you’re on a tight budget! The expenses mount up (excuse the pun) even before you’ve bought your horse. Stabling, land to graze your horse, tack, rugs, feed – the list is endless. If you plan on moving your horse around then there’s another expense you’ll have to factor in: buying a horsebox.
Whether it’s just a couple of rosettes at the occasional Gymkhana or you’re serious about eventing and want to turn it into a career, you’ll need a horsebox. Even the smallest, most basic unit can set you back thousands of pounds, so it’s a purchase you make after a lot of careful consideration.
To help you make the right one, and choose a horsebox that is suitable for both you and your horse, we’ve put together our ultimate guide to buying a horsebox. We’ll look at everything from what questions to ask yourself before you buy, what to look for, legal requirements, and even horsebox insurance.
Why are you buying a horsebox?
The obvious answer is – because I’ve got a horse! However, there are a few other questions you need to ask before you start looking through the classified ads for a second-hand box, or even splash out on a brand new one:
- How often will you use the box?
- Are you buying it to take your horse to events and shows?
- How much can you afford?
- Do you want a towed or motorised box?
- Do you have the correct driving licence?
- Where will you keep the box when it’s not being used? Is that place secure?
- Do you intend to travel abroad with your horses?
- What is the potential resale value?
- How much maintenance and upkeep does the box require?
- What kind of horsebox insurance do you need?
The cost of the box is just one of several considerations, so don’t fixate on the ticket price – think about ongoing running costs, storage, maintenance, and other outlay such as insurance premiums.
If you’re eventing at a high level, then a motorised box with its own living space for the rider, as well as a tack room and some additional extras such as onboard security systems, ventilation and even soundproofing in the horsebox area will probably be on the list of must-haves. However, if you’re just taking your pony to the local Gymkhana on a Sunday afternoon, then basic is probably best.
While you can always upgrade further down the line, if you know you’re going to be seriously committed to a career as a professional rider, or you’re planning to go to events overseas, then it may be wiser to go for a more expensive and higher-spec box from the outset to futureproof yourself against more expense later on.
Storage -where are you going to keep your horsebox?
If you live on a farm with a spare barn then there’s no problem – you’ve got the space and the land to store your horsebox. If you have to keep it on a neighbour’s farm or land then you may need to pay a monthly or annual storage fee, which can quickly add up. If you’re storing the box away from where it’s most often used then you’ll need to factor in the fuel costs of moving it back and forth. Generally, though, it will spend most of its time parked in one spot, so make sure it’s accessible and easy to park, secure enough to deter thieves, and relatively sheltered from the elements.
Motorised or towed?
This depends on a number of factors:
- What type of driving licence you have
- Your budget – a motorised box is going to be much more expensive than a hitch-and-tow style of horsebox
- Storage space
- Running costs – a motorised box will cost much more to keep on the road in the form of MOTs, insurance, road tax, fuel consumption, maintenance and repairs, servicing, etc
Depending on what type of driving licence you already have, you won’t need to take any further tests to tow a hitch-and-tow box, whereas a large motorised horsebox may mean you have to take an HGV licence, which can run into thousands of pounds for training and testing. By comparison, a motorised box has a lot more additional features, so it does depend on what you’ll be using your horsebox for.
Towing horseboxes – the legal requirements
What type of towed horsebox you can use will depend on:
- The weight of your trailer
- The weight of your car
- The date you passed your driving test
If you passed your driving test before 1997 you can drive a vehicle and trailer with a combined weight of up to 8.25tonnes MAM (Maximum Authorised Mass). That number will include the weight of your horse and everything else, right down to your grooming brushes and that sack of pony nuts! You’ll find the MAM numbers on your owner’s manual.
If you passed your test after 1997 then you’re restricted to driving vehicles that weigh up to 3.5tonnes and can tow a trailer of up to 750kg MAM, or a trailer over that as long as it’s no more than the unladen weight of the towing vehicle.
If you want to tow anything bigger then you’ll need to take your B+E car and trailer licence.
If you got your driving licence after 2013 then the restrictions are even tighter, limiting you to a small trailer of no more than 750kg, or a combined car and trailer weight of 3,500kg MAM. Anything heavier than that and you’ll need that B+E licence entitlement.
What about motorised boxes?
You can drive a motorised box of up to 3.5tonnes without having to take another test. However, anything larger than that and you will have to upgrade your licence, and very large boxes will require an HGV licence entitlement, which can be expensive and will mean you’ll have to sit a very tough HGV driving test.
Insurance costs – which is cheaper?
If you go for a motorised box then you’ll need to have vehicle insurance to be able to legally drive on the road (a minimum of third party). Towed boxes don’t need to be insured to be taken on the road, but in our opinion it’s essential to have some form of horsebox insurance to protect you against theft, damage or loss. Look for providers who can find you a good package deal that includes extras such as overnight stabling for your horse and accommodation for you if your box breaks down, cover for your tack and personal contents, and a recovery service that can deal with horseboxes.
If you’re not sure, talk to a broker who specialises in horsebox insurance to make sure you’re getting the right deal at the right price.
Security – lock it, don’t lose it!
Rural theft is a massive problem in the UK, and horseboxes (along with quads) are particular favourites among gangs. They have a high resale value, which makes them a tempting target. To help combat thieves you can:
- Lock your horsebox in a barn so that it’s difficult to get to
- Make sure all access gates on your land are secured
- Install CCTV cameras and alarms
- Fit an alarm to the horsebox
- Fit immobilisers (this can also help to bring down the cost of your insurance)
- Datatag your vehicle using micro transponders and the Datadot® microdot system or DataDNA spray, which is almost impossible to remove and identifies any vehicle, even if it’s repainted.
Travelling abroad with your horsebox
Even if you’ve got all the right licence categories and insurance to tow or drive a horsebox in the UK, you may need to get even more paperwork sorted out if you want to travel abroad. Your horse will have to have its own ‘passport’, and documentation including all vaccination certificates, but you’ll also need to make sure you’ve got European cover included in your insurance policy. You can get this added on to an existing policy, or take out separate cover for a one-off trip.
If you don’t want to take the ferry (and some won’t accept live animals in transit on their ships during rough weather), then Eurotunnel Le Shuttle will take them as long as the following regulations are complied with:
- Horses must travel in a horse transporter of an appropriate standard.
- The ventilation system must be capable of ensuring even distribution throughout with a minimum airflow of nominal capacity of 60 m3/h/KN of payload.
- The ventilation system must be capable of operating for at least 4 hours, independently of the vehicle engine.
- Eurotunnel Le Shuttle can only accept vehicles in possession of a valid Road Vehicle & Container Certificate (or equivalent issued by other member states) providing evidence that the vehicle has been approved under Article 18 (2) of Council Regulation EC 1/2005 or documentation from the vehicle manufacturer confirming the capacity of the ventilation system.
Travel on the Eurotunnel must be booked in advance with an approved company. Go to the Eurotunnel website for more details.
Looking after your horse
Even if you’re taking your horse a couple of miles to the local Gymkhana, you need to make sure it’s comfortable, calm, and above all, safe. When choosing your horsebox (whether it’s motorised or towed), look for:
- A box that’s big enough to take your horses comfortably, especially if you’re taking two animals at a time.
- A strong chassis, solid floor and ramp
- A solid partition between the driver and the horse in motorised vehicles
- Which direction the horse will be facing during transit
- A box with plenty of ventilation
- Easy escape routes to get the animal out quickly in the event of an emergency
- A box with plenty of headroom and no sharp edges.
New or second-hand?
Let’s have a quick look at the pros and cons of going for that brand-new horsebox, or hunting down a second-hand bargain:
Buying New – The Pros and cons
- It will come with a full manufacturer’s warranty.
- It will be in perfect condition with no damage or faults, so you don’t have to worry about replacement floor panels, ramps or other parts
- You can talk to the seller if you have a problem
- There will be no outstanding finance
- It won’t be a crash-repaired vehicle.
- It will be expensive!
- It will be top of the list for any thieves in the area
- Insurance costs may be higher and you may be required to fit immobilisers and alarms
Buying second-hand – the Pros and Cons
- It will be considerably cheaper than a new one, so you get more for your money.
- It will be cheaper to insure.
- It will be less attractive to thieves.
- There are no long-term finance fees to pay.
- It may be in poor condition under that new coat of paint!
- There may be outstanding finance
- At the very worst it could actually be dangerous to both you and your animal
- It has less value if you want to sell it on.
Our top five tips for buying second-hand
- Go online to www.hpicheck.com and run an HPI check to check for any outstanding finance and the history of the vehicle
- Check that the chassis and engine number match on motorised boxes
- If it’s been converted into a horsebox, get an expert to check the chassis and that it hasn’t been built on an uninsurable and dangerous accident-damaged vehicle.
- Don’t go for the smallest box – make sure it will take your horse comfortably and hasn’t been built just to take Shetland ponies!
- Don’t forget your needs too – is there space for living quarters, or room to store your tack and rugs?
Our top five tips for buying new
- Set a budget and stick to it. If that shiny new horsebox you’ve fallen in love with is too small, think about second-hand options instead, rather than overstretching your finances.
- Make sure you have the correct licence to either tow a large horsebox or drive a large motorised vehicle – if necessary you may need to take an HGV licence before buying your vehicle.
- Make sure you have somewhere secure to keep it and that you’ve got the right security in place to protect it from thieves.
- Never buy without taking a motorised box for a test drive and make sure you feel comfortable driving it.
- Check that your vehicle is capable of towing a hitch-and-tow trailer without going over the weight limits (Maximum Authorised Mass), which is the combined weight of the trailer and vehicle.
Five final tips for using your horsebox:
- Always carry a fire extinguisher!
- Get your horse used to the box in a safe and familiar environment so that they don’t panic the first time you try to load them
- Do a ‘walk-around’ check before setting off to check a towed trailer is hitched properly, the tyres are correctly inflated, your running lights are working correctly, and that there’s no obvious sign of damage
- Make sure the ramp is kept clean so that the horse or groom doesn’t slip while loading
- Have a safe place to keep valuables, especially if the box is left unattended at events for any length of time.
Looking to buy a horsebox? Here is a selection of companies to contact:
JSW Coachbuilders Ltd & JSW Trailers
01609 772 449
Thorpe Horseboxes Ltd
Equihunter Horseboxes Ltd
0790 481 8389
Oakland Coachbuilders Ltd
Team Tristar (UK) Ltd
This article originally appeared in December 2015. It has since been completely updated to provide you with the best and most accurate information.