Upkeep of your horsebox is not only key to maintaining the safety of your vehicle but crucial to keeping your horses safe and sound. When it comes to horsebox maintenance, much of your focus should be on the floors and walls of your vehicle.
Should the structure of the floors and walls become damaged, it can have tragic consequences for your horse. There are some devastating stories to be found online of horse owners having to put their horses down because of devastating horsebox accidents – it doesn’t bear thinking about, and you should heed the lessons learned the hard way by others.
You put so much love and time into your equine – make sure you’re giving the same care and attention to their mode of transportation. Having specialist horsebox insurance in place is a good starting point, to help protect you from the financial fallout of an accident.
In this article, we’ll look at the preventative measures you can take to ensure your horsebox is safe. We’ll also consider what you should do if an inspection reveals the floor or walls of your horsebox have been damaged.
Why are horsebox floors so prone to damage?
It’s a combination of two things: the weight of the horse and insufficient drainage.
The average adult horse weighs 400kg which is a big weight for a horsebox floor to have to bear. A horse might stamp or kick when being transported, putting further pressure on the floor. And you might be transporting more than one horse at a time.
One of the biggest issues with horsebox flooring has to be insufficient drainage. Urine, rain, water and damp are all absorbed by the floor – rather than drained away – and over time this takes its toll. Once rot sets in, you have a real problem on your hands.
Areas most prone to rot are where your horse has been stamping or kicking. And it’s not only the floor which you need to regularly inspect for rot and other signs of damage, with the ramps and side walls also capable of causing your horse some harm if they aren’t structurally sound.
Poorly converted horseboxes are most prone to floor failures. Manufactured from converted delivery wagons, some horse owners see them as cost-effective horse transport – which they are, but they need to be converted correctly to ensure your precious cargo remains safe.
The long and short of it is, it’s never worth cutting corners when carrying out a horsebox conversion. The potential consequences of doing so are just too great.
How can you carry out a horsebox conversion safely?
Horsebox specialists KPH explains that standard delivery trailers just don’t offer enough support to transport horses. “Converted delivery bodies have bearer spaces designed for wide forklift pallets, the gaps between bearers can be anywhere from 18 inches to 24 inches, with even bigger spacing over the rear wheels,” it points out.
These gaps between bearers are just too big, and if a horse were to place a hoof between bearers it could result in its leg going through the floor, particularly if the wooden flooring has not aged well and become softened over time.
It’s not as simple as just adding extra bearers to a horsebox conversion – this would prove very expensive and render the conversion pointless, as you might as well just go out and buy a dedicated horsebox or trailer.
You could remove the wooden flooring and replace it with aluminium planking, but again, this would cost a pretty penny. The most cost-effective way of bolstering a floor, KPH advises, is to make the material stronger.
First things first, you should repair any damaged wood, then lay 3mm or 4mm aluminium tread plate sheets onto the existing floor.
Or you could opt for double wood floors. This involves placing a new layer of wood over the original floor to add more strength between bearers. But you need to be wise in your choice of wood – cheap plywood or even Sterling boards will only last a very limited time and prove to be something of a false economy. If you do need to keep costs down, KPH suggests fitting Marine ply. Once the second layer of wood has been installed, you will need to apply a waterproof surface treatment before the rubber mats are fitted.
If budget allows, you might also want to consider adding drain tubes to ensure that fluids are filtered away and not absorbed by the flooring.
What do you need to know about rubber matting?
You should never use a horsebox floor without rubbing matting. Matting helps to spread the load/impact and is a key accident prevention measure.
When picking your matting, your best bet is to speak to a specialist who will be able to advise you on the right product based on payload and other factors. You might need to get different matting for the floor and ramp.
Something to remember: Payload is an integral aspect of horsebox ownership. If you end up going over your maximum authorised mass (MAM) allowance for your vehicle, it can void your horsebox insurance and puts yourself, your horses and other road users at risk.
Exceeding maximum payload is one of the horsebox hazards we highlighted in a previous article.
How can you maintain your horsebox floor?
Whether you’ve got a converted horsebox with wooden flooring or a modern purpose-built horsebox with aluminium planking, you need to be carrying out regular checks and maintenance to ensure you’re not putting your horse at risk.
So, every time you use your horsebox or trailer, prior to loading your horse, inspect the floor’s condition. If the floor is wooden, the checks need to be more thorough, looking for any obvious signs of rot and damp. Using a flat-head screwdriver, prod any suspect areas – the screwdriver shouldn’t penetrate the floor. If it does, you shouldn’t go ahead and load your horses – instead, get a professional to come and investigate and repair the problem patches as quickly as possible.
Refrain from jumping up and down on the floor to check its condition – this is not a reliable indication of it being structurally sound. Your horse weighs much more than you do, don’t forget!
Once the day is done and you go to park up your horsebox, give it a good clean and allow the floor some time to air and dry. This will help prevent unnecessary dampness. Ultimately, if your horsebox is parked up for months on end, there’s not a lot you can do to prevent dampness setting in. However, regularly power-washing the underside of your vehicle will wash away any mud and debris which can expedite rot.
As well as washing the exterior of the horsebox, it’s important to regularly lift and remove matting and/or bedding to clean the floor and allow the air to circulate.
Check all areas of the horsebox – including the ramp and walls – for general condition. Aluminium is more resistant to deterioration than wood, but it can still corrode.
It’s important to note that a horsebox MOT does not cover checking the condition of the floor, ramp or walls; that’s very much your responsibility.
What other essential horsebox maintenance do you need to carry out?
When transporting precious cargo like horses, you need to be thorough in your maintenance checks. In addition to regularly inspecting the floors, walls and ramp, you need to find the time to carry out the following periodic checks:
Whether you own a coachbuilt horsebox or trailer, you need to be checking the condition of the vehicle’s tyres – something British motorists aren’t particularly good at!
Driving on sub-par tyres increases the risk of experiencing a breakdown or a collision – something that you want to avoid at the best of times, let alone when you’re transporting horses.
It only takes a horsebox being off the road for a couple of weeks for the tyres to lose air pressure and need re-inflating. So, prior to every journey, carry out sweeping checks of your tyres, observing the tread, pressure and general condition. If there’s any cause for concern, get them checked out by a professional.
The last thing you want is to go to start your horsebox, to take your equine to an event, only to find that the battery has gone flat. Frustratingly, if you park your horsebox up for a period of time, there’s a decent chance that you will return to it and be greeted with a lack of power.
To avoid finding yourself in this situation, isolate or disconnect your lorry batteries which will prevent them going flat. If this sounds like a faff, the next-best thing that you can do is commit to turning the ignition on in your horsebox every couple of weeks.
- Clean out the water system
If your horsebox has living quarters, it will have fresh and waste water tanks. These tanks need regular cleaning to avoid you or anybody else falling ill as they can harbour all kinds of unpleasant bacteria or algae if left untreated for a period of time.
Cleaning the tanks thoroughly prior to parking up is a good habit to get into – but you’ll still need to give the system a good clear out before you can think about using it. The tanks will need to be sterilised and flushed through.
If you have a modern coachbuilt horsebox – rather than just a trailer – you will need to look under the bonnet every once in a while, to make sure everything is present and correct.
Firstly, check all the fluid levels are topped up – so that’s your horsebox’s power steering, transmission, engine oil, brakes, engine coolant and windscreen washer fluid.
If you're more confident with mechanics – or you’re willing to follow a YouTube tutorial – you can attempt to change the engine and fuel filters every 18 months or so (it depends on how long your vehicle is left parked up).
While you’re at it, check that all your lights and windscreen wipers are operating correctly, replacing any defective parts.
Correct maintenance will reduce the chances of having an accident and having to claim on your horsebox insurance.
What do you need to consider when buying a horsebox?
If you’re in the market for a new horsebox, the condition of the floor, walls and ramp need to factor in your decision making. As we’ve made clear in this article, it’s not a cheap job to bolster the structure of a rickety floor, so you don’t want to invest in a vehicle with a floor that’s on the way out.
The other key factor to consider when buying a horsebox is payload. With a standard 3.5-tonne horsebox, you will probably only be able to carry one equine once you factor in tack, fuel, water and any passengers. If you need to transport multiple horses, you will more than likely need to use a larger vehicle.
When upgrading to a larger horsebox, always remember to check you have the correct licence to drive it.
For all the considerations to bear in mind when buying a horsebox, check out these tips.
Protect yourself with horsebox insurance
You’ve got to do your utmost to protect the safety of the horses you're transporting in your horsebox – which includes taking out comprehensive horsebox insurance.
Fully comprehensive horsebox insurance will usually protect your vehicle against damages such as if your horse were to kick and break anything on the horsebox, in addition to vandalism and windscreen repairs.
Horsebox insurance from the specialists at Equesure can give you a number of benefits including:
- Limited mileage discounts
- Personal accident cover on comprehensive policies
- Cover for horseboxes worth up to £750,000
- Legal cover available with all policies
- Windscreen cover on comprehensive policies
- Breakdown cover including vehicle and horse recovery
We can also offer cover for drivers aged 17 years and over - meaning that, should you be unable to drive the horsebox, someone else could drive it in your place.
For horsebox insurance that suits your needs and budget, call Equesure today.