FAQ Gear Horse Care Tips

Breaking Down Horse Trailer Weight Terminology

double d horse trailer
Written by Double D Trailers

Emphasis On ‘Breaking Down’

Horse trailer weight can be a tricky subject. Is my vehicle strong enough to pull my trailer? Will my trailer sway behind me? Will the weight be distributed properly? It gets really confusing…really quickly.

One of the most important things to remember when trying to figure out if your vehicle will tow your horse trailer is that it’s not about what your vehicle will pull, it’s what your vehicle will carry (also known as tongue weight).

Buyer Beware

Often, vehicle manufacturers will advertise an absurdly high towing number to attract buyers. Nine times out of ten, that’s all a customer knows to look at, and of course, the vehicle salesperson assures shoppers that, “Yes, our vehicle can pull that weight!” just to make a sale.

Imagine you’re going on a long trip. You purchased a suitcase made of the strongest material that the world has to offer. You load your suitcase full of all of your possessions, packing it to the brim. You pick up the suitcase, and the handle snaps! Why? It’s easy to pull, but difficult to carry. The same concept applies for your vehicle and trailer.

Just because a vehicle could pull a weight doesn’t mean that it would carry it well—or safely.

horse trailer from the side

Towing Terms to Keep in Mind

Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR)

If your vehicle has a GVWR of 8,500 lbs. and your trailer weighs 6,500 lbs., this doesn’t necessarily mean you’re safe to tow. This is a common mistake that is made and can result in unsafe scenarios on the road.

Just because a vehicle manufacturer advertises a high towing number (or GVWR), this does not take into account the capacity of the vehicle hitch or the tongue weight the vehicle is capable of carrying.

Remember: If your vehicle is rated to tow 8,500 lbs., but your hitch is only rated to tow 400 lbs., there can’t be anything over 400 lbs. on the tongue or there is a major risk for an accident to occur.

horse trailer tongue weight

Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR)

This is a term that is not often talked about, but important not to overlook. The maximum weight that your tow vehicle’s axles are able to carry is known as the gross axle weight rating.

A common myth in the horse trailer industry is that if your vehicle hitch is not rated high enough, you can just exchange it for another hitch with a higher capacity.

You still need to examine the GAWR to ensure that you aren’t beyond what your vehicle’s axles are rated to carry.

Tongue Weight

Tongue weight is another part of the puzzle to consider. There is a certain amount of the weight of your trailer that is transferred to your vehicle through the ball or gooseneck—that is your tongue weight.

It’s critical to ensure that the tongue weight of your trailer matches that carrying capacity of your ball or gooseneck.

If you’re unsure how to find out your tongue weight, you can use this tool to calculate it.


This number includes the weight of the driver of the vehicle, passengers, any cargo such as luggage, AND trailer tongue weight. Although most vehicle manufacturers will advertise the payload rating, it’s still a misleading number as you have to find the tongue weight rating by itself.

trailering horse book

Click to see this guide to trailering at Amazon

My Tongue Weight Exceeds My Hitch’s Weight…What Do I Do?

Before you start searching for a new vehicle or settling for a trailer that you don’t want – there is likely a solution to your problem.

The last term to know is a weight distribution system.

A weight distribution system is a special hitch that helps to spread out the weight and provide a smooth, level ride for you and your horses.

Here are some signs that a weight distribution hitch is the right investment for you:

  • You often experience trailer sway while on the road.
  • You have difficulty steering, or coming to a sudden stop, while hauling your trailer.
  • Your headlights tilt upwards and you have problems seeing the road at night well.
  • When you look at your horse trailer and vehicle combination, there is a slump where the two connect at your hitch.
  • You own a trailer with a tongue weight that is heavier than your hitch’s tongue weight.

How Does it Work?

A weight distribution system does not increase the capacity of the hitch – this is a common misconception. Most hitches have two ratings… one with weight distribution, and one without.

horse trailer weight specs

The attached photo was taken on a 2005 GMC Sierra truck. If you look at the top line rating, it shows the hitch maxes out a 5,000 lbs. of ‘pulling,’ and only 600 lbs. of ‘carrying.’

But if you look at the lower line, “weight distributing,” you see it increases to 12,000 lbs. of ‘pulling’ and 1,500 lbs. of ‘carrying.’ So it is rated to handle 1,500 lbs. of tongue weight—as long as you are using a weight distribution system.

  • A poorly distributed load is an accident waiting to happen. In most cases, the unevenly distributed weight makes it difficult to stop. To combat this issue, the weight distribution system is made up of a few components:
  • A large trailer hitch that connects to your vehicle
  • A weight distribution shank with a ball mount
  • Spring bars that sweep under the tongue of your trailer

These different mechanisms all work together to ensure extra hitch points between your vehicle and your horse trailer. The weight of your trailer-truck combination, as a whole, is more evenly distributed between all of the axles on both your vehicle and trailer, resulting in a much more level ride.

horse trailer truck weight mismatch

If you’re unsure if a weight distribution system is necessary for your trailer and vehicle, it doesn’t hurt to add one. It will only add an extra level of safety while traveling—for both you and your four-legged friends.

To learn more about horse trailer safety, visit www.doubledtrailers.com.

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About the author


Double D Trailers

Double D Trailers has sold trailers in every state in the US, several in Canada and exports to Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, Iceland, Lebanon and Europe. They specialize in innovative custom built horse trailers that prioritize horse safety and comfort.