Horse truck or horse trailer? Weighing up the pros and cons


truck-880-445_4991Ever dreamed of owning a horse truck? Neil Clarkson suggests anyone tempted to sell their two-horse trailer nd move up in the world should weigh the pros and cons carefully.

Most equine fans have imagined owning their own horse truck – usually when they’re heaving their two-horse trailer around.

The vision is wondrous: no more man-handling trailers or lining up the pesky hitch with the towing vehicle, and let’s not forget that backing a truck will be easier than a horse trailer.

Horses that object to trailers often seem to board trucks with little or no resistance. With a truck, you simply load the horses, leap in, and away you go.

What could be simpler?

Price needn’t be a barrier, either. There are plenty of horse trucks on the market for less than the cost of a new two-horse trailer. And we all know that good second-hand braked trailers tend to cost plenty.

There are many good reasons to own a horse truck, but anyone tempted will need to crunch the numbers carefully. The purchase price will be only one expense in keeping it on the road.

truck-800-445First, it’s worth considering what makes two or even three-horse trailers so appealing. They are comparatively simple trailers, for which you pay $35 a year for on-road registration in New Zealand. They require six-monthly or annual warrants of fitness check – their road-safety certification- depending upon their age. They run on car or light-truck tyres, and have a pretty simple electrical system that couples to the towing vehicle.

While rust is an ever-present threat, and can be costly to repair, the most expensive mechanical repair you’re ever likely to face is to have major work done on the brakes. Even then, it’s hard to imagine repair bills running out beyond $1000.

The disadvantages are clear to anyone who has ever owned one. They can be difficult to manoeuvre before being hooked on a towing vehicle. They can also be difficult to manoeuvre after they’re hooked up, and, unless you have a three-horse slant loader, you’re limited to two horses. You need a decent-sized vehicle to pull it and, if you have hydraulic brakes on the trailer, you have to get out and disengage them before reversing.

It makes a horse-truck look seriously attractive, especially if you have the need to carry more than two horses.


Horse owners who have moved from a two-horse trailer to a truck will often talk about how the truck feels safer and more secure. Most modern trucks are easy to drive.

So is a truck for you? The laws and regulations are quite complex, and much will depend on the size of the truck and its axle and steering configuration. You would be wise to consider the following:

Certificates of Fitness

Trucks and heavy vehicles require a Certificate of Fitness (COF) in New Zealand. This is a tougher and more comprehensive assessment of the vehicle’s safety than a standard Warrant of Fitness required for a car or a two-horse trailer. While a standard car warrant of fitness will cost you about $NZ40 (and a horse trailer even less), expect to pay far more for a COF, depending on the type and size of vehicle. They’re six-monthly. Unlike cars that require a warrant less than 30 days old when sold, trucks need only a current COF. However, they cannot be sold unless their road-user charges are up to date (see below).

infologoIf you live in a remote location, it pays to check how easy it will be to renew your truck’s Certificate of Fitness. Many towns will not have testing facilities, meaning you may face a long drive to the nearest main centre.
There are mobile testing staff who visit smaller centres but be warned: you may have to book well in advance.

This fifth-wheel - or gooseneck - unit has full facilities, carries three horses and drivers don't need a special licence.
This fifth-wheel – or gooseneck – unit has full facilities, carries three horses and drivers don’t need a special licence.


A typical horse trailer costs between $70 and $150 a year to insure, which is considerably less than you’ll pay insuring your truck. Depending upon its value and the excess, your annual truck insurance will set you back several hundred dollars.


Your horse trailer costs around $NZ35 a year, being classified as a light trailer. Truck registration depends upon the size of the vehicle, but you’re generally looking at more than $NZ300 a year.


Certificate of Loading

Your truck will require a Certificate of Loading. This must be displayed in the cab. While it’s unlikely you’ll be buying a truck without one, it’s important to understand what information it contains. It must include the unladen weight of the vehicle, as well as the weight of the vehicle with its maximum load, normally determined by the maker’s specifications. This is called the Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM). If it has a draw bar to tow a trailer, the all-up weight with a loaded trailer should be stated. This is the Gross Combined Mass (GCM). Generally, your Certificate of Loading is only likely to need changing if major modifications are made to the truck that affect its load-carrying. Many Certificates of Loading now include maximum loadings for each of the axles. Consider this carefully, as one of the axles might have a light rating. If in doubt, you may need to visit a weigh bridge with a full load of horses and check the weight of each axle. Many weigh-bridge operators will let you do this for a small fee. Regardless of whether your Certificate of Loading has the weights for each axle, the law lays down limits. These vary depending upon the type of axle (dual wheels, for example), and whether they steer. Generally, axle loadings range from 5.4 tonnes to 8.2 tonnes.

Goods Service Licence

If the total weight of your vehicle with its load exceeds six tonnes, you will require a Goods Service Licence to carry your load – in this case, horses. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a business or a private individual. These are issued by Land Transport New Zealand and involve two 90-minute examinations. The law effectively assumes that when you own a vehicle of this size you do so to make money. If your horse truck is for private use, you should be able to successfully apply for an exemption. However, it is important that your truck is for private use, and not for the purpose of turning a healthy profit carting other people’s horses around. There’s paperwork and fees for the exams. Your signature on the application form needs to be witnessed by a Justice of the Peace or solicitor.

infologoIf you’re tempted to drive about without fully paid-up road miles, think of the penalties. Many think that they have an automatic 500km of “grace” before they face a fine. Don’t count on it. The law allows you to mount a defence if you satisfy certain requirements, but there is no guarantee of success. And if you’re over 500km, you’re toast.

Road-user charges

Those running diesel vehicles in New Zealand will already know about these. You pay for your mileage in advance, based on the weight of the vehicle. If your vehicle weighs more than three-and-a-half tonnes before it is loaded, it’s classed as a heavy vehicle and is subject to road-user charges, regardless of whether it is petrol or diesel. Your vehicle will require a hubodometer – a mileage recorder mounted on a wheel hub. This becomes your “official” mileage recorder – not the one in your dashboard. You buy your road miles in increments of 1000km. One of the most expensive mistakes you can make is letting your road miles lapse. If caught, you not only have to pay to bring the road-miles up to date, but your fine will amount to three times the arrears.


Driving hours and logbook

You do NOT have to have a driver’s logbook if your vehicle is being used privately, AND has no more than two axles and a manufacturer’s gross laden weight of less than 14 tonnes, AND you’re within 50km of home. If you go outside these criteria, you need to fill in a driver’s log .You can buy your logbook from a number of outlets, such as BP service stations, Whitcoulls, and Vehicle Testing New Zealand outlets. The logs contain instructions on their use. If in doubt, ask the police. The penalty for failing to fill out a logbook is a substantial fine.

On-board accommodation

If you want to remove your obligations for a Goods Service Licence and the need for a driver logbook, ensure at least 50 per cent of your load space is accommodation. This means your vehicle can be classified as a motor caravan. To qualify, the accommodation in question must be a permanent fixture. A blanket separating off an area with a sleeping bag will not be good enough. You may need to get your vehicle reclassified (to type 10) as a motor caravan by Vehicle Testing New Zealand. Remember: even if your truck meets the accommodation requirements, it must be classed as a motor caravan before you’re released from logbook and Goods Service Licence requirements.

Driver’s licence

Your standard-issue Class 1 driver’s licence allows you to drive a car or tractor, or combinations of vehicles up to 4.5 tonnes. Once your all-up weight with load (that’s gross laden weight [GLW] or gross combined weight [GCW] in legal-speak) exceeds 4.5 tonnes, you’re looking at a Class 2 licence, possibly even Class 3 if you’re getting into one of those seriously large horse liners. It’s not cheap, and you need to hold your standard car driver’s licence for at least six months. There’s paperwork: you need to present a medical certificate and pay for a learner licence, pass a theory test, and a practical driving test in a vehicle of the class you’re applying for, after holding your learner’s licence for six months. The cash register keepings ringing: there’s also a fee for your full licence to be issued. There is a list of approved assessors who can guide you through the process and undertake the practical assessment, together with giving you truck time. Expect to pay out several hundred dollars for a course, which many run over two days. There will probably be an additional charge if they provide you with the practical test.


This is a biggie. You need to go in with your eyes open rather than your wallet. It’s important to remember that trucks are not really designed for a once-a-fortnight run to a local horse event. They’re built for commercial use, meaning frequent, hot running, and high mileage. A commercial truck operator is after a million or more kilometres out of his truck. Over those sorts of distances, a few thousand dollars here and there to fix up the brakes or overhaul the diesel injectors, seems pretty reasonable. If you buy a tired old truck and start overhauling motors, injectors, and brakes for the sake of an occasional run to Pony Club, you’ll soon be disenchanted, not to mention poor. Everything about a truck is built to industrial grade, and the cost of parts and repairs reflect it. A tyre will cost you $250 to $300 even on a small truck. On bigger vehicles they can cost $500 to $700 or more, although retreads will be cheaper. If you’ve bought yourself an older tired truck with problems, you could easily spend more than the whole truck is worth keeping it on the road for a year.

truck-petition-600-417_0433What if I’m stopped?

If you’re stopped by the police they’ll want to check that your Certificate of Fitness is current, that your road-user charges are fully paid up, and that your log book – if you require one – is filled in. And don’t think that if you’re overloaded you’ll be safe by simply avoiding the local weigh station. If you’re stopped by a member of the police’s Commercial Vehicle Investigation Unit, there’s a good chance they’ll have a set of portable scales in their vehicle to weigh your axles.

Other considerations

Do you have somewhere to park it at home? Will you be the only person with the appropriate licence to drive it? Would you be better off getting a truck with a removable horse box so the flat-deck can be used around your farm?

For those with plenty of horses to move, there is little choice in the matter. For the rest, the numbers need to be looked at very carefully. Any truck should be checked over thoroughly by an experienced truck mechanic. A careful check should be made for rust. You need to ask yourself whether you can afford a bill for $NZ5000 or $NZ10,000 should the truck have a mechanical meltdown. If the truck is older, are parts readily available, both new and second hand?

An experienced police officer involved in enforcement of truck regulations says owners are best to assume nothing and check everything. Be absolutely sure of your legal obligations as they apply to the particular truck you intend buying.

Next time you’re putting your back into moving that trailer, perhaps your mind will drift to the thought of a horse truck. Mine invariably does. But then I think of the $NZ35 trailer registration, the comparatively cheap insurance, and the low costs of running it. What I try to avoid thinking about is the money tied up in the horse trailer, the cost of the big diesel-powered four-wheel-drive in the garage to tow it, the road-user charges, and the insurance.

See you in the poor house.


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