Rebecca Gimenez, BS, PhD (animal physiology), Primary Instructor and President of Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue. Her first book, Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue, was published in 2008. She is an internationally sought instructor in technical rescue techniques, procedures, and methodologies, and she has published numerous critiques, articles and journal submissions on horse safety, technical large animal rescue and horse handling issues.

Ensuring Horse Trailer Floors Don't Fail

Sometimes it's unfortunate that as the author of this blog, I often decide what I would like to focus on for the week based on trends of note in the large animal emergency situations that I track worldwide. I say "unfortunate" because that usually means that somewhere, somehow, something horrific has happened to a horse--and usually more than once--hence a "trend." That is the situation this week as people are getting their horses back on trailers to enjoy the spring riding season. Perhaps your trailer hasn't been checked for serviceability or maintained as well as it should have?

How it Starts:

I called my farrier, Stephen Marshall here in Georgia, on Monday to discuss an appointment for him to trim my horses. During the conversation he mentioned that he was called last week to assist with two horses that had gone through the floor of a trailer and were trapped there. The horses had been driven at least three miles before the driver realized what had happened and stopped the trailer.

I asked him for more details, and he related that the floor of the trailer was absolutely not appropriate for anything living to be transported in, especially because the floor boards were not attached. Nothing held them to the frame of the trailer except their weight--which of course when the trailer went over a bump, they popped up and the horse went through.

Horse injured when trailer floor fails

This horse sustained life-threatening injuries and was euthanized after falling through failed floor of a stock trailer..

When he arrived, one of the horses was trapped in the floor while the other was able to get himself out through the escape door and was quickly going into shock. The responders assisted the trapped horse out the escape door, and then triaged them. Both had severe extensor tendon damage and compromise of their tendons, and were euthanized.

How it Continues:

Yesterday, Dr. Tai Curry Fox, one of my former TLAER students from Mississippi, sent me pictures of the horrific scene she was called to that morning for a trailer accident. When she arrived, she realized it was another horse had gone through a trailer floor in a stock trailer. The flooring was not attached to the frame, and the boards were rotten even at visual inspection.

As you can see from the picture, the entire area on the front of the pastern and fetlock is destroyed (this is the severing of the extensor tendons) it is amazing that this horse is capable of standing at all. After the horse was humanely euthanized, the veterinarian noted that the fetlock on the right hind was actually dislocated as well.

Why It Happens:

Structural collapse of the trailer floor is tied to one of two things: inappropriate loading of the flooring (too much weight on the surface), or failure of a component of the floor (rust, corrosion, failure of attachment, poor support by the frame, etc.)

Horse trailer floor before horse fell through


(Top) Before: In this photo, you can't see where the board might break under pressure. (Bottom) After: This image shows where the board broke after a 1,400-pound horse stepped on it.

The entire weight of a horse is on the tiny surface area of their hoof, meaning that a floor that can withstand their weight across its length might not be able to on the very center of the floor, where the support frame doesn't hold it up. Note the pictures of an example I made, and then I allowed my horse to step onto the middle. Without the appropriate support, the board failed with 1,200 pounds of weight on it.

Trailer Flooring Choices:

As a purchaser of trailers and flooring, you as the consumer have control of the industry. Demand the best quality trailer you can get, and make sure you pay attention to the flooring options. Examine your friend's trailers and never load your horse onto a trailer that you are not comfortable with, especially stock trailers.


PRO: Easy to install yourself, recycling product, very long service life, softer on the legs, quiet, easy to clean, durable and impervious to oils, urine, manure, etc.

CON: Medium expense, slick so must have rubber mats or cleats on top surface.

LUMBER - (Minimum 2 inches thick and pressure treated. NO PLYWOOD.)

PRO: Easy to install yourself, cheapest, renewable resource, pressure treatment extends life.

CON: Must be cleaned regularly and kept dry as possible, crack and splinters, rots with time and exposure, replacement recommended within 10 years.


PRO: Durable, light weight, easy to clean, long service life.

CON: Expensive, can corrode with time and exposure, transfers heat from the road.


PRO: Durable.

CON: Expensive, can rust with time and exposure, transfers heat from road, loud noises in trailer.

Clean Your Floors:

A regular cleaning of your trailer floors may save your horses from looming disaster. (We all know people that leave poop and pee in the trailer for months.) Efficient cleaning of the trailer after every use, by sweeping out the manure and bedding, then hosing out the urine and breakdown products once a month, will minimize rot and corrosion. Taking out the trailer mats at least once a year and performing a pressure cleaning or scrubbing of all parts of the trailer will allow you to perform a visual inspection for corrosion, rot, or boards that are not secured.

A Few More Horror Stories From my Files:

An incident similar in the UK last year.

My comments: Plywood is never an appropriate choice for trailer flooring! Even aluminum can corrode, steel can rust. Flooring of any type must be regularly inspected to ensure the quality of the channel, the ability of the floor to withstand the weight of the horse and especially on such a tiny surface area of the hooves.

Another incident where the owner didn't realize the horse had fallen out of the trailer in 2010.

My comments: It is unknown if this was through the floor or unsecured doors. And it is very easy to not notice the horse is being dragged if you do not look into your rear view mirrors constantly! An even easier solution: install a camera in the trailer so that you can observe your horse.

An incident in Chesapeake, Va., where the horse was euthanized on the scene.

More sad scenarios in 2009 and 2010.

My comments: Rarely does a horse survive this type of injury. When the feet go through the horse struggles to right itself, and the asphalt is a very efficient abrasive, especially at speed.

There is a short video on how to do a trailer safety check you can check out on the site.

I welcome your comments and stories related to this blog. Remind your friends to check their trailers or take them to a reputable trailer maintenance facility to be inspected and cleaned.

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