There is always a lot of discussion about floats, what brand is best, what features are good, what people like and don’t like. Hearing and reading about float problems and incidents around floating – horses going through the floor and incidents involving chest bars, I thought a great way to approach the horse transport issue would be from a safety and quality point of view.
2 - Focus on QUALITY ...
The industry is hughly competitive with lots of manufacturers cutting corners to be competetive on the price point. Most buyers tend to be influenced by price and often opt for the cheaper of a similar sized and looking float - however they are cheaper for a reason. Most of the cost cutting happens where it’s not visible on first inspection.
The chassis should be constructed and welded from high quality steel (avoid cheap Chinese steel) BEFORE it is hot dip galvanised in one piece, NOT welded together after the galvanising process.
If you are looking at transporting heavier horses, you should choose a float that is built for at least a 2.4t tow rating (and not upgraded from 2.0t to 2.4t). The chassis and all other components would have been designed and built accordingly for heavy loads with stronger axles, more reinforcement within the chassis, better bracing, etc.
The chassis should have beams for extra support in areas of constant high loads where the horses stand during travel. Subframe sections that are welded the length of the float deliver superior strength and durability.
When buying second hand, have a look underneath the float to check whether the frame is structurally sound. Any sign of rust or corrosion on the frame is a problem.
The condition of the floor is critical - the last thing you want is your horse putting its foot through the floor! Pulling up the mats and inspecting the floor is vital if buying second hand.
Wooden floors can easily rot when moisture is introduced. Make sure your floor is completely sealed and don’t park your float on grass as it maintains moisture. Some plywood floors are just too thin! Plywood or timber should be at least 25mm thick and tanalised. Thick timber floors are very heavy and increase the weight of your float.
Nowadays, most new floats come with aluminium flooring. They differ in strength and quality. Floats with alumnium floors that have longitudial beams spanning the whole length of the float (front to back) and are not reinforced where it matters and have less structural strength. The rubber matting needs to be completely glued and sealed to the aluminium floor beneath so urine and water can't attack the floor. Make sure to check the seals regularly.
Keeping with Boeckmann's practice of going a step beyond, Boeckmann alumnium floors have crossways integrated I-beams. For extra strength, there are are 4 to 5 of these I-beams within the length of a typical hoofprint. In areas, where the horses stand during travel, the floor is reinforced again with an upper and lower surface of this box-section design providing even greater support in those areas of constant high loads.
Towing a load that is heavier than your car without brakes is very dangerous. Even with a 2 wheel braked float, you will end up in trouble, if you have a flat tyre on one of the braked wheels. So ideally get a float with a 4 wheel break system. If you go for an electric braking system, you will need an electric brake controller fitted in your tow vehicle for the brakes to work which comes at an extra cost and needs to be refitted if you change your towing vehicle.
Maintenance: Keep over run brakes lubricated. This is done by simply pumping grease into the grease nipples. With hydraulic systems, bear in mind that brake fluid does not last forever. Brake fluid by nature absorbs moisture which reduces its ability to do its job, so it is important to bleed and replace hydraulic brake fluid yearly.
If there are any doubts about the performance of the brakes, take the float to a mechanic to have the wheels removed and the brakes inspected. Wheel bearings should be inspected and cleaned as per your regular service schedule.
Bald tyres are of course not acceptable, but even a tyre that looks new and roadworthy might be suffering from dry rot.
Dry rotted tyres have dried and cracked rubber in the sidewalls, increasing chances of a flat tyre. Sunshine speeds dry rotting if the float is parked where the sun shines on it. And if the float is parked on grass, the constant wet-dry cycle of dew and rain does the same thing.
The tyres can tell you other things as well. Look closely at the way the tyres are worn. If the wear patterns are uneven - with more tread worn off one side of a tyre - it’s possible the axle is bent. Axles can bend if the tyres hit rocks or a curb.
What is your backup plan for changing a flat tyre? Have you got a spare wheel and the appropriate wheel brace to fit the nuts on your wheels? The correct wheel brace should be part of your permanent float equipment just like the first aid kit in your car. It's a great idea to have a Tri Leveler (a little ramp) with you to drive onto to change your wheel easily. You won't even have to offload your horses.
A suspension system is basically made to link the brakes and wheels directly to the float’s body. It helps absorb the physical impact triggered by road surface. At the same it needs to absorb the noise while preserving the ability in handling the float.
Leaf-spring suspension: Leaf-springs work well when heavily loaded, however they are bouncy when the float is empty. If you frequently travel with just one horse, this might not be the best option. Maintenance: Multi-leaf springs occasionally get “sticky” as dirt works its way in between the leaves. The effect can be to make the ride slightly stiffer. The attachment points will need to be checked periodically and you’ll want your mechanic to check for broken leaves.
Duratorque suspension: This system offers trailer rigidity as the axle is bolted to the trailer frame. With this additional cross member, the frame is stiff and this reduces flex in cross winds and on rough roads. This system is less likely to corrode as each torsion axle tube is galvanized inside and out and there is no metal-to-metal contact. The only maintenance that you need to worry about is the standard wheel bearing maintenance.
4-wheel independent sprung suspension: This suspension is automotive standard and allows each wheel on the same axle to move vertically independently of the others (i.e. reacting to bumps in the road) resulting in greater ride comfort, better traction, and safer, more stable vehicles on and off the road. Would you want to travel in anything less than that? Why should your horse?
Walls and roof
Metal is a highly conductive material. A steel sheet wrapped around the framework is going to heat up very quickly during the hot summer months. This heat is going straight into the interior athmosphere. A horse that is forced to endure extremely high temperatures on board a float is likely to become stressed and dehydrated.
It is much safer to use a roof material that has some insulating properties: fibreglass is a common material used for insulation. Light in total weight, but strong and durable, this is an excellent choice. Providing an insulating factor, the fibreglass exterior reflects the sun keeping the inside cooler in summer.
Boeckmann has 2 innovative options for the side wall material: Reinforced Fibreglass - the same material used to build racing yachts, and the extremely strong
Boeckmann aluminium superstructure panels used in all alumnium floats. These are constructed of double web profile anodised panels - the strongest profile available. These panels house air pockets which act as insulators (just like double glazing) and keep the interior cool. It also contributes to a comfortable and quiet interior that’s not prone to the hollow ringing and booming common in single-walled trailers.
Another benefit of these combinations is no more condensation inside the float! You can sleep in your float without having water drops landing on you.
Just a word of caution though! Some manufacturers are trying to cut corners and use thinner fibreglass moulds for their roofs. This isn’t only going to heat up the inside more but is also easier to crack when stressed.
Bracing is an important integral part of any structure - and it is also one of the most overlooked parts. The thinner the materials the more important is the bracing to give the structure stability. A lack of bracing on the side walls over time will lead to a loss of shape in the frame and difficulties in closing the ramp if the walls aren’t straight anymore.
Steel spines on the ramp prevent the ramp from flexing as horses come on and off. They also prevent the ramp material from bending. If your ramp has an integrated barn door option, it is important that the ramp is supported across the entire width of the float and not just hinged onto either side of the float. Again the ramp will flex and loose shape over time.
Are your stall bars going to withstand the force of your horse during an emergency stop while having enough give within the steel to minimise bad bruising?
Rest assured that Boeckmann stall bars have been tested and withstood the force applied during an emergency stop from 50km/h and at 80km/h during an independent test.
Other European manufacturers underperformed during this test with stall bars snapping during the stop from 50km/h which would have left the horse flying to and perhaps through the front wall.
Ideally, you want both the chest and the butt bars to be released from the outside of the float in case of emergencies. Horses can get stuck underneath bars or go over them after a panic or lose balance and go down in the float. It is important that you can easily and quickly remove the entire centre divider for the latter too.
Foam padded sides and stall bars are wearing out within months (depending on use). Rubber padding is going to last much longer. All Boeckmann floats come with a thick rubber padding.
Most often when you are out, the closest thing to a safe tying facility is your float. A lot of floats have very few or no tying points, or their tie-up points are dangerously low promoting horses to get their front leg over the rope or ropes getting caught below mudguards. High tie up points ensure the safety of your horse. Also check whether your tie-up points are strong enough to withstand your horses pulling on it in a panic.
So, a short list to finish with:
• Yes, look for a well-made float with good fittings, get a technical expert to check it out for you - especially the floor - don’t compromise quality and safety for price!
• Do thourough research and take the time to inspect a float before making a decision - the devil is in the detail
• Avoid metal roofs, untreated wooden floors and unsealed floors
• Insist on collapsible stall bars
• Think about the potential temperature inside the float and make sure there is good ventilation