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Buyers of second-hand horse lorries tend to look at the market through the wrong end of the telescope. The condition of the vehicle’s body and its construction are important, especially the design of the ramp. But the make of truck chassis, its condition and, above all, its “history” are even more vital. Remember, it’s a truck first — the body just happens to transport horses.

Look for a horsebox with a full service history, and always run an HPI check (tel: 0845 300 8905, to ensure it doesn’t have finance owing or a chequered past. It’s also worth having it checked over at one of the truck manufacturer’s service centres before you buy.

High mileage isn’t a problem — modern trucks can cover more than 500,000 miles (350,000km) without needing a major overhaul.

The make of chassis is important — I rate DAF highest, then Mercedes and MAN, then Iveco. If you choose a slightly older model of good make, you can always spend money updating the fittings and paintwork later.

When it comes to size, big is not always best. Consider 3.5-tonne GVW (gross vehicle weight) trucks, as well as 7.5-tonners. The smaller lorries are cheaper to run, can be parked on your drive at home and can be driven by those who passed their driving test since 1997.

The front-wheel-drive Renault Master, Peugeot Boxer or Citroën Relay have a low loading height and drive like cars. The rear-wheel-drive Mercedes Sprinter is also worth a look, as is the latest Volkswagen LT.

Conversely, anything over 7.5-tonnes will be relatively cheap because the market is restricted to those with an HGV licence.

The next hurdle to overcome is the type of build. The three options are: a coachbuilt body that’s been built on to a new chassis, a new body that’s been built on to a second-hand chassis and a “conversion” — a second-hand “dry freight” van that has been modified to carry horses. If you take the latter route, choose a truck with a composite plastics body and avoid anything based on ribbed alloy.

There’s a lot of froth talked about which type of lorry is best. But, as a rule, aim to buy the newest chassis you can afford. A coachbuilt horsebox, built on a brand new chassis will probably have a lower mileage, but will be priced year-for-year well above a higher mileage, newer conversion.

So, which is best? It depends on your priorities. Do you really need a fully-equipped living area with bunk above the driver’s cab? If you take a tribe to Pony Club events several times a year, or compete over several days, the answer is probably yes. But, what if you’re on a tight budget, only travel to local events and just need somewhere to change and store your tack? Then a “day living” cab, without a “crawl-through” opening at the back may suit.

There’s also the issue of fixed cab versus tilt. Most modern trucks are designed with a cab that tilts — if this is fixed in an unprofessional manner, it may restrict access to the engine.

With so many areas to consider, it’s worth taking your time over buying a horsebox. Be prepared to travel and look at as many vehicles as you can, comparing private sales with those at horsebox dealers and horse box manufacturers, to ensure you find the best buy.

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  • This feature was first published in Horse & Hound (3 November ’06).