A lot of things in the UK seem to be more complicated than they need to be. Take the licence requirements for horseboxes as just one example. Horse owners are often confused by the assumption that different licences are required for both the 7.5-tonne and 3.5-tonne horsebox, with or without trailers in tow. If you are confused, you have come to the right place. We will set things straight in this guide to licence requirements.
For the purposes of definition, this guide will be in reference to a self-contained horsebox consisting of a motor, cabin area, and horse transport area all built on a single chassis. Horseboxes can be as small as a light goods van or as large as a full-size HGV. Obviously, the 3.5-tonne horsebox is about the same size as a van.
Before we get into the kind of licence you must have to drive a 3.5-tonne horsebox, we first want to discuss two licences that are not applicable for this type of vehicle. The first is the Category B licence. The Cat B is nothing more than the standard car licence that most UK drivers already possess. It is not appropriate for any vehicles weighing more than 3.5 tonnes MAM (maximum authorised mass).
If you obtained your Category B licence prior to 1 January 1997, you are eligible to tow light trailers behind your vehicle as long as your vehicle’s MAM does not exceed 3.5 tonnes. If you obtained your licence later, you must have a Category B+ E licence to tow a trailer. This is where much of the confusion comes in.
Some people can get away with a Category B+E when towing a very small horsebox trailer. Not only are these kinds of situations rare, but the Cat B+E is also still limited to tow vehicles and trailers. It is not appropriate for self-contained horseboxes. For that, you need a more advanced licence.
In order to legally drive a 3.5-tonne horsebox on public roads, you need a Category C1 licence. This licence specifically qualifies you to drive vehicles between 3.5 and 7.5 tonnes WITHOUT trailers in tow. These kinds of horseboxes are perfect for one or two animals and a little bit of gear. We see them quite often at horse shows and equine competitions frequented by amateurs.
What if you want to tow a trailer or your horsebox is heavier than 7.5 tonnes? There are two additional licences to consider. First, the Category C1+E would enable you to tow a trailer with a horsebox between 3.5 and 7.5 tonnes. If your horsebox is heavier than 7.5 tonnes, you would need the Category C licence.
The point of explaining this is not to confuse you. So, in returning to the original question, you need a Category C1 licence to drive a 3.5-tonne horsebox by itself.
We need to make it clear that the weight limits attached to driving licences are not necessarily the unladen weights of the vehicles themselves. Earlier in this guide we mentioned something known as ‘maximum authorised mass’; this is the measurement the government uses to determine licence categories. The government defines MAM as follows:
“Maximum authorised mass (MAM) means the weight of a vehicle or trailer including the maximum load that can be carried safely when it’s being used on the road.”
If your 3.5-tonne horsebox is occupied by either passengers or horses, it would not weigh 3.5 tonnes sitting on the scale. The 3.5-tonne MAM is a combination of the vehicle, you and your passengers, your horses, and any extra gear you carry with you. This is important to know for one very particular reason: vehicles are rated according to how safely they can carry loads. Even if you can get enough material in your horsebox to exceed the 3.5-tonne MAM, you should never do so. Overloading a horsebox is unsafe inasmuch as it could significantly reduce handling and control. It might also physically damage the vehicle.
Anyone who currently has a Category B licence can take the appropriate exam in order to get a higher category licence. The government calls this ‘staging’. In a legal sense, staging does not mean you are getting a brand-new licence. Rather, it means you are adding a new entitlement to your current Category B. For practical purposes, however, staging results in you obtaining a higher category licence.
As a horse owner, you might be considering purchasing a small horsebox trailer rather than a self-contained horsebox so that you don’t have to undergo training for a Category C1 licence. This is certainly understandable, especially if your amateur status means you will not be transporting horses all that much. But we want to make you aware of a hidden benefit of obtaining your Cat C1. It is something the government calls ‘upgrading’.
Rather than trying to define upgrading, it is easier just to explain it. Let us assume you have a Category B licence to which you add the Cat C1 entitlement by staging. There is a licence category between the two that you will automatically be included in. What is that category? The Cat B+E licence. By staging from a Cat B to a Cat C1, you will also be eligible to drive vehicles covered under the Cat B+E category.
Likewise, if you were to go from a Cat B to a Cat C+E, you would be able to drive vehicles on both ends of the spectrum along with everything in between. Just by skipping one licence category as you stage, you are adding to the list of vehicles you are eligible to drive.
Knowing this, it may be to your advantage to not settle for the lower licence category. You may need to eventually graduate from a small horsebox trailer up to a 3.5-tonne horsebox anyway. And then you may find you need a 7.5-tonne horsebox after that. As long as you are undergoing training and testing, why not go right to the C1 or C1+E licence? Getting that licence means you will still be able to drive vehicles with horsebox trailers.
We have given you a lot of information to consider. After you have had time to think about it, we hope you will choose the HGV Training Centre as your training partner. We combine decades of experience with professional instructors and our personal commitment to students to offer a training environment we are confident you will find conducive to learning. By completing our Cat C1 training, you will be receiving the information and learning the skills you need to pass your tests the first time you take them.
The HGV Training Centre works with hundreds of students every month across all of our training programmes. Some of them are already or soon-to-be professionals, some are non-professionals who need an extra entitlement to operate horseboxes or tow trailers. We train them all with equal commitment and a dedication to excellence.
We invite you to contact us for more information about obtaining your Category C1 licence to drive a 3.5-tonne horsebox. When you do contact us, feel free to ask as many questions as you have. We want you to have all the information you need at your fingertips to make a training decision. And should you choose to train with us, we promise you will receive all the help and support you need to succeed as a driver.
Please find below a list of our other articles related to driving and towing horseboxes:
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