is something about trailer loading that tends to be more
than almost any other aspect of working with horses. Trailer
also reveals how profusely creative people can be in their
to coerce a horse into action. Unfortunately, most methods used to
force a horse into a trailer come with a real possibility of
a wreck. The best way to load a horse is to
make the trailer a good place. If your horse feels safe and
comfortable in the trailer he will load.
timing doesn’t have to be off very much for you to make loading
more difficult than it needs to be for your horse. Trying to hurry
the loading process is usually counter productive. If your horse
suspicious of the trailer at all, your
to encourage him to get in, often only serve to reinforce his
that the trailer is not a good place to be. Carol’s
experience taking her horse Badger to Colorado State University’s
Veterinary Teaching Hospital (CSU) is a good example of this.
had an appointment at CSU for Badger to have some diagnostic tests
done. Since I didn’t have a trailer, my vet offered to haul my
horse for me. Having previously had a bad experience with Badger
trailer, I got professional help.
trainer I hired worked with Badger and me twice before the day my
was to take Badger to CSU. Each session ended with me easily
Badger by myself. The plan was for me to lead Badger up to my
trailer and let him check it out. I would then take Badger away
approach the trailer again. Our expectation, based on how Badger
loaded during the training sessions, was that Badger would walk
the trailer on his own after the second or third approach.
the day of my appointment, I took Badger up to my vet’s trailer
let him sniff. Without my prior knowledge or consent, the vet and
barn manager came up behind Badger and tried to push him in.
lurched forward and banged his shins on the edge of the trailer.
After that, there was no getting Badger loaded. Things
to the point where I was pushed aside, the vet and barn manager
shoving and hitting Badger, while another person was in the
pulling with all his might, and the barn manager’s dog was barking
and nipping at Badger’s heels. I put a stop to everything; I told
them I didn’t care if Badger ever went into a trailer, he could
stay right there until he died, but no one was going to treat him
way they were.
called the trainer and asked for help. He agreed to haul Badger to
CSU if I could get another appointment. Two weeks later, he
as I was bringing Badger out of the pasture. I handed Badger to
trainer and went to the tack room to get some things I needed.
came out of the tack room, Badger was already standing quietly in
trailer ready to go.
was surprised Badger had gotten into the trailer so quickly. I had
done nothing with him since he refused to load two weeks before.
I asked the trainer what he had done to get Badger into the
he said, ‘I let Badger sniff the trailer when we first walked up
it. While he was still interested in it, I took him away, and
walked right into the trailer on our second approach.’”
good technique to temper your actions, so you don’t create
resistance, is to try to get your horse better at loading each
you load him. Heather’s experience with a particularly difficult
rescue horse is a good example of how much a horse can change with
one good loading experience.
run a horse rescue and get a lot of interesting calls. One
several years ago, I got a call from someone who was moving out of
town. Unable to load his horse, he told me he was donating her to
horse rescue. I got the address and asked a friend to go with me
get the horse.
don’t know what the horse’s owner had done to try to get his
horse into the trailer, but we were unable to even get the horse
go near the trailer. I fed and watered the horse for several days
while I found a family that said they would adopt the horse. They
assured me they would be able to haul the horse in their trailer.
their first attempt to load the horse, they didn’t have any more
luck than I did. They gave up, and said they would come back the
day with their vet and have her sedate the horse. With the mare
sedated, they were sure loading her would not be a problem.
with the horse sedated, they were unable to get her into their
trailer. They tried every conceivable way. I finally put a stop to
things, for fear the horse would get hurt, after the mare flipped
over backwards several times. The vet suggested I contact a
she knew. She said if anyone could get this horse into a trailer,
was a few minutes late and the trainer already had the mare
quietly at the back of his trailer when I arrived. It still took
several hours to get the mare to step into the trailer; she fought
every request fiercely. The previous attempts to load this horse
convinced her that all of the usual loading techniques were
on her life. Finally, the trainer found something he could use
no one had messed up—he led the horse into
the trailer with a rope on her front foot.
week later, the people who adopted this mare changed their minds.
called the trainer who loaded her before and asked if he could
the horse for me again. Expecting a repeat of the previous
experience, I scheduled a time when he would have several hours to
work on it. This time, however, things went quite differently—the
mare followed him right into the trailer like she had loaded well
you start loading your horse, expect one of the following
- Your horse walks right in when
you approach the trailer.
- You drive your horse into the
- You lead your horse into the
Horse Walks In
you approach the trailer, watch for your horse to react. If your
horse is concerned about being loaded into the trailer, you will
to find the edge of his comfort zone. This distance will be
if your horse does not get into the trailer right away. Make sure
are not blocking your horse’s entrance to the trailer when you get
there. You should be off to the side enough that your horse can
right into the trailer if he chooses. Also, you need to feed the
rope out as your horse gets into the trailer. Your horse will
you are asking him not to get into the trailer if he hits the end
the lead rope.
Drive Your Horse In
your horse does not walk into the trailer on his own, ask for a
little more effort by driving him toward the trailer just as if
were driving him out on a circle around you. It is important here
that you just ask for a try. You are not forcing your
into the trailer at this point. As soon as your horse starts to
to get closer to the trailer, stop your driving and pet him. Think
terms of making the trailer a good, safe, quiet place to be. Your
horse is already suspicious of the trailer. Putting pressure on
when he is trying to go in will reinforce your horse’s idea that
the trailer is not a good place.
a few tries, give your horse a break by going to a spot past where
first reacted to the trailer. Pet your horse and let him relax
you. Spend a little time developing some communication but don’t
work your horse vigorously. By asking your horse to step back and
lead up, move his hip over, move his shoulder over, and sending
horse past you out onto a circle, you will be developing tools you
can use to maneuver your horse when you go back to the trailer.
you are ready to try again, send your horse away from you and
him as little as possible—just enough to
keep him headed for the trailer. Approach the trailer as before
give him the opportunity to walk in on his own. Follow this by
for a little more effort and reward him for any interest shown in
trailer. Each time you take a break, go to the same spot. You want
your horse to get the idea that there are two places to be—with
you at your spot, or in the trailer. If you are successful in
convincing your horse that the trailer is a good place to be, he
eventually walk in on his own when you send him away from your
Lead Your Horse In
In cases where the
driving technique does not work, try leading your horse into the
trailer. In a slant-load or stock trailer, there is enough room
you to step into the trailer and lead your horse in behind you. In
two-horse straight-load trailer, you will need to be in the stall
opposite the one you are trying to get your horse into. From your
position in the trailer, take the slack out of the lead rope and
a steady pressure until your horse makes an effort to move toward
trailer. Just as in the driving technique, it is important that
put no pressure on your horse when he is moving toward the
you want to reward every effort. If your horse makes no
to come off your pressure, increase the pressure and/or move to
side a little so the pressure is not pulling straight forward. A
gauge of how much pressure you can use is how close your horse’s
head is to the roof of the trailer. The more pressure you use, the
higher your horse will raise his head. Don’t use so much pressure
that your horse bumps his head on the roof of the trailer. If you
hold a steady pressure and release whenever your horse makes an
effort, he should eventually walk into the trailer.
you lead a horse into a slant-load or stock trailer, you should
on the left side of the trailer and bring your horse up on the
side. Do not let your horse turn away from you. Pull his head
you if he starts to turn around. That will keep you on the inside
the turn so you can move to the right rear corner of the trailer
stay out of his way.
Yourself up for Success
larger, more open, light , and airy a trailer is the more likely
is that your horse will get in. Think of ways you can create more
space in your trailer. Is there a rear tack compartment that can
removed? Can you take the dividers out? If you have a two horse
side-by-side trailer, fastening the back of the divider to the
on the right side will create a larger diagonal space for your
sure the floor of your trailer is well supported. A horse will not
want to get in a trailer if the floor sags too much. I have seen
horses that previously refused to get into their owners trailers
easily once additional supports were welded under the floor.
you’ve done everything you can to make your trailer as inviting
possible, the following tips can be helpful in different
- Eliminate the step up. The one thing I have seen help
the most in loading horses that have never been in a trailer
before is to back up to a bank so the horse can walk in
without having to step up. Anything you do to reduce the
step will help, but eliminating the step altogether works
- Have hay in the trailer. I don’t believe in bribing a
horse into the trailer, but it is good for the horse to find
a reward when he does load up. For horses that are very food
oriented, this can be a real incentive.
- Use a combination of leading and driving. Simultaneously keeping
pressure on the lead rope and tapping the horse’s hind legs
can elicit a try from the most reluctant horse. This should
not be used as an attempt to force the horse into the
trailer, but the tapping must be strong enough for the horse
to want to get away from it. Stop tapping and release the
pressure on the lead rope to reward each try. Keep in mind
that too much pressure on the lead rope will cause the horse
to resist your efforts.
you get your horse loaded, drive sensibly. Quick stops, fast
and hard cornering all make it difficult for your horse to keep
balance. Having to deal with the centrifugal force of a corner and
acceleration or deceleration at the same time is even harder. Add
that the “whiplash” effect you get in a trailer, and you can
easily cause your horse to loose his balance. If your horse is
repeatedly thrown off balance every time he rides in your trailer,
will not want to get in the trailer when you ask.
- Lead the horse by a front foot. Occasionally I’ll run into a
case where the horse thinks he must protect himself from all
the normal methods of loading. When everything I try brings
up the horse’s self-preservation, I look for fresh ground to
establish communication. Leading by a front foot will be new
to most horses—it won’t be on their list of
things they need to protect themselves from.
you accelerate gradually, leave plenty of room for stopping, and
slow through corners, you will make your horse’s ride in the
trailer more pleasant. Slow down before entering a turn and don’t
accelerate after the turn until the trailer is straight so you
combine the effects of acceleration/deceleration with centrifugal
force. You can also reduce the effects of cornering by how you use
the road. Staying to the outside all the way around a corner
increases the radius—in effect,
out the turn. On corners less than 90°,
you can increase the radius even more by starting into the corner
the outside, drifting to the inside at the apex, and back to the
outside as you exit the turn all in one smooth arc.
Considerations in Difficult or Unusual Situations
several people are working together, coordination between handlers
extremely important. It is essential that conflicting signals are
given to your horse and that releases are consistent.
you are ever in a dire situation and choose to use desperate
to load a horse, ask yourself, “Can I keep this horse out of my
space?” Think of it this way; your horse is afraid of the
trailer. If you use something forceful or fearful enough to
your horse’s fear of the trailer, you are setting yourself up to
the path of least resistance for your horse to get out of the
situation. For you to stay safe, any time you resort to the use of
fear or force, the level of that fear or force needs to be kept
the level that overcomes your ability to keep your horse out of
horses will get into a trailer with the driving or leading
alternating between the two, or using both techniques together.
However, sometimes you will have a horse that does not respond to
normal loading techniques, or you may not have time for your horse
learn that the trailer is a good place to be. In these cases,
are several alternate loading techniques that might be effective.
Good judgment must be used when choosing one of these alternate
methods because they have the potential for causing a wreck.
methods fall into three categories:
- Physical encouragement
first way to use physical encouragement is the same technique
used to load horses into the starting gate at a racetrack. Two
lock arms behind your horse and lift him into the trailer.
you will not be strong enough to actually lift your horse, but
should be your intention. For this to work, there needs to be an
element of surprise. If you take too long getting set, and your
becomes aware of your arms around his hind end, this method will
be as effective. Care must be taken to stay to the side of your
in case he kicks. Also, be careful not to overstress your back or
shoulder; don’t use this technique if you already have a back or
second method of physical encouragement is a butt rope. The rope
for this should be a large diameter, soft rope long enough that
people can pass it around your horse’s hind end while standing
his shoulders. As with leading, you will keep a steady pressure on
the rope and release each time your horse makes an effort to move
toward the trailer. A release does not mean you totally slack the
rope; you just need to lighten up a little, momentarily, and then
continue asking for more effort. If your horse does not make an
effort to get into the trailer, increase the pressure on the rope.
Watch your horse’s reaction carefully. Horses that are not used to
a rope around their hind end may initially freeze and then explode
you increase the pressure too much.
method encourages your horse to get into the trailer by stopping
irritation every time your horse makes an effort to load up and
increasing the irritation every time your horse moves away from
trailer. A suitable irritation is tapping your horse’s hind legs
just below the hocks with the lead rope, a whip, or a stick. You
could also tap your horse’s croup or the ground just behind your
horse. For this to work, the irritation needs to be great enough
your horse to want to get away from it, and the releases need to
last method is using fear. With this method, you are presenting
horse with something he wants to get away from more than he wants
avoid getting into the trailer. A flag or a rattle bag (a crumpled
paper bag inside of a plastic grocery sack on the end of a
whip) works well for this. With one person at the trailer with
horse, a second person approaches your horse from behind waving
scary object. As with all methods for loading horses, it is
that the person providing the stimulus watch for any effort by
horse to get into the trailer. The stimulation must diminish each
time your horse makes a try and should increase each time your
tries to move away from the trailer. It is vital for your safety
the stimulation is not overdone.
experience working with difficult horses has taught me the best
to load a horse is to make the trailer a good place. If the horse
feels safe and comfortable in the trailer he will load. Our
to encourage a horse to get into a trailer often only serve to
reinforce the horse’s idea that the trailer is not a good place to
choosing how to load a horse into a trailer, keep in mind these
- Don’t get yourself hurt.
- Don’t get your horse hurt.
- Your horse should be better at
loading when you finish than he was when you started.
Mountain Magic Ranch stresses: Safety,
Balance, Communication and Unity.
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Last modified: 25 OCT 2010