Loading a horse into a trailer should never be a confrontation where the horse is chased and frightened and pressure is applied until the horse eventually rushes in.
Before you even think about trailer loading, every horse must be taught that it’s always easy and pleasant to step forward to you and to keep his head with you. You must always give every horse the answer before you set any problem.
The answer should always be for the horse to keep his head with you. When a horse understands that it’s easy and pleasant to be with you, pressure can be applied on his rear end – by tapping him with a long stick – to teach him to move forward.
Every horse must be taught to step forward to relieve pressure. Every time a horse steps forward to you, rub his head to show him that it’s always easy and pleasant to be with you.
Next, find some easy obstacles – a pole on the ground, a gutter, a drain, a rubber mat – and teach the horse to step over them. Always start with the easiest obstacle and build up to the more difficult ones. Spend a few days doing this and make sure the horse steps forward and doesn’t move backwards when he’s worried. If he tries to move backwards, tap his rump with the long stick. This will make moving backwards unpleasant. Immediately he moves forward, stop tapping and go to him and rub his head.
After a few lessons, when the horse has learned to step forward over a few simple obstacles, take him to the trailer. Use the long stick at his rump to ask him to step onto the loading ramp. Immediately he takes one step onto the loading ramp, go to him and rub his head for a minute or so, then take him off again.
Walk him around away from the trailer to let him relax, then again ask him to step onto the loading ramp. If he responds well and isn’t worried, ask for another forward step, then rub his head and take him off again. If the horse is worried, don’t ask for another step – just rub his head and take him off.
On the next approach, ask for another forward step on the loading ramp, then rub his head and take him off again. Between each approach, always give the horse a break by walking him around and letting him relax.
Only ask for one or two extra steps on each approach and always take the horse off the trailer before he becomes worried or upset. He’ll then learn that the trailer is nothing to worry about and he’ll always walk to the same position in the trailer on the next approach.
It doesn’t matter if you have to take the horse on and off ten times before he walks all the way into the trailer. And it doesn’t matter if it takes three or four lessons to achieve this. The main thing is to keep him confident and relaxed.
Loading a horse into a trailer is just another step in his education. Keep each lesson to fifteen minutes or less. And remember, there’s never any need to push any horse to the point where he’s distressed and sweating.
When a horse walks three-quarters of the way into the trailer, it’s always tempting to ask for more. However, the best thing to do is rub his head and let him relax, then take him off again. If you keep pushing on, the horse will become upset and rush out of the trailer. Then you’ll have problems getting him to take even one step onto the loading ramp.
Always remember, the reason a horse is difficult to load is because he’s frightened by the trailer. You must build his confidence and show him that the trailer is nothing to worry about.
Every horse can be loaded into a trailer in this manner. This includes horses that have had a bad experience and are difficult to load.
Neil Davies began training horses full-time in 1977. Over the next 15 years, he started more than a thousand horses under saddle and trained thousands of so-called ‘problem’ horses. [read more]
He is the author of Fear-free Horse Training – every step of the way.
Visit Neil’s website at www.fearfreehorsetraining.com.