Working With Problem Horses: Trailer Loading

Trailer loading—what fun! For some horse owners, the idea of having to get their horse in a trailer makes them sick to their stomachs. Unfortunately, some problem horses really blow up when it’s time to go somewhere, and this can make life difficult in a lot of different ways; you won’t be able to take them to the vet, if needed, or trail ride away from home, or go to shows—at least not without a struggle. Here are some tips to getting your horse to load up:

Start by walking your horse around the trailer. Let them look at it, sniff it, and generally get used to its presence. If you have a horse that gets antsy as you get closer to the trailer, walk them around the edge of the invisible line where they start to get nervous and desensitize them from there, getting closer to the trailer slowly. When you’re able to walk your horse right up to the trailer, start moving things around. Open and close windows and doors and move any other moving parts so that your horse gets used to the sound. It might be easier to try this with two people at first—one to hold the horse and one to make the noise.

Pull the ramp down and walk them up to it. Just like before, let them check it out, and then walk onto the trailer yourself, making sure that you have a way out beforehand, just in case. If your horse refuses or rears, go back to what they know. Circles, stop, backup, etc.; get their feet moving and get them paying attention to you. Patience and consistency are going to be key here, and so is a really solid foundation of groundwork. This step may take a while, but don’t get discouraged!

Practice standing inside the trailer (safely). Your horse should be able to stand in the trailer without trying to back out. Have your horse stand inside the trailer with the ramp down, again making sure that you have a way out before you walk in there with them. If your horse tries to back out, simply ask them to step back to where they were standing before they moved. When your horse can stand comfortably, close the ramp behind them and step out of the trailer. Start slowly, just a little bit at a time, so your horse becomes acclimated to being in the trailer. Again, your patience and consistency are going to help determine how this process goes.

Once your horse can stand quietly in the trailer, take short drives around, always returning home when you’re done. This will help the horse understand that even though they are leaving their territory in this big scary box, they will make it back to their home in one piece. This will also help them become better acclimated to the trailer as a whole.

Ask for help if you need to. If you’re having trouble getting past this, it’s important to ask for help. Whether you ask an experienced friend for advice or get help from a professional trainer, there’s nothing wrong with reaching out when you’re having a hard time. It can also be encouraging to have someone else’s brain to bounce ideas off of! A fresh perspective wouldn’t hurt, especially when you’re feeling stuck.

Regardless of how long this process takes you, progress is progress. Be happy when you see even the smallest step forward because that is the result of your hard work and dedication. In the end, by sticking with it you’ll be making life much easier for yourself and less stressful for both you and your horse. Oh, the places you’ll go with a horse that loads!

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