Does Your Horse Fight Loading in the Trailer?
Few things are as frustrating as being late for a show, or missing a ride on the trails with your friends because your horse refuses to load up in the trailer.
Read here for 12 Essential Tips to Stay Safe on the Trails
But you are not alone, difficulty loading a horse is a common issue facing horsemen.
Therefore, in order to solve this problem and train the horse to willingly load up, we will show you the three simple steps you can follow.
With patience and consistency, your trailer loading problems will be a thing of the past.
Trailer Loading Lesson Plan
List of training aids and equipment needed for this lesson
- 1Trailer hitched to truck
- 2Halter and lead rope (no chain)
- 3Medium length whip (36" is ideal)
- 4Leg wraps (to protect the horses legs)
Step 1) Go Forward Cue
In order for the horse to load in the horse trailer, he must first be willing to walk all the way up to the trailer.
And the "Go Forward" cue is how we will get him to do that.
For the Go Forward cue, we will use our medium length whip to tap him on the hip.
Keep in mind, the goal is not to hurt the horse and force him forward. Instead, the cue is a constant tapping that is meant to irritate the horse.
Because of the irritation, he will begin to guess at what we want. And you must continue to tap him on the hip until he guesses correctly.
As soon as he takes one step forward you must reward him and stop tapping him on the hip.
Begin the lesson away from the trailer
Instead, we can do it in the arena or at the barn (just make sure you have enough open space).
To begin with, hold the lead in hand (a few inches from the snap) standing at the horses left shoulder. With our medium length whip, we ask the horse to move forward by tapping his hip.
We will continue to tap the hip until the horse takes one step forward.
Important: When teaching the "Go Forward" cue, ensure that you are standing at the horses left shoulder. This will keep you out of kicking range. If the horse does kick at you, ignore it and continue the cue.
The key here is to not reward the horse until he takes one step forward. A step backward, to the left, or to the right does not count.
The horse may have no clue what you want and it may take a while for that first step forward, but you must remain consistent and not reward the horse until he has taken that first step forward.
Once you have achieved your first forward step, take a break for a couple minutes and let your horse (and you) relax.
Repeat the lesson until your horse steps forward on the first tap. With patience and repetition, your horse will have this lesson learned like a pro.
2) Give to Pressure
Now that our horse knows the “Go Forward” cue, we want to teach him to give to pressure from the lead rope.
We want to ask him to slow his feet down while relaxing his neck to the pressure of the cue.
To ask for this you hold tension on the lead until the horse relaxes his neck.
As soon as he relaxes his neck and slows his feet, release the tension on the lead rope to reward him.
Repeat this step until he is able to relax his neck as soon as you put pressure on the lead rope.
Next you want to add control of his body to the mix.
We do this by thinking of where we want his body to face (do want him to turn toward us or stay pointed straight) and then cue him to give and ask him to point his body where we want it.
Do not release the pressure on the rein until he has performed the movement we wanted.
Repeat numerous different variations of this by asking the horse to move his feet in different directions while relaxing his neck.
Practice this lesson in as many environments as you can think of.
- Driveway (not by the trailer at first)
- Practice loading on a tarp
As soon as the horse can confidently do this lesson under all the above surroundings, he is ready to move on to the next step.
It’s Trailer Time
Get your trailer hooked up to your pickup (never load a horse into an unhitched trailer) and position the trailer where there is plenty of room to load without obstacles. We do this as there is no reason to complicate our lesson with distractions.
The trailer should be clean and free of anything that isn’t supposed to be in it.
For better footing, I like to put shavings down on the trailer floor.
3) Loading your horse in the trailer
Lead your horse to the trailer, open the back doors. (If you want more light in the trailer, open the feed room door too)
Pro Tip: Do not put feed in the trailer for the horse at this point. We are here to train him to listen to our cues, not attempt to bribe him into the trailer for a treat.
Now we are going to use our “Go Forward” cue and lead the horse up to the trailer.
But keep in mind that the first time you do this it is likely that the horse is going to think you’re crazy and stop before reaching the trailer.
This is completely OK.
The trailer is likely to be scary and where he stops is as close as he currently feels safe to be.
Whether it’s five feet from the trailer or fifty, stand there and pet him for doing a great job with the “Go Forward” cue up to this point.
Wait there until he relaxes. (You will visibly see his muscles loosen and relax)
Now you will cue him to “Go Forward” again. Continue to walk forward until he stops.
Pet him again and thank him for walking forward.
Wait until he relaxes again and repeat this process until you reach the trailer.
You're Horse is Almost in the Trailer
Once at the trailer you should keep his nose pointed toward the trailer using the lead rope. But be careful not to put constant pressure on the lead as you do this.
With the whip still in your right hand, tapping his hip, cuing him to move forward, you are looking for him to place one foot in the trailer.
Once he places a foot in the trailer (this will likely take some time initially so be patient and consistent), reward him by stopping the tapping on his hip.
Patience, persistence and perspiration make an unbeatable combination for success - Napoleon Hill
At this point we are not ready for the horse to load in the trailer all the way.
As a matter of fact, most horses will pull that first foot back out of the trailer quickly. And that is absolutely alright.
When he pulls his foot back out of the trailer we will pet him and relax before asking him to step a foot in the trailer again.
Important: Horses unpracticed in horse trailer loading do not have the coordination and wherewithal to safely exit a trailer. Therefore we want him to take stepping in and out of the trailer one foot at a time until he is comfortable with loading.
It is very important that when we give him the cue to move forward that we do not reward him stepping back or to the side.
We do not want to rush him either, so remember it is important that you remain calm and patient with the horse.
Continue the above process until the horse will load one foot and keep there until you ask him to back out of the trailer (with the giving to pressure cue) with his one foot.
In fact loading and unloading one foot a couple hundred times before he loads all the way is what we are shooting for. Within that 200 repetitions we will slowly incorporate each foot until he is completely loaded in the trailer.
Putting it all together
Far too many people rush trailer loading and create a traumatic memory that the horse won’t soon forget. You can avoid this common mistake by taking your time and completing every repetition.
Once he is able to load into the trailer, we want the horse to repeat 100 repetitions. Fully loading and unloading from the trailer.
The key here is to maintain consistency with our cues, and to maintain calm and patience for the entire lesson.
Trailer loading has become an issue for many horses and almost all of those instances could can be avoided with a consistent approach.
And don't forget to tell us how it works for you in the comments!
Fred is the editor of Equine Ridge. He grew up raising horses and has been riding, training, and competing for almost four decades. Fred started out performing on the AQHA and PHBA circuits. Fred trained other competitors in English and Western riding disciplines and today offers free riding lessons to youth who would otherwise not be able to afford lessons. When not working with horses he can be found backpacking or trying to brew the perfect cup of coffee. Email Fred at firstname.lastname@example.org