Although most horses can be either forced or pushed enough to eventually load into a trailer, if they’re anxious and uncomfortable about it, they will most likely paw the floor, kick the walls, and rush backwards out of there as soon as they get the chance. My goal with this post is to teach you how to train a horse to load in a trailer using natural methods which will make it easier on both of you.
I do want to mention that if your horse is not mentally sound, this could prevent this method you’re about to read (or any method) from working. Before you can expect a horse to learn, be calm, and be willing, you have to make sure their head is in the right place. Grab my mental soundness checklist to see if your horse can check off all the boxes.
How To Load A Horse | Make The Trailer The “Sweet Spot”
Make the trailer somewhere they WANT to be as opposed to somewhere they are FORCED to be. That makes all the difference. You basically want the horse to be barn sour TO the trailer and love the idea of getting and being in there. But, before you even try to load a horse in a trailer, you need PREPARE him.
There’s one simple exercise you can do that will break the elements of trailer loading/unloading down into small steps so that when it is time to load him, he’ll be more prepared.
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How To Train A Horse To Load In A Trailer | The Preparation
Set up a pallet with a piece of plywood on it and make sure you can send him over it. If he tries to duck off, redirect him until he will step on the pallet. If he doesn’t want to step up on the pallet move him right, left, right, left to untrack the feet.
When he goes on over the obstacle, send him again. The goal is to have him step up on the pallet, stop, and then step off the pallet calmly, slowly, and with confidence. See if you can have him take one step forward, one step back. One step onto the pallet, one step off of the pallet. Working on this will make a huge difference when the horse gets to the trailer.
Now It’s Time To Actually Load A Horse In A Trailer
Put a halter and lead line on your horse. Hold the lead line in one hand and hold a lunge whip with a flag in the other hand. What you’re going to do is basically play a game of hot and cold with the horse. When first starting, give him time to inspect the trailer. Don’t be in a hurry. It’s best to work on this BEFORE you have five minutes to get him loaded to go somewhere.
Make sure any front windows are open to make the trailer a little less claustrophobic. Stand at the back of the trailer and begin by putting pressure on the lead line and encouraging him to take a step towards the inside of the trailer. If his feet are locked or he is backing up, use the lunge whip and flag to encourage forward motion. Repeat this until your horse takes just one step towards the trailer, and then immediately stop everything.
If he remains resistant, then put him to work lunging. Keep his feet very busy. Then offer the ‘good deal’ of taking a step towards the trailer.
And Just Know…
The key to having success is NOT giving up when he’s NOT doing what you want. Hang in there and be persistent until he takes that one step. Now do the same thing and try to get him to take another step. In the meantime, if your horse does anything to inspect the trailer (sniffs it, looks inside, etc) you should consider that a positive change and immediately stop everything for a short time.
What we’re doing here is breaking everything down into very small steps.
It’s not about getting a horse to load in a trailer. It’s about learning that the trailer is ok to get in. Now you can ask for one foot in trailer and then back him out. Keep working on one step forward, one step back. One step forward, one step back.
After he’s good with that, ask for two front feet in, and then back him out. Remember, at some point he’ll need to know how to UNLOAD, so you might as well get him good at that, too.
If you get a foot in and he comes back out, that’s GREAT! Just make sure that AFTER he is out of the trailer, he runs into some pressure. This would be a good time for some more lunging. This gives you another opportunity to reassure him that getting in the trailer is a good deal. He’s building his confidence which is exactly what you want.
The Mistake People Make…
…is they see the horse put a foot or two in the trailer and then they get greedy and try to get him loaded all of the sudden. That makes the horse associate the trailer in a negative way instead of a positive way. Another great resource you may want to grab is my trailer loading flowchart. It’ll give you the step-by-step process on how to successfully load a horse in a trailer.
As your horse figures it out more, you’ll ask for a little more with each step, and get a little more particular. Once he’s comfortable with his front feet in the trailer, you’ll put some pressure to get the back feet in. If he goes in and comes back out, LET HIM DO THAT. Put him back to work lunging, then let him stand and think a minute. Any step forward will be rewarded by a total release of all pressure.
Next, You’ll Ask For The Back Foot
But give him TIME to think, figure it out, and become comfortable and confident with loading and being in the trailer. The key is the timing of your pressure and release. Make sure that any move forward towards the trailer brings a total release of pressure. The only place he runs into pressure is OUTSIDE the trailer.
The Trailer Becomes A Great Place To Be
The horse will come to think of the trailer as a place of rest, relaxation, and somewhere he WANTS to be. It also helps to have some good hay in there. A few sessions of this and the horse should easily load in the trailer and be comfortable while he’s in there. Just to give you an idea of how hard to push them or not to push them, the longest it has taken for me using this technique so far is about 40 minutes.
I’ve got several step-by-step videos showing you how to train a horse to load in a trailer inside my Buckaroo Crew membership site. You can try it out for free and get access to these videos plus all my other problem solving videos and courses, too.
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