We all know someone who’s been there, or we’ve been there ourselves. We’ve got a horse that doesn’t want to load, but we usually manage to get them in the trailer somehow. It’s not exactly pretty, but we manage to get the job done. We spend weeks, maybe even months getting ready for an event. The day of the show arrives and the horse won’t load regardless of what we try. It’s at that moment that most owners start searching for answers and looking for what they and their horse might be missing. That’s when the quest for knowledge begins.The problem isn’t a trailer issue, it’s a foundation issue.
A combination of your horse placing his trust in you, and you having the knowledge to show him the correct cues at the correct time, will make loading your animal safer, easier, and less stressful on both of you.
There are a few things that can ensure safe trailer loading success. The first is consistency. Trailer loading is not something that will be fixed overnight or in just a few training sessions. The top clinicians will tell you that while your horse may improve quickly, at some point they will regress. This is why it’s so important to be consistent in your training. Just a five to ten minutes a day will result in progress.
The next important thing is recognizing the “try” your horse gives you. Smelling the trailer, or simply looking at the trailer, are both initial signs that your horse is trying. Lowering their head is also an indication that your horse is trying. At first, your horse’s attempt may be as subtle as a weight change. Make sure you are looking for those subtle tries and be ready to reward them when they occur with a release of what you’re asking.
Another important component of good trailer training is patience. When problems occur it’s usually because we ask too soon. For instance, ask your horse to put only one foot on and then off the trailer. If your horse is finally putting the one foot on the trailer but taking it off before you ask, then it’s too soon to ask for the second front foot to go on the trailer. Don’t ask for the next step until they’re definitely comfortable with giving you the current step.
Horses are conditioned response animals. If you make the trailer a place to rest and away from the trailer a place of work, it doesn’t take too long for the horse to figure out that when he’s at the trailer he gets to work a lot less. If your horse wants to leave the trailer, let him and then put him to work by lunging. Make sure you change directions a lot so that he’s not just going around in circles mindlessly. Keep him guessing. After a few minutes of lunging, bring him back to the trailer to catch his breath. This is one of the simplest things you can do to help improve your trailer loading issues.
Always, remember your basics. If you can’t control your horse’s feet away from the trailer how are you going to guide them to get on the trailer? You can’t. So go back to the basics of getting control of your horse’s feet. Fine tune the cues for making your horse go forwards, backwards and sideways so that your horse is light and not pulling on you when you ask for these three things. Don’t forget to work on your whoa as well.
Consistently following this plan every time you load will get you to your destination with minimal effort and maximum safety.