Loading a horse into a trailer is a test of how accurately the
horse responds to the step cue you put on him by heeding. Trailer
loading isn't a separate skill you and your horse must learn.
It's just applying the step cue you taught your horse with basic
heeding to a specific task. When the horse understands your step
as an cue, meaning he is to follow each of your steps with a step
of his own, you can use that cue to ask him to enter the trailer
Horses that have had bad experiences remember trailers as scary
things. If your horse is scared of the trailer because of
previous bad experiences you must treat it like a new piece of
equipment. All new equipment must be presented slowly and in a
calm working environment. You reintroduce the trailer slowly, in
a relaxed manner, with rhythmic use of your heeding cues.
If your horse is very afraid to even go near the trailer, do calm
and familiar things beside it. For example, you can heed the
horse in large circles next to the trailer because the circle is
a familiar shape and you always want to be directing the horse
what to do.
What you do with a horse that is terribly afraid of the trailer
because of previous bad experiences is just calmly get him
working on your step cue and walk him up to the trailer. The
truly scared horse has a tendency to rock back on its haunches
with his attention locked on the trailer as he approaches it.
Gradually, you'll heed him closer and closer till you get him
right up to the ramp. Then he'll literally try to go up the ramp
into the trailer on his toes as he walks in beside you. So take
some familiar-smelling bedding from his stall and cover the ramp
and trailer floor about 6 inches deep so there's no chance he'll
slip and slide when he first tries to tiptoe inside.
When you are reintroducing trailers as good things, you don't
want the horse to be afraid to escape. So if he wants to escape,
you let him. Stop at the point where he begins to hesitate and
acts like he wants to escape. Let him investigate. Make sure you
reinforce your friendship with the horse. Groom him, scratch him,
talk nice and don't apply any loud pressures. Do this over and
over until the scary spot gets closer and closer to the trailer.
Heeding makes the horse feel safest at your shoulder. A lot of
times, the horse will be perfectly willing to stay next to your
shoulder but he won't be relaxed and will therefore want to
escape (with you) when things start getting scary. So you must
achieve rhythm and relaxation during each stage of introducing
this "new" trailering equipment. Most horses will not be this
fearful, however. Horses that are very afraid are usually horses
who have been beaten into a trailer before and are afraid that
they will be beaten again. You must be very patient and calm with
these horses and give them time to trust you.
If your horse gets excited, stay as close to the shoulder as you
can. Your body there will calm the horse. And if the horse gets
scared, it is even more imperative that you remain in position at
the shoulder. Leaving the shoulder in a time of crisis is like
the pilot of an airplane running to the back because he thinks
the plane is going to crash. You have to consistently stay in
position alongside the horse's shoulder so that the horse starts
to realize that he can rely on you whenever you're in that
You must make your horse calm at all times when he is next to you
so that if he gets scared, he comes to you. If your horse is
AFRAID of the trailer, you must stay at the shoulder so that he
has somewhere safe to be and before you know it, he is trusting
you and walking with you into the trailer.
You must give him all the time he needs to get comfortable with
the trailer. Do not force the issue. Let him check it out. Give
him time to be curious. Keep him paying attention to the trailer
and to you. Don't let his head go to the outside or behind you.
If he backs up, stay at his shoulder, and ask for back. Make it
your idea. Let him calm down by giving him something to do that
he already understands and can be successful doing. Then walk
forward again. Show the horse what to do. By backing and walking
forward again behind the trailer, the area that the horse is
comfortable in will get larger and larger until he is also
comfortable walking into the trailer.
Getting the horse into the trailer is not the big goal. The big
goal is getting the horse to willingly go with you anywhere, to
follow your step aid accurately and willingly. If the horse will
not go somewhere with you, you must fine tune the heeding and
earn more trust.
Never hit a horse that's afraid of the trailer with your whip to
get him to go in. The object is to get the horse to want to get
in the trailer, not to trap him in the trailer. He should go in
because he trusts you and because he feels safe next to your
shoulder, not because you have whipped him in. But if you start a
fight or force him into the trailer, you will only make the
So be patient and be his friend. Keep going back and heeding
around the trailer, maybe even do some lunging near the trailer.
Keep the situation calm, keep the horse working in rhythm and
relaxation until he realizes that when he is with you, the
trailer is not scary.
© 2001 Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre.