Horse Trailer Loading Tips

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Training for the trailer requires time and patience.

It’s easy to lose your temper when teaching a horse to load in a trailer. Unfortunately, getting impatient is the worst thing you can do.

The late Bill Van Norman insists that you need to take your time and keep your temper when teaching your horse to trailer load.

Bill offers his valuable advice in AQHA’s FREE report, Horse Trailer Loading Tips.

To begin training your horse to trailer load, Bill suggests these tips:

  • Send your horse in a circle around you directly behind the open trailer.
  • Use a lead rope, not a longe line, so you can keep your horse fairly close to you.
  • If your horse wants to stop and smell the trailer or look inside, encourage this behavior and recognize it as a sign that he’s trying.
  • When his attention fades off the trailer, ask your horse to move out again and continue circling you.
  • Circle in both directions behind the trailer to help him become comfortable with being worked from either side.

“I have a 3-year-old Quarter Horse mare named Channel, and she has always been very difficult to load and I have tried everything. But I tried what you suggested in this article and, like magic, she got right in! It is so great to not have to worry anymore about how I would get her to the vet if she got sick or injured. Last winter, during a snowstorm, she would not get in the trailer so I could take her into town for a vet check of her eye injury. It’s good to know that if something like that happens again I should be able to get that rascal in the trailer! Thank you!”

Daily reader Greg Cooper

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36 thoughts on “Horse Trailer Loading Tips”

  1. Yes, great tips. You may post your tips at yahoo answer, there it’s easy to be indexed. Also I’d like to add it to favorites and make it link with riderlove.com. There horse lovers can check your newest information.

  2. This article helped very much but I have found that no trainer addresses the horse that already knows how to load but all of a sudden decides not to and refuses to go in. He has not had a bad trailer experience and he will go in if he hasn’t been feed that morning or evening. I have spent all day with the tips in your article and he finally loaded by himself 10 times. The next day he would not go in…again. He has figured out he is stronger and he really doesn’t have to go in if he doesn’t want to. Any suggestions?
    Thanks!

  3. My loading questions are the same as Laura R mentioned in her comment. I am looking for any suggestions.
    Thanks.

  4. If you start out a little ways away from the trailer or even a round pen and work with them making them move forward, moving their head side to side in a jig jag fashion. They have to move when you turn their head or they lose balance it helps to make them think that you are bigger and stronger, and they follow easier because you are dominant.

  5. Our problem is the horse will go in but when we try to exit the trailer she is coming out with us. She gets in and out numerouse times before we can latch the butt chain. She tries to break that to get out. We coax her with feed, carrots etc. But if we get out she is coming out. She snapped her lead line when we clipped her in. Any suggestions.

  6. My question is the reverse – how do you get a horse to back out of a straight load trailer? There is nothing to step onto – and might be the Grand Canyon.

  7. I have a problem getting my horse to back out of a trailer as well. I have a three horse slant and she insists on turning around to come out. She refuses to back out and instead of making a dangerous situation by trying to make her back out (which I’ve done without success) I let her turn around. I read all the trailering tips available, but haven’t ever seen anything that speaks of getting your horse out once it is in. Thanks for any tips on unloading.

  8. Having experienced both the not wanting to get in and not wanting to back out situations with my 16.2 alpha mare, I know how trying trailer loading can be. My problem started when going from a slant load, step up trailer to a straight load, ramp. The first time I asked her to go up the ramp, she loaded flawlessly. Then it took three hours and side reins to get her back out. She had no idea how to back down the ramp!

    I tried several different clinicians approaches. The one that worked the least was running around the ramp and encouraging the horse to “rest” near/in the trailer. This may work for a lot of horses, but my gal could run around for hours and never put a foot on the ramp. It also does not address the backing out issue that many have problems with.

    Eventually, I tried the calm, sane, way safer approach of John Lyons and Pat Parelli–a combination of the go forward cue and approach and retreat. This method goes back to Tom Dorrance who had no problem encouraging a horse into the trailer with bits of hay or food (an apparent taboo these days). Essentially, the horse learns to go in and back out of the trailer one step at a time. One step up, one step back. Literally. It’s about teaching the horse to think about what he/she is doing with all four feet, not about getting into the trailer like a mindless drone. Trailer loading from a hesitant horse’s perspective is about overcoming fear (of going in or getting back out or being trapped inside) and trust in the human.

    This approach and retreat method could take hours, days or weeks. It mostly depends on the horse’s trust in the human and its ability to contain its emotions. The success of the method lies in the human’s ability/willingness to take the time the horse requires without getting frustrated. That was the hardest part for me. It took forever to get that last foot over the threshold. But at least by the time she was in, she knew how to get out.

    She is still not a happy traveler, and she may never be. But at least now I know that if I give her the time she needs to process what I’m asking her to do, she can do it without fear and without injuring herself or me.

    For those whose horse have to turn around to get off a slant-load or have trouble stepping off calmly, I suggest using a platform, small bridge or any other obstacle that encourages the horse to place its feet calmly where you suggest they go. Backing over a ground pole, stopping with just the front or back feet over cavaletti, or any other exercise you can think of to encourage independent use of feet will help with trailer loading/unloading.

  9. I had the same problem with getting my yearling to back out. I read an article about it and this is what they suggested…I tried it and it worked PERFECTLY.
    Set poles on the ground and teach the horse to back over the poles. Believe it or not they will not want to do this and will get frightened. Once they back over the pole on the ground…begin to raise the poles. Then back over the raised poles. Once they get this try the trailer…and don’t let them turn around. The poles teach them how to back into the “grand Canyon”. I did this with my 2-year old filly and it worked perfect. The next time I put her in the trailer she backed out just fine. I was amazed.

  10. What a lot of trainers do not address is how to teach the horse to back out of the trailer. (MUCH safer than turning and walking out).
    The light went on when I watched Paul Dufresne teaching his horse to step up on a large mounting block – one foot on, then back off – then over and over gradually working up the 2,3 then all 4 feet. The horse was able to “remember” how to back off the block. You can do this with you trailer – just one foot at a time until he remembers how to back out.
    I give my horse all the time he likes when backing out and I use the same cue to warn him when he is just one step away from stepping down. I have never had a problem since using this method. Depending where I am parked, the step down can be a lot higher in some places, but he has enough confidence and faith in me that he trusts me when I tell him he is “there”.

  11. withouth being cruel, its very simple. a horses defense is to flee. I’ve had horses that flatly refused and when youve rented a trailer for the day, he HAS to go. you make enough noise behind him like Hell is coming at him that he takes the less intimidating direction. forward. we have to be careful not to become the animals Dr Spock, you can’t always reason with a thinking horse. Just get the job done, they have to make it easier on themselves.

  12. Unfortunately ‘John’ it is methods like you mentioned that result with problem loaders like the ones afore-mentioned. Yes, it is a horse’s natural defense to flee – but they wouldn’t flee into a cave if a tiger was chasing, they would do anything to go over, under or around (to stay in an open space). I am sure you will continue with your forceful methods – I instead choose to make it easier on MYSELF by fixing a horse problem by thinking like the horse.

  13. In spanish, translate at spanish please, my English is not efficent, thank you. up’s !!!

  14. I had a horse that would not back out of our tiny straight load trailer. We would struggle with her for hours. I finally realized that she was afraid to step down.

    So I had my husband, build a 36×48 wooden pedestal (about $60 in 2×10 pressure treated wood from Home Depot) and practiced having her getting on and backing off the pedestal with confidence. The next time I tried her with the trailer, she went in and out several times with no problem. I think the pole idea is good too. She refuses to back over poles. I still need to work with her on that. This normally sweet gentle mare becomes the angry witch pinning her hears back when I try to back her over poles.

    My other mare backs over poles with no problem. This mare also hops on the pedestal for fun and attention and practically loads herself into the trailer. Go figure.

  15. A few people here have mentioned the problem of horses that have been trained to load, but then decide to become non-loaders. I had one, and eventually the other one caught his attitude and then I had two. After one marathon 9-hour attempt to load (we were moving them; they HAD to go), I decided to really be serious with clicker training (up to then, we’d used it only for games and fun). I’m not a horse trainer, but this was the result.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KNivdVjLgrc

  16. Pat Parelli puts the horse first. It’s not the trailor. Love-Language-Leadership-EQUAL DOSES-. Take the time it takes. Yes I understand the frustration I have to get it done, not my trailor,don,t have time, Don’t ever think you can out smart them. Remember the horse wants comfort,safety,food and will give up these because of fear. ( TO LIVE ) Help them get over this one exit cave. It’s the relationship, the trust the horse has in you. Be a good leader, a trusted leader, a great friend. PAT,s way works. I done it the last 10 years. No problems here. E-mail allenh@westco.net I would be glad to help. Happy Trials–If you took time to read this long comment, you want help, now give your horse this kind of time and more, it will pay off fore you and them.———THANKS FOR THE TIME (Cowboyal

  17. Once in a while one of our horses decides he doesn’t want to load. All I have to do is have another person place a lead rope, or any kind of rope for that matter, around his hips while I’m leading him in. I’m not sure what they’re thinking is going to happen, but they immediately walk forward and load with no problem…every time!

  18. Allan Hixenbaugh got the right idea, Pat’s method works, I’ve used a simuliar method since I was ten years old.if the horse is a weanling take his mom in, the young one will follow.Then make sure the trailer is secure( tied to the truck) put a little hay inside, leave them alone,after following his mom once, he’ll stay curious enough, they will train themselves, that’s if your time is short, it is better to work with them yourself,if you can they will look at you as a leader and you can give them a lot of rubbing as a reward, make you feel better too.

  19. Young filly will load perfectly, the problem, she will NOT BACK out of the combo stock trailer. She folds up and lies down. How do we fix this problem?

  20. i have a pony that has been with me for 4 years and has always been difficult but did everything perfectly for me she could even load into the trailer by herself but recently my exinstructor was trying to load her while i was loading the truck for a show and must have hit her or something because after wards she would not go near the trailer and eversince she has taken hours to get on. any suggestions please

  21. I have had most of the problems listed above. It took a year and a half to teach my horse to load. We took him to professionals and the loading problem remained. Finally, I fixed the problem. When refusing to load I use a curb chain and use a long lead, keep his head facing into the trailer. A friend used a whip on the ground, never touching the horse. The whip prompts him to go into the trailer. I have not had a problem since. Regarding the refusal to exit a trailer without a ramp, park your trailer in a low area so that the back of the trailer is even with the ground. The horse will back out quietly. It really works!! As he gets more experience, you can start parking the trailer in a less shallow hole. All this worked my my Holsteiner, 1400 lb horse.

  22. best advice I got was to get out of the way. I have a very big boy and was loading him into a straight load 2 horse trailer. I’d try to walk in and go out the escape door and he wouldn’t want to come in. A friend suggested I get out of his way. that worked. He now walks right in and I just close the door behind him. the best advice ever, Get outa the Damn way.

  23. I want to practice loading my horses in my 3-horse slant trailer, which is parked level and wheels are stabilized. Do I have to hook up my truck for training purposes? Or can I practice with the trailer not being hooked to a vehicle?

    I realize when we are going somewhere, the truck must be attached first, but we only want to practice.

    Thanks!

  24. Hi, Terri. According to AQHA Corporate Partner USRider, “Never put a Horse into a trailer that is unhitched, or unhitch a trailer while the Horses are still in it.” Get more of their trailering safety advice here: http://www.usrider.org/safety.html

    Thanks for your question.

    Jody Reynolds
    AQHA Director of Online/Interactive Communications

  25. Thanks to all for your suggestions. My problem is that the horse I just acquired loads just fine. But when you open the back door (straight load, two horse) he dangerously bolts out. He even broke the snap the first time and then bolted out wildly and then stops. Obviously he is fearful of some aspect of unloading. Any help would be helpful to myself and the horse.
    Thank you,
    Stephen Schroeder

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