Trailer Troubles

CHA-certified riding instructor Jennifer Willey gives tips on retraining horses in dangerous trailer situations.

CHA-certified riding instructor Jennifer Willey gives tips on retraining horses in dangerous trailer situations.


Ask an ExpertI have a Quarter Horse gelding that every time we try to unload him off the trailer, he flies off at a speed of light. We have even tried turning and walking him out, but he still runs off. He has injured us and himself various times. Do you have any suggestions to slow this guy up so he can eventually walk or back off with out it being life or death? We have tried everything, even leaving the bar up until he is ready to walk off in the slant. He bent the butt bar in half in his fast effort to get out. Help!

– -Lucy Caruso

For this question, we turned to Jennifer Willey and Jo-Anne Young of the Certified Horsemanship Association.


Jennifer says: Scary! My suggestion is to put a bridle (snaffle) on him and practice moving forward and backward in a “fake” trailer situation (someplace with close quarters). Teach a definite cue to come forward and back up using the bridle. Practice it a ton, and then practice it some more. When you finally bring the practice to the trailer, you should have practiced enough that when he pulls on the bridle, he thinks about moving forward.

If you have to haul him before you have time to practice, take out the partition and tie him backwards and facing ditch side. At least then he can’t keep practicing the wrong thing by racing backwards.

There is also the chance this horse is not being untied at the right time, and he’s pulling. Perhaps not, but it’s possible. Bending a butt bar sounds like a panic pull. He needs to be untied before you open the door.

– – Jennifer Willey, Certified Horsemanship Association instructor.

Jo-Anne says: That is a really tough problem. Problems like these usually stem from panic and claustrophobia, and could have been exacerbated by one instance of the horse hitting its head on the ceiling or frame of the trailer. Here’s a thought that might help a little, but it’s a long process. Trying this method is entirely your own decision. Your safety is not guaranteed, and all horse-related activities carry inherent risk. Attempting this procedure is at your own risk.

I would find someone who is very good with clicker and target training to help. Then, using clicker-training methods, try the following process:

  • First, outside the trailer, on a lead rope, ask the horse to step forward one step, halt, back one step, halt. Step forward one step, halt. Reward with a treat, preceded by the clicker. Add to that exercise by asking the horse to do the same process with a lowered head.
  • If you can get the horse to be consistent and relaxed with this method, then you can add loading into the trailer to the mix.
  • Once the horse is on the trailer, with the butt bar up and doors closed, stand in front of the breast bar and ask the horse to step forward one step, then halt. Feed the horse a treat. Ask the horse to step back one step, halt. Feed a treat. Ask the horse to step forward , pet and praise.
  • Stay in front of the breast bar, so the horse cannot run you over, step on you or hit you with his head. Be sure to give positive reinforcement for every tiny gesture in the right direction toward the desired response. Use a long enough lead rope, so the horse will not hit the end of the lead.

— Jo-Anne Young, Certified Horsemanship Association instructor.

The Certified Horsemanship Association, an American Quarter Horse Association alliance partner, seeks to promote excellence in safety and education for the benefit of the horse industry. CHA certifies instructors and trail guides, accredits equestrian facilities, publishes educational manuals, produces how-to DVDs and hosts regional and international conferences. For more information, visit the CHA website or call (800) 399-0138. To find a certified horseback riding instructor or accredited equine facility near you, go to


*AQHA and the provider of this information are not liable for the inherent risks of equine activities. We always recommend consulting an AQHA Professional Horseman.

1 thought on “Trailer Troubles”

  1. Trailer issues are often a lack of trust or confidence by the horse and also by the person leading the horse. It works best when the trust is already there. If not, it has to be developed. With some horses, it takes a lot more time and patience than others. We find it comes faster with long rides several days in a row. If you put 8 or 9 hours of actual time in the saddle several days in a row, the time spent together develops a level of communciation between horse and rider. Safety is always a paramount concern. There are a lot of good horses in the world and life is short. It can be spent riding a good horse or recovering from injuries caused by a horse that may not be worth the time. It can sound harsh to some people, but sometimes it makes sense to sell an existing problem and replace it with a horse that handles the way you want.

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