Training Your Horse to Trailer Load

Trailer loading doesn’t have to be a battle.

Trailer loading doesn’t have to be a battle.

By trainer and former America’s Horse columnist Joe Wolter

Loading into a trailer is one of the most important things a horse learns. There are few horses today that won’t, at some time in their lives, be faced with getting into a trailer.

Years ago I had to deliver a filly to a ranch. I was running late, and I put the pressure on this mare and got her in the trailer in about 10 minutes, but I didn’t bother to unload her. It was about a two-hour drive, and when I got there it took me two more hours to get her out. I had made it so difficult for her not to go in, that she went in, but then she found a safe place and didn’t want to come out. I wouldn’t have wanted to come out either. A horse’s attitude can affect both loading and unloading.

Learn more with AQHA’s FREE Horse Trailer Loading Tips report. Download it now.

Joe’s Trailer Loading Tips

  • If the colt stops at the trailer, I let him stand there as long as he is interested.
  • The colt might even drop his head and smell of the trailer floor. I let him stand there as long as he shows interest in getting on the trailer.
  • Sometimes a colt might put both front feet in the trailer and still not go in. Even now I don’t pressure the colt to go on in, and I allow him to back out as soon as he loses interest in what we are doing.
  • When the colt loads, I still don’t shut the trailer door. I allow him to stand there a few minutes, and then back him out until he feels comfortable with the situation.

Stop struggling to get your horse to load. Learn how patience and a little time can turn a horse of any age into an easy loader. Get AQHA’s Horse Trailer Loading Tips report FREE!

29 thoughts on “Training Your Horse to Trailer Load”

  1. I tried loading my weanling into a horse trailer to transport him from B.C to Alberta! His first long haul, he was a rock star. I tried everything to get him into the trailer from the above tips to a Craig Cameron trailering technique. Howver, my lil guy responded best to FOOD! of course! I started putting his grain into the horse trailer and he started by eating it with 2 front legs in the trailer, day two was all 4’s but standing right near the edge, by day 3, he was walking into the trailer to eat at the very back (of the angle haul) and day four he was walking in and out. at a young age they really respond well to food as a saftey net….mom= food and she’s safe, so u gotta make it safe and fun for them too without spoiling them…..BALANCE IS THE KEY!
    Also, once he loads, buddy him up with a safe riding horse and take him around the block a few times before doing any long hauls, so they get their bearings!

    thats all I have to say! Im sure someone will disagree with the food, BUT to this day my 2 year old has not bucked me and we’ve been on some short trail rides, and he gallops into my arms everytime i go visit him in the pasture! So Im doin something right i guess….this tip works for the food motivated horse!

  2. UMMMM, yea. That will work UNTIL you ‘friend’ DOESN’T WANT to eat OR get in the trailer.

    I had/have a (now 9 year old) QH that I used this method on when he was a mere tot. Yes, he’d load for food – until one day he decided that he didn’t WANT food. We had trailered a couple of hours from our home in CO on a crisp May morning – rode the Pawnee Buttes trails, had a nice long ride (for a 3 year old – at the time). THEN came time to load to go home.

    He ABSOLUTELY REFUSED to get in – FOR ANYTHING!! – sooo my husband rides him another 2-3 miles, some at a gentle lope… STILL refused to load. Repeat, repeat,repeat. By the time we FORCED him into the trailer he was lathered up, tired – I’m sure he was thirsty – BUT HE STILL REFUSED TO LOAD!!!

    Do yourself a favor – get Clinton Anderson’s ‘Trouble Free Trailering’ and teach your horse to LOAD!!! Without food!! Yes, the above tips WILL WORK, but most people will not take the time to do it this way.

  3. I have trained a lot of horses to load, if they are older, it is harder, but always reward them for getting in by feed after i load and shut them in, i go get the feed, i do not bring it first.
    I usually teach mine to lunge and with the use of the whip and a long lead they load quite willingly.
    Lou Boggs

  4. I grew up ‘old school’. You didn’t care what the horse wanted and just expected them to load when you told them to; by any means! You would pull, push, tie a butt strap and force them in. I am now 35 years old and was watching my 14 year old daughter try to load a new to her horse. When I saw her get mad because he refused with every technique and raise her hand to hit him, I realized that this is not the way. With some help from a friend she has taught me & my daughter to take the time to teach every horse we have to move away from pressure. Within 10 minutes we had this same horse loading and unloading with lead rope direction & pressure. Please….please….please take the time to look into Pat Perelli training (natural horsemanship)!!! The only way to go!!!!

  5. Sally,
    Look into a trainer that knows natural horsemanship. I think you will be happy with the results. I found one and it cost me $30.00/hour and within 10 minutes she had a 14 year old horse with loading issues that had not been loaded in over 3 years loading in and out without problems. Just need your horse to learn to give to pressure and you will be able to send him in whatever direction you want him to go by easy, gentle pressure. Good luck!!!

  6. Also consider the type and size of trailer you are asking your horse to get into. All to often the trailer is too small, dark and scary. I have had the easiest time teaching horses to load if the trailer is open, airy and inviting. Open stock and slant loads have been the most inviting. So consider this when you shop for and buy a trailer.

  7. I’ve been transporting horses professionally for over 30 years, & I’ve learned there ain’t no “right way”. I have regular clients whose horses I’ve figured out, & many others for whom trailering is now of little concern to them at all; but new challenges still come along every day. Lou Boggs mentioned older horses can be tougher to teach, that is true in many cases but more often than not I’ve found they’re reacting to something that has happened to them in the past. It takes a dozen or more smooth trips for a horse to get over one bad hauling experience.
    By far the best advice I can offer is to be patient. Taking the time to allow your horse to move at his/her own pace will pay off big time in the long run.

  8. I have a six year old mare who has not left the farm and I’m concerned
    that if I ever need to take her to the vet …….. oh my…… loading will definitely
    be an issue and time might not be on my side. How can I get her started?
    I’ve raised her since 4mos. of age and she trusts me, but she’s had a bad
    experience with a trainer who just hollered and scared her onto the trailer
    over two years ago for her first ride. Thanks,

  9. I have a friend who has a 22yr old horse who will go in a trailer with a ramp. We can not get her in one that is step up. Tried coaxing, rope behind butt not luck. Any ideas ?

  10. I leave my trailer with the doors open so my horses get used to it. The colts are so curious they get into it and out of it with their mothers. For some reason the horses like to get into it during the day, out of the sun perhaps. I also will feed them in it so they get very accustomed to being in the trailer.

  11. Get three big drunk men, a heavy chain and a thick long rope…. Don’t forget a couple of nagging females, cranky kids – oh…. and dogs…. Fight with horse using biggest man to pull on horse and other two men with the rope around the horse’s rump (as they stumble, cuss, and yell)… Add in the females giving instructions (all different) while trying to keep the kids from making the dogs bark and chase at the horse…. After about 6-8 hours, lots of beer, then the police arriving…. POOF!!!!! The horse goes in??? Of course not!! They all quit. The men get arrested for being drunk in public, the females laugh at them, the kids cool off the horse frazzled by hand grazing, and the dogs go off after the neighbors cat….. HAHAHA – just wanted to add some humor to a not-so-funny subject….

  12. this is about a horse that loads well but once the trailer starts moving,he pens his ears and starts kicking and banging around he will kick the horse next to him or bite even when hauled alone he some times kicks and some times comes out at the end of the ride bleading and skinned up I have tried so called kicking chins and hobles with little succuss he has demolished two trailers kicking the doors and walls , by the way this is a good riding horse that I bought at an auction in wyoming , I like him but am getting tired of rebuilding trailers and paying vet bills he is nine years old and I really need some help, any advice would be appreiciated.
    We have loaded this horse in different positions in the slant load trailer and loaded him facing front and backward, with and without horses, all with the same results.

  13. Sounds like he regards the trailer as a source of uneasiness that he finds stressfull. He sounds like he’s ok with the support of a human.

    1) Teach him to regard the trailer as a place of safety and relaxation. Try working him outside the trailer- hard. Constant flexing, backing in circles, roll backs…anything other than running that he would find grossly unpleasant. Dismount and lead him into the trailer and let him rest, with bridle reins tied up around the saddle horn.. The second he begins aggressive behavior whip him out and repeat the 20 minutes of intense flexing, backing in circles, sidepassing etc. Reload and wait for the aggressive behavior. Repeat several times. You should find that after about 3-5 sessions the dumbest horse catches on. Outside=nasty work, inside-peace and harmony. When you put him back into the barn stall, tie his head around to his side, and later tie him with his head raised above his shoulders. After a few hours, immediately load into a trailer with all panels removed, so he can lower his head and rest. Yes…this takes a very long time commitment on the handler, but it works.

    2)You can try to ride in the trailer with him, but highly unlikely a humans presence will help.

    This strategy works in that the horse becomes more supple and thereby a more pleasant ride AND becomes a better trailering horse.

  14. Oh..and if he stands quielty in a stopped trailer…drive around the pasture and wait for the aggressive behavior.

  15. Thanks for your reply, we really apprecitate any input at this time, we are at our wits end… and it’s really hard to stop the trailer and work him when the only time he does this is in route, and you just can’t stop on the highway. But you have given us some useful input.

  16. What do you do with a horse that rushes out of a staight load horse trailer. We have gotten our 10 year old Trakaner to get into the trailer but when we try to back him out slowly he yaks out of our hands and rushes backward.

  17. In regards to the Nancy lady that totally burned my advice…F.Y.I ITS JUST A SUGGESTION THAT WORKED FOR ME! No need to cut it up! I thought this was a webiste to share ideas, so if you arnt interested in suggestions then I suggest you just dont read other peoples input:) It worked for me and my wonderful horse that I spend alot of time with because I make the time to!

  18. Also, if people are haveing atrocious times trying every tip and getting no results, I suggest calling in an actual horse trainer! They have a way of understanding a horses mind and they arnt emotionally attatched to the project! In the long run its a safe and productive choice

  19. I would love to volunteer to teach Sue to trailer. This could be fun. Go with your instincts and tell these abusive “know it alls” to get a stuffed toy and not (please) be parents to animals or humans. There are many good qualified therapists, myself included(for HER issues). I have seen so many “experts” who get “results” that have no business owning, never mind training horses. Please find qualified help.

  20. I have a 10 yr old mare that was very abused at 6 months of age. She hates men totally. And she hates to load.
    But over the years she has taught me patience. And no help from outsiders. We barrel race and go to events when it comes to loading everyone has a idea. Then I have to keep her from trying to kill the “cowboys” by just taking her away. She loads fine most of the time but when she has a bad run I can count on trouble. We have our ways of loading, but a crowd of people is a way for someone to get hurt. Why I keep her? Not her fault that a “cowboy” tied her up and threw ladders and god knows what else on her to sack her out! She has come a long way, but she will never fully trust anyone. Which is very sad. So she can be a pain her whole life and fight with the trailer but it is good to know history of a”problem” horse cause there usually is a person that caused it.

  21. Hello, I have a 4 year old horse that simply refuses to load! He dosent rear, back up or do anything stupid he just simply won’t go in! I have used food as a treat when he comes in the door with his front feet, and again when he finally steps his back feet in. He will stand at the trailer door for an hour or more and not budge! He hates it if you pull on his lead rope and it makes him very resentfull at what your trying to do so I don’t pull on him I just try to coax him in by talking and maybe a treat (hay). Anyone got any suggestions for my stubborn horse?

  22. I am a trainer. There is an old saying “The fastest way to work cattle is to do it slow.” I am 20 years old. I have trained so many horses. Most of the time the problem is human error. The horse is a horse. You need to talk to him like a horse. Not a human. The best way. Develop a leader role. Be the leader of the herd, not the other way. Always start with good ground work. Get the horse to respect you and your space. Teach the horse to move to pressure. I find lunging to be a great way of teaching a horse to move. Also allow the horse to be around the trailer. Tie them to it. Let them explore it. Do things that get the horse used to unstable things. Move in small steps! Thats the key! Get the horse to walk across plat wooden bridges or plywood and planks. BE SAFE!!!!!! Get the horse to walk under tarps and branches. Get the horse safe! Then work at loading. Be the leader! Ask the horse to move into the trailer. It takes time. Take it slow. Also I just want to mention this, you should spend just as much time with you horse as you do riding it. what I mean by that is you need to spend time just relaxing. Bond with them. Brush them. BOND AND DEVELOP the leadership role and relationship, and when things don’t seem to work or you get stuck stop and end on a good note. Do something he can do well. TAKE SMALL STEPS! Get a trainer if you need too! Be safe! Work the horse up, and build up it’s confidence. Don’t expect the horse to accomplish it in a day. It can take a while. ALL HORSES are different.

  23. I have a 7 year old mare, closer to 8 I believe. She was pretty crazy at a foal. She would kick at anything that came close to her. We could never catch her. Her mom was kept in the same field after they had been weaned for a while and I think that was the problem. We had to catch her mom to do anything with her. She just started filling out in her chest area recently. And as she started filling out we discovered that her left shoulder isn’t right. When she is walking you can see it popping. So we made an appointment with the vet. The only problem is, she has only been loaded once when she was 6-7 months old and we had her mom to lead into the trailer. Her mom recently passed away and we have no way to get her into the trailer now. We have a step up trailer and even when we back it up to an edge where all she has to do is walk in, she wont. She has started biting and Kicking since we started trying to load her. I don’t know what to do with her! I love her alot and I wanna keep her simply because she is all we have left of her mom. I can’t ride her until her shoulder is cleared and the vet says its ok, but they think within a few years it will start getting stiff and sore and being ridden will only make it worse. They say the best bet is to breed her and get a baby out of her before that happens, but again…I can’t get her into a trailer to get her anywhere to be bred! any advice would be appreciated! Thanks!

  24. Hey, Rebecca. We recommend you find a vet who is willing to come to you. Very best wishes!

    Jody Reynolds
    AQHA Director of Online/Interactive Communications

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