Trailer Loading Tips
Written By: Martha Northwick

So you have a full weekend planned. Horse show Saturday, trail ride Sunday and back to the barn, but your horse throws a wrench in your plans. Now you are standing outside your trailer with your horse in hand when you should be on the road to your destination. What do you do?

Here are a few things that should be on your checklist prior to your hauling plans:

  • Allow your horse to familiarize himself gradually with the trailer.

    Each day take a few minutes before or after your ride to let your horse have an experience with your trailer. Have food inside to coax them (But remember! Never treat your horse for the bad behavior of refusing to load.) Let them smell inside and maybe even put only their front feet in. If they jump right in, make sure to reward your horse!
  • Create a comfortable environment for loading.

    Although there may be a time when you will have to load your horse in commotion, start small and gradually work up to loading in those situations
  • Back up your trailer to a confined space.

    If possible, back your trailer right up to the stable door so the horse has nowhere to go but into the trailer. Don't give him the option to bolt.
  • Reward steps in the right direction.

    I’m a firm believer in all kinds of rewards. In fact my horse has a fat and happy stomach because of this. But this is one time a food reward shouldn’t be used. I recommend taking the pressure off as reward for steps in the right direction. Examples, if you are tapping lightly on your horse’s rump and they take a step forward stop the tapping. Hopefully your horse will equate moving forward with less pressure! Less pressure is good, more should be uncomfortable. Also when I say tapping I mean just tapping, making loading less stressful means just making your horse uncomfortable not in pain!
  • Don’t be in a hurry to get somewhere.

    Allow yourself plenty of time to load your horse and to travel so you're not rushing. Horses are extremely sensitive animals, if you are nervous, upset or scared they will be too. It’s important to be a leader to show your horse that the trailer isn’t scary!
  • Be confident.

    Again, be a true leader for your horse. My biggest tool when loading a horse with problems is the positive thought that he or she will get in

But what do you do if this still doesn’t work. Well here are a few methods that have worked for me. Now always keep in mind that your horse’s memory is probably longer than yours. So that means keeping the situation calm to ensure that your mount will want to load again!

  • First, I try to give my horse a few moments to take a look into the trailer with all the windows, vents or escape doors open (depending on the type of trailer you use.)

If that doesn’t work and I’m hauling with a buddy, that’s my next step.

  • Load a friend and let your horse see his buddy is safe and happy in the trailer. For me that usually cures any fears my horse has, but there are times we are alone, so what do you do next
  • Find a human buddy to make the outside of your trailer uncomfortable for your horse. Let me explain this one. I usually use a lead rope, lunge whip or stick if I can’t find a whip. Then have your friend stand to one side of your horse and lightly tap on their rump, the back of their legs or near their cornet band. When I say tap, I mean tap. Just like an annoying bug flying around their head. Once your horse takes a step in the right direction stop the tapping. Hopefully your horse will realize that moving forward is better than being annoyed by the person on the outside of the trailer.
  • Or… use a butt rope. Ok so this option is tried and true, but once you use it, I recommend practicing at home without it. Using a lunge line is the best. I usually find a few people to help with this one, placing the rope behind my horse using it as a way to encourage him forward into the trailer.

So hopefully with these tips and ideas all our horses will load into our trailers calm and quiet! Remember that working with your horse at home prior to the stress of a show day is usually the best way!