Teaching a horse to load into a trailer safely is one of the best and most important things you can teach a horse, but if it isn't done right you can cause permanent damage. It is easy to teach if you use the correct approach. I have found the best method for teaching a horse to load is shown by Clinton Anderson. I am by no means a CA follower or junky, but I do use what works. I have trained many horses using his trailer loading method.
TOOLS YOU WILL NEED
- Rope halter-preferably one with 4 knots instead of 2 and one that is stiffer
- 14 foot lead rope
- Sport boots or polo wraps to protect legs
- Lunge whip, dressage whip, or "carrot stick"-I personally do not like the "carrot sticks" as they are too heavy for me. I like using a dressage whip because I am close enough to tap the horse but far enough away that I can't get kicked. It is also easier to control as you don't have a long string attached.
- Safe trailer that is hooked to a vehicle-please check your tires and make sure the trailer is hitched properly! I recommend removing the partition if you have a 2 horse straight load for the beginning, then reteaching with the partition inside the trailer. It is easiest if one slot is blocked. It is helpful for your horse to know how to lunge during training a horse to load into a trailer as you will be lunging the horse outside of the trailer.
WHAT TO DO:
Start by asking the horse to load. If the horse refuses to put any part of its body inside the trailer, including its head, then you back him/her and lunge him as close as you can to the opening of the trailer and reverse every two-three circles. Reverse each way about two-five times, then ask the horse to load again. Repeat if the horse doesn't put a body part into the trailer. If the horse touches any part of the trailer, RELEASE THE PRESSURE. Horses don't learn from pressure, they learn from the release of pressure. So now that the horse has either touched the trailer or put its head inside, ask for more progress. This time aim for the head in a little further or a hoof inside the entrance. Example-horse put his hoof inside the trailer and starts pawing. This is a great sign! That means he's thinking about what you are asking and is checking out the footing. Release the pressure immediately when the horse does this. The second he pulls back or removes his foot from the trailer, back him up quickly and lunge him by the opening again.
***The point of the lunging outside the opening of the trailer is to teach the horse that the trailer means he gets to rest. He will never have to work inside a trailer. Horses want an easy life. They don't want to do any more work than they have to. When the horse chooses to remove himself from the trailer, he will be required to work.***
By now you should be able to get at least the front half of your horse into the trailer. Let the horse rest until he/she decides to back out or you back the horse out yourself after about five minutes. Slowly continue to ask your horse to put more of his/her body into the trailer. What to do when your horse loads: Congratulations! You have successfully loaded your horse, but you are not done yet! Unload and load SEVERAL more times until the horse has gotten in perfectly at least five times, preferably more. Do loading sessions at least once a week until he/she is loading every time perfectly, then once or twice a month. Eventually you won't even have to step into the trailer to load your horse. You will just have to point to where you want the horse to go and he/she will load up! I have taught both my horses to self load.
NOTE: It is NEVER safe to let a horse turn around to exit a trailer! You can get run over or jumped on. A horse should always back out calmly. I have found that teaching a horse the word "step" when stepping out of a trailer really helps eliminate their fear of stepping onto unknown ground.
*Image courtesy Flickr creative commons.
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