Trailer loading - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 11 Old 04-16-2012, 07:56 PM Thread Starter
Join Date: Apr 2012
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Question Trailer loading

Hi guys, as I had a pretty nasty day with my mare today and she somehow had some problems to go in a new trailer we bought recently (she is perfectly fine going in our other one and the new one is even bigger!!!). Anyway, we managed to be totally comfortable in the new trailer after I spend about an hour with her and she is ok and fine now. I trailer a lot and wanted to know how your horses are doing in the trailer and when loading. If they have issues what do you do to train them to go perfectly (more or less :0) in the trailer. What kind of methods do you use to train young or inexperienced horses to go in the trailer and how do you load (do you go in first or do you drive the horse in???)
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post #2 of 11 Old 04-16-2012, 08:05 PM
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I've been going through the same thing with my horses. We had a 4H Stock Trailer, and now we have a 3H Slant Enclosed trailer. My horses aren't comfortable with it yet. I had to force them into it the first couple of times then back out and do it over and over and over. Then I hauled them. But it's taking awhile to get them used to it.

I don't fuss around with my horses. They are all used to trailers and loading and I'm not going to play the "oh it's so scary, i've never been in there before" so if they don't load, they get a swat from the lead rope which gets them in. I've had my 3 for over 10 years now so I know their antics.

With weanlings (when I start to haul) I have treats and will stand inside the trailer and feed them yummies and slowly back up to where they have to step up into the trailer. Then I'll walk out and slowly work my way back into the trailer. They quickly realize the trailer is a place where yummies are given. Then, short rides around the block. I try to do it a few times a week until they are used to it and then I'll haul them only when I need to. (shows, trainer, vet etc)

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post #3 of 11 Old 04-16-2012, 08:24 PM
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Luckily my horse loves the trailer (at least all trailers he has met :P) but I used to work at a therapeutic barn and we'd trailer load (please wear gloves btw OP!) via the method of sending. It's also very good idea to put hay in the trailer trough so it appears nicer.

I hope others will post so you have multiple viewpoints and methods :)

"Strength is the ability to use a muscle without tension"
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post #4 of 11 Old 04-17-2012, 01:50 PM
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I use a collection of approach and retreat techniques, tailoring a bit exactly what I do to the exact problem that the horse has with the trailer (big trick: knowing what the horse's problem is. Is he afraid? Or is he essentially flipping you the bird and saying "I don't wanna?").

First and foremost, I want the horse to be respectful in-hand in general. At the very least, I want him to willingly lead forward at the walk and trot, halt from the walk and trot, back up, and yield his shoulders and haunches, all off of body language, with no dragging or pulling. Ideally, I'd love it if the horse could do all of the above without a halter and lead as a safety net. When the rubber meets the road, trailer loading problems are fundamentally groundwork/leading problems. Exposure to things like trail patterns in-hand can be great prep, too. You essentially want the horse to say "Yes'm/Yessir" to any request you make. Start with an established pattern of respect.

Next, make sure that your trailer is as inviting as possible -- I like a trailer with a bright interior, but I've used several that were painted dark reds and burgundies inside without any problems that I'd blame on the decor.

Set yourself and the horse up for success -- line up straight, and approach the trailer with confidence and purpose. That horse is going to step right on without breaking gait. Know that, expect it. If he doesn't, it's going to be a surprise. Don't look at him, just walk purposefully aboard the trailer. Nine times out of ten, if the horse is not afraid and is respectful in general, confidence in the leader is what's lacking.

I want the horse's attention on the trailer -- even if he halts in his tracks, scared out of his mind, I want him thinking about the trailer. Reward the smallest change and the slightest try to come closer (applies to fear and defiance -- a step forward is a step forward). If his mind wanders, or he chooses to go away from the trailer, I let him... for about 3 steps. Then I take his idea as my own, and we do some work. It can be anything; circling, backing up, whatever, as long as the horse is moving his feet according to your direction. Look for those signals of attention: an ear on you, relaxed posture, soft/blinking eye, licking/chewing, etc. When you judge the horse to be relaxed and focused and thinking about you, reapproach the trailer again, and if he doesn't step aboard (like you wholly expect him to), let him hang out as long as he's investigating it and thinking about coming further in. Rinse and repeat. The difference between the fearful horse and the defiant horse is how much pushing you want to do, and how you want to do it. A truly fearful horse, I will try to wait out its natural curiosity -- that will eventually take over. Some gentle encouragement forward may help. A defiant horse may take a well-placed and well-timed spank to come forward. It all depends on the individual horse, what his issues are, and what will best help him to learn and understand either that the trailer is not a death-wagon, or that you are a leader worthy of respect who is telling him to step up.

Make the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard -- the trailer is a place where the horse gets to rest (whether he's thinking seriously about it or actually coming closer/loaded), and the area outside the trailer is a place where he has to go work if he chooses to be out there (or thinking seriously about going there). Give yourself all the time in the world -- you don't want to have to drop the lesson at a bad spot because you're running out of daylight or are late to a dentist appointment. Check your emotions at the door. Trailer loading can get frustrating, for the horse as well as you. A person acting on their frustrations is not an effective trainer.

I get on with mine; I have a slant-load H&S stock trailer, not a straight load. A straight load is close enough quarters that I would want to send the horse aboard by himself and raise the butt-bar after him. I don't like rewarding with food for this. Never say never -- sometimes the best cure for an extreme fear of the trailer is to make it into a food-wagon. If I'm under a time constraint (need to move the horse NOW, no time for subtlety or real training) I might use some grain to lure the horse on just to get the job done once. BUT, the horse doesn't learn anything about me from being lured onto the trailer. If I need to use grain on a horse, that tells me that I need to spend some unconstrained time properly working out the issue with groundwork and psychology.

Sorry for the novel... hope that's helpful to you. I'm a groundwork/trailer loading geek, lol

A stubborn horse walks behind you, an impatient one in front of you, but a noble companion walks beside you ~ Unknown

Last edited by Scoutrider; 04-17-2012 at 01:53 PM.
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post #5 of 11 Old 04-17-2012, 01:54 PM
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Honestly - I just load them. If your treat the trailer loading as any other situation you ask them for, it's not a big deal. I think most folks have problems AFTER they have been loaded and hauled. Usually a case where the trailer ride was not good and the horse doesn't trust anymore.
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post #6 of 11 Old 04-17-2012, 02:05 PM
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Depends. If I'm working with a youngster that has never been trailered I take a lot of time trying to get them in easily. In, out, in, out, in, out over and over. Standing for varying amounts of time with the door open and closed, lots of pats and rubs, etc... I want it to be as positive as possible. Obviously they need to be able to stand tied, lead well, all that good stuff.

If it's just a fussy horse being silly, I will try being nice and coax them in at first but it's just like anything else with horses, use as little or as much "convincing" as necessary. Obviously I'm not gonna whack them with a 2x4 to get them in, but I will definitely give a few smart pops on the hiney. Then once they're in, take them out, put them in, take them out, etc...
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post #7 of 11 Old 04-17-2012, 08:30 PM Thread Starter
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@ Scoutrider:I am actually a groundwork and trailer loading geek as well :0) Thanks for the good explanation and one think I really like is: Make the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard!!! I totally agree with that. I have lots of experience on loading as well and I do agree with your methods! I posted this because I really did not understand my mares problem, all our horses go in the trailer without problems, I just swing the lead rope over the neck and they go in by themself... I was really making me angry that she was so weired with the new trailer, but she is doing fine now and it might have been my mistake as I was not patient enough and she prob. felt that I was getting frustrated and angry. Well, we worked it out and its all good now. Another reason why I started this thread is that I see LOTS of people that handle the loading totally wrong and the horses are so not comfortable while in the trailer and as a result people have a super nervous and stressed out horse in competitions. Well thanks guys, it is interesting to read how you guys handle the loading and I hope that people realize that it is very important to have a certain amount of groundwork done before even thinking about trailering the horses. Thanks again for the input and enjoy the loading :0) I will tomorrow morning as she is fine now... puhhh
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post #8 of 11 Old 04-23-2012, 06:45 PM
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This was such a helpful post for me!! I'm moving my horse to a new barn next week, and I'm excited but also a little nervous about trailering. We showed for several years, and my horse is great at getting on the 4H stock trailer with step-up that we always used. She was actually the one we used as an example to give the younger horses a confidence boost when loading. My only concern about trailering this time is loading, because the trailer we'll be using this time has a ramp.
I know that my attitude will make a big difference, so I'm trying to tell myself that there won't be a problem but I know that I'll have some lingering nervousness on the day of. One thing I'm doing to relieve a bit of the nerves is booking the trailer for a time when the driver doesn't have another job to rush off to, so I won't have him huffing and puffing if we take forever to load! I wish I could practice loading and unloading beforehand, but since I'm hiring somebody to do it that's not really an option. Do you trailering experts have any other tips for us? Thanks!!!!
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post #9 of 11 Old 04-23-2012, 07:23 PM
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Originally Posted by CLaPorte432 View Post
I don't fuss around with my horses. They are all used to trailers and loading and I'm not going to play the "oh it's so scary, i've never been in there before" so if they don't load, they get a swat from the lead rope which gets them in. I've had my 3 for over 10 years now so I know their antics.
We carry a straw broom for this exact purpose. In my experience, the longer you let a horse think about it, the harder it is.

On the sixth day, God created the Quarter Horse.
On the seventh day, he Painted the good ones.
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post #10 of 11 Old 04-23-2012, 07:30 PM
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I've only had one horse that was difficult to load, and this happened when I switched from an open stock trailer to a straightload. Switched back, & she was fine again. Other than that, nope, never, start them young with an open stocktrailer and they are just fine & dandy. I recently purchased a new slant load, my horse as he was entering the new one, gave me a weird look, looked back to the old trailer parked off to the side as if to say, "uh, this isn't mine, mine's the red one!" He got in, peed & claimed it as his.
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