Problems trailering horse. Help! - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 22 Old 02-03-2020, 07:21 PM Thread Starter
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Problems trailering horse. Help!

I am the owner of a 9 year old mustang (mare). I purchased her as a wild horse when she was 7. She had no training or human interaction.

She has been on a trailer 3 times. The first time, she was ushered into a trailer via a chute to be brought to me. The second time, we were moving barns. The trailer used was a slant load and had a ramp, and to my surprise she walked right on it as soon as a hay net was tied inside, and rode quietly the entire trip. The third time, she was getting onto a step up slant load trailer. It took about 10 minutes of coaxing, but she eventually hopped on. However, on our way home from that destination, she refused to get back on the trailer. It took about 45 minutes, 6 people and many ropes to get her on and home. She was rearing, pulling back and bolting, and occasionally kicking at the people behind her. We ended up getting her on a different trailer (stock type, smaller step up and backed up to a hill so there was barely a step) to transport her home. Since that incident, she has not gotten on a trailer, exhibiting the same behaviors she did the third time she trailered, sometimes worse (yes, I did get her a head bumper and wrap her legs). Because I don’t have my own trailer, I rely on barn friends to work with her. However, none of them have ramps on their trailers.

What steps should I take in order for her to nicely get on to a step up trailer? She will walk up to the trailer, sometimes she’ll even put her legs on the edge of it, but will never lift her feet or hop up without rearing, spinning, and bolting.
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post #2 of 22 Old 02-03-2020, 08:38 PM
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When I train mine to load in a trailer I try and make it a calm and relaxed atmosphere. I train them when I have plenty of time and there is no rush and if they don't load the first session there is always the next time. Don't let someone that Helps by slapping the horse on the rump with a whip or the end of a rope. Sounds like you are boarding at a barn so find someone who will let you use theirs for training. Mine is a stock trailer so it is nice and roomy and is white on the inside so it has an open feel and it is a step up to enter.
First lead your horse out to the trailer and stay back 20' or so and walk him back and forth behind the trailer with the big door open. Work him just a little closer each time and if he wants to stop and look let him. When he starts relaxing walk him up to the back of the trailer. If he stops at the trailer let him stand and look in, then take him back and work him in circles on the lead make him move his feet making it work. Take him back to the trailer and ask him to get in. Even one foot in is a start, let the trailer be a release (rest) and away from the trailer work. Keep doing this and next he will put both feet in. When he does let him stand a minute then back him out. Go circle again and come back. If you have a stick you can touch him on the hindquarters but DON'T hit him. Trailing must be a good experience. If he tries rearing don't tolerate it. Work him in circles making rearing means work. If you stay with this making the trailer be a resting place and outside being work he will start thinking of the trailer as a good place. I walk in the trailer with the horse too letting him know that I will go in too. Sometimes a treat when he is learn to go in helps too. After Mine go in for the first time I take half a feeding of feed in and put it in the front of the trailer . When he goes in I let him see it and eat , again trailing good. Don't tolerate the spinning and rearing. Make the horse respect you.
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post #3 of 22 Old 02-03-2020, 09:09 PM
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Oh man. Think you have a problem. Something must have happened on that one trip that you were unaware of. She must have slipped during braking, acceleration, or something. Fell down even maybe. Such a drastic change something must have happened.

And now she has a double dose of bad memories with 6 people doing what ever to force her back onto the trailer. At that point I doubt you had a choice, but a bunch of bad memories still.

Horses don't forget. Anything. Ever. The only cure is to slowly cover up the bad memories with good memories. The bad memory will always be there but more recent good memories will have more influence.......unless what ever happened, happens again, then it all will come flooding back.

I am studying positive clicker training and am very enthused. Using that method, at first if the horse even looks at the trailer, the horse gets a click and a food reward. Any shift of weight toward the trailer gets rewarded. All of this done on her own without any tugging or pushing. Maybe 10 to 20 minute sessions per day. Or even 5 minutes. The reward of voluntary movement toward the trailer turns on what is termed her "seeking" emotion which is very pleasurable to a horse, or people for that matter.

Over time the trailer, it's presence, her movement toward it will become associated with a "good" feeling inside of her. And eventually getting into the trailer will be the same.

She just must not experience any more fearful experiences with the trailer. And your calmness around the trailer will not go un-noticed by her. Any frustration on your part will become a negative experience for her.

And the food reward must not be used as a bribe. Ever. The reward only should happen when she does something you would like to see repeated.

Maybe others will have different suggestions but this slow tedious method is the only thing I know of that would bring her back to where she was before what ever happened......happened.

You might want to study up on clicker training some. The click becomes associated with doing something that is going to be rewarded. When she glances at the trailer or makes a barely muscle shift towards it, the time it takes to give her a food reward is just too long. The click can be done the very instant that the action takes place. And the click actually becomes stronger in some ways than the reward as the click means a reward will be forthcoming at some point. Anticipation is more fun sometimes than the reward. The anticipation of a Christmas present is often more fun. After the package is opened, well,'s over. It's the idea, "I'm going to get something...yea!", that really turns on the seeking emotion.

So don't cut the clicker short. Killer whales are trained to do miraculous back flips and other maneuvers with this method in Sea World. It'll work for your horse too. Many have proven so.

Oh, and in particular, read about "charging up the clicker" before using it as a training tool.

Sorry about the long book.
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post #4 of 22 Old 02-04-2020, 01:41 AM
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I've seen so many horses that had trailer issues continue to have trailer issues for a long time afterward because their owner treated them like they had a problem. If that makes sense. The less you dwell on your horse's trailer problem, the easier it'll be to 'erase' the problem. I agree with Hondo in that something most likely happened to your horse in that trailer - but it might have been something very simple or easy to overlook - a loud noise the horse didn't like, or inexperience in the trailer. My first horse was a star loading up in the trailer to head to my house when I bought her. I rode with her since it was just up the road from my place and I can confirm that nothing happened during the 15 minute trip. She wasn't nervous, no falls, no loud noises. Then I got her home and didn't load her for nearly two years and shockingly, at that point she didn't want to load in the trailer. I'm not saying it was that simple in your horse's case, but it might have been.

To me it doesn't really matter what method you use to get your horse on the trailer - the clicker method sounds good, or the feeding in the trailer idea, or the working hard away from the trailer and resting inside/at the trailer. Personally I use the last one to train a horse to load. It works on the vast majority of horses, it's relatively fast, and it seems to stick well. But you do you, all that is important is that your horse learns that the trailer is a good place to be and that it's not a huge ordeal getting in. I would also recommend that you always drive conscious of the fact that there's a horse back there - brake and accelerate slowly, turn gently, don't accelerate until the entire trailer is clear of the turn, etc. Horses have a high center of gravity so they require a bit of love when being hauled around.

-- Kai
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post #5 of 22 Old 02-04-2020, 08:24 AM
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Good tips. Something else that can help is to think of loading training as "unloading training." Don't focus on getting your horse into a trailer, focus on getting your horse to calmly and happily come out of the trailer.

You start practicing this unloading a few feet away from the trailer, which means after the horse gets somewhat close, you pretend the horse is now unloading and back up nice and calm for several steps, then give a reward. Keep practicing this unloading, getting gradually nearer until the horse puts a hoof in the trailer, then unload him like usual. That is where I would stop for the day, and do that several days in a row.

Eventually have him unload two hooves from the trailer, half of his body, and more. The idea is that psychologically you want the horse to think you are always going to be unloading him, so he becomes less worried about being trapped in that trailer. This is a start toward having him stand in there calmly, and after you've taught him to unload so well, if he does get scared he can unload nicely rather than rushing out, rearing or panicking and getting hurt.
I wouldn't try keeping him in the trailer until he feels confident he can calmly get out whenever he needs to.
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post #6 of 22 Old 02-04-2020, 09:50 AM
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The thing that hit me and generated my excessively lengthed post was that the horse sounded like she may have been traumatized to the extent that a phobia was formed.

The fact that she will walk right up to the trailer is a good place to start. But I would do nothing that caused even the slightest resistance. Horses are so claustrophobic by nature. So am I to an extent. Imagining myself in a straitjacket and locked into a small room causes me to begin to perspire a bit. It'd take a lot of trust in someone to voluntarily allow that to happen to me.

I think it is just so important to approach the horse with this knowledge. Kudos that she trusts you enough to walk right up to the trailer under your guidance, but it has to be understandable that some fear overwhelms her for going farther.

My horse actually loads very well every time but becomes fearful once he sees the door is going to close. That is something I intend to follow my own advice on.

I like the idea of resting the horse at or inside the trailer but question whether it would be enough to overcome a developed fear/phobia.

Gottatrot's post is a good example of breaking the end goal down into small steps to be gradually accomplished one at a time. And of course with an incredible amount of love and patience.
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post #7 of 22 Old 02-04-2020, 10:22 AM
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Will say I had a five hours needed to load horse January of last year into my specific trailer (tiny and enclosed with no man door to open and impossible to turn around in) I tried the first method mentioned in this post with very little success- it worked but only after pony was utterly exhausted (he's Arab) and that took forever since he really didn't mind a good run around. I went to clicker training and I did 2-4 weeks of not trailer loading work with the clicker and the target. Enough that pony was very keen on getting the click and the cookie. With the clicker and the trailer I applied some pressure in the form of gentle tugs or a little bit of tapping with the whip toward the trailer and then rewarded any motion into it. At first he got a cookie if he put his head in. Then he was required to put his neck in, then his forelegs, then step forward, then the hindlegs. Each time I raised the bar I was careful to ask for only a little more and to not reward him until he gave me the action I wanted. (And also stand patiently and have times of no pressure so he could make his decisions) In the end it took me about an hour once I started with the clicker. Within a few more times of getting the trailer out to play with he was hopping on the first time with relish.

I did run into some issues in the middle of summer with a bees nest. I didn't realise it was in there, horse had a bad experience. Found the nest. Cleaned it out. Went back to basics with the clicker. Another hour and we were back to well mannered pony.
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post #8 of 22 Old 02-04-2020, 02:13 PM
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Take it nice and slow, make it a nice and happy experience for her. My horse had the same problem and hated going into a trailer, I worked will her for hours every other day and it helped a lot. You have to step in their shoes or hooves. Lol, they are being asked to stay in a small, confined box for a period of time. When I was asking my horse to load, I would have a bucket of grain, when she would take a step I would praise her, pat her and give her some grain. When she was more confident, I would fed her in their. When your horse is resisting going in, keep a firm and strong contact on the rope, when they take a step forward, immediately release that contact and they will soon pick it up. Most horses do not like a step up, when I first loaded mine, she slipped and landed on her knees and that was the end of that one for me, it took her forever, but then we switched to a trailer with a ramp and she loaded perfectly. She will still have her moments, but it doesn't take me forever anymore. Most horses like a slant with a ramp, than a bumper pull. Just keep at is and stay relaxed. Good luck.
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post #9 of 22 Old 02-04-2020, 03:28 PM
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Originally Posted by Hondo View Post
Oh man. Think you have a problem. Something must have happened on that one trip that you were unaware of. She must have slipped during braking, acceleration, or something. Fell down even maybe. Such a drastic change something must have happened.
OR she just wasn't in the mood for it the day of the problems,and then once everyone ganged up on her and dragged her in the trailer, THEN it was a bad experience. I wouldn't be so quick to ascribe this problem to a truly traumatic experience during that one haul. To me, it's like the saying that if a green broke horse is going to blow in two, it'll be on that fourth ride - by then they're figuring out they can show their behinds. I figure this mare just figured out she could say no and did so, on top of the fact she's never been taught properly how to load and be trailered. She's honestly ignorant, she's a mature 'feral' horse that's had no good experiences with humans, if we're being honest, and she's old enough to have her own opinion about things... and has enough sand to say 'no' to humans.

OP: I'm in the process of teaching a coming 2 year old born to me to load... but I also own a BLM Mustang yearling filly who's only experience in loading has been ran in through a chute, hauled to our house and booted out into our catch pen. I'm going to have start working on her as soon as our weather dries up.

A. Get some help of someone who knows that they're doing when it comes to Mustangs. They're dead clever and can be very opinionated and quick to kick or bite a threat, quicker to react to a perceived steel box of death... because that's how they survive. But they're still fundamentally a horse in terms of how their brain is wired. I'd be looking for a TIP trainer in your area given her maturity. Get connected with Mustang Maddy (Look her up on social media), she's got a lot of great methods of working with Mustangs.

B. Watch this guy, Gord Searl. He has a whole series on teaching a problem horse and/or a horse that's never been taught, to load. That horse isn't a Mustang, but a Mustang IS just a horse. Again, their brains all work pretty much the same way, fundamentally. I'm not a fan of him jerking on the rope, there's other ways to work on teaching personal space and self-control in a horse, but his salient points are spot on. You're going to need to start with some basics on ground work, respect, and trust - because I bet at her age, she's not had nearly enough - and build toward what's going on in the videos.

Or, y'know. You can keep going with the quick and dirty process of hauling her in there and building up emotional/behavior issues that will one day explode like a pressure cooker.

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Last edited by AtokaGhosthorse; 02-04-2020 at 03:34 PM.
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post #10 of 22 Old 02-04-2020, 07:02 PM
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Horses learn by instant association and are generally wary of stuff they aren't familiar with. They can't think rationally, so they can't think 'this time mightn't be so bad because...', or 'last time was OK so it should always be', or such. They remember/associate the basic emotions/'thought pictures' to situations/things. Repetition & consistancy is what 'strengthens' the experiences into 'training'.

Here's the way I see what you've told us...

She's had only 2 possibly OK experiences at loading - the first time, she was put through a chute. No doubt she was scared, but had no alternative. But there was not pushing prodding, pulling on her halter at least & sounds like quite a different experience to later, so wouldn't necessarily be associated with the latter times. Second time, could have been that she'd learned to lead well, perhaps used to going into a barn or such, had developed some trust in you... so it just happened without conscious effort - great that happened. And even if she got nervous travelling, as the initial loading was good, she probably wouldn't strongly associate loading with *travelling*. But I wouldn't budget for that as a rule, and doing so only once will not convince her that 'trailering' generally speaking is a good thing. For her to confirm that & generalise, you need lots of repetition & consistency, that it is indeed OK/good.

So her next experience was one she was hesitant about because it was different. I imagine, rather than let her take her time, because you needed to be somewhere, she couldn't take her time, it was all a bit of a push, she wasn't reinforced for 'trying' enough and so she became more hesitant & worried about it. But sounds like this is only the first worried experience and she wasn't too upset about it, so shouldn't have made a huge problem, so long as subsequent 'lessons' were good & reinforced her confidence about it.

Then, for whatever reason you had to unload her enroute, she of course didn't want to go through that again, there is now fear associated, but you need to keep traveling, rushing, so she really got forced... and panicked & reactive. She felt like she had to fight for her life. Even though this was only the second bad experience, it was a very strong one - she was put in 'survival mode', needing to fight for herself against humans & ropes. That 'lesson' will stick big time I'm afraid. You can get her over it, but there will probably be a... niggle, for a long time, that she's a bit more hesitant or reactive, less trusting.

It sounds like there have been a few more 'tries' to get her into a trailer unsuccessfully. Don't know how much force was used, how 'intensive' and stressful the 'sessions' were, but that they resulted in same level of reactivity as earlier means, IME, she has been pushed way too far and each 'lesson' has further strengthened that fear/belief that she needs to fight, cannot trust...

I know people often put down the idea of 'humanising' our perceptions about animals. And rightly so on many levels, when we mistakenly attribute human thinking, morals, etc on an animal. But in some respects, such as emotional responses, I think it's helpful. For eg. if you were to put the above into human terms, you may better understand what's needed to get her through it. So here's a little story...

Say you were abducted by aliens(who's language & customs you couldn't understand). There were some scary times, forced onto their ship for eg, but for the most part, they seem reasonable. Then one day they tell you to get into a box. You hesitate because it looks dangerous, but they start pushing & prodding you. You don't think it's safe, but end up getting in, very relieved when you're allowed out. But then they want you to get straight back in & you are more concerned, more hesitant & they are getting angry & aggressive. Now, your nervousness combined with their frightening attitude makes you terrified, so you fight hard, but eventually they subdue you & force you in. Now I ask you, would you 'get over it' if they kept trying to force you into something you're now SURE is very dangerous? How could they go about convincing you(without verbal language) that it was indeed OK?

I know, not having your own trailer is difficult(been there), but I would have begged, borrowed or... hired a trailer at least a few times, for float loading practice, *before* you had to move her. And that's what I'd do now, tho it will likely take a lot more sessions now she's in that 'headspace'. Lots of short, easy sessions(maybe 10 or more 5 minute sessions over a day, say), in a low key, not rushed setup, where you can ask her just to go in & out... or even just up to it or one foot in - whatever she is up to, that she can do with minimal stress. With repetition, she will become comfortable and confident about it & you can ask a little more. Reward her & release the 'pressure' instantly - take her away or such - each time you have a 'win'. Also don't pull/push when she is 'trying', give her time to think, to assess.

If she does try to escape or pull back at whatever stage, realise you may be going too fast for her & slow down your approach a bit, but keep pressure on when she does this, not enough for her to feel too trapped & get upset - let her move & go with her or let the rope slide, but enough pressure to be a bit uncomfortable. Then the instant she quits resisting, you quit the pressure.
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