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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
My mare has a trailering problem and I don't know how to help her through it.

She has no problem go into the trailer (especially if there is hay inside), but when she gets all the way in, she decides to back up, and FAST. She doesn't spook, she just goes into turbo reverse mode. She also HATES box stalls, so I think she is just claustrophobic in general. She doesn't like cross ties or wash racks that don't have very much space in either side, she likes a wide wash rack or she's very nervous.

I've tried just allowing her to have her moment, and trying over and over hoping she'll become comfortable with it, but she's consistent & relentless. I don't want to force her or get mad at her because she already has anxiety about it and I definitely don't want her to hurt herself.

I know they make bumpers, but if she isn't happy about being in there then that seems like covering up the problem. I'm fine with using it as a tool, but I want her to just be calm and content with getting in the trailer and staying in.

It's kind of rough because I don't have my own trailer to practice with. When I've had the opportunity to use one it's only been from a friend or trainer. I've only been participating in local shows because I can ride to them, but I don't want to let her limit us.

Questions:

1. Is there anything I can work with her on outside of the trailer or without a trailer to make the trailering experience easier?

2. If I can use someone's trailer to practice with her, how should I react to her backing out? How should I handle her to start solving this problem?

Any input would be appreciated! Thanks for reading.
 

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That's a toughy because you're right about not wanting to feed into her already existing fears about being in there. Forcing her to stay inside is not the answer. I would think for starters, practice in the most open, airy trailer you can find. If someone has a stock trailer, that's your best option.

If it were my horse, I would send or lead him in, reward him with a baby carrot or a pat for standing still even 2 seconds, and then sending him back out again as calmly as I could make it happen. The trick is to keep your own energy as low as possible, so she has nothing to feed into. Gradually work up the time she spends in there before you back her out, even if it happens at one additional second at a time.

Hopefully others with more experience with the backing out problem will have suggestions for you as well.
 

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Is she really claustrophobic or just trying things on?
The fact that she goes into the trailer, grabs a mouthful of hay and then rushes back seems to me that she likes her own way.

I would use a solid bar across her butt to stop her rushing out.

As for stopping her, many years ago a woman was having the same problem with her horse in that it was reversing out the trailer at 90mph so she sent it to a dealer/trainer for a month. He did nothing with the horse for three weeks and then loaded the horse to see how bad it was. It was bad.
They reloaded it and he drove off to a river on his place. Backed the trailer up and dropped the ramp. Horse hit the water. Caught it and reloaded. Second time was not so fast but he again got a dipping.
Horse went home and the owner reported that now she had to push the horse back to unload it.

Not how I would go about things but sometimes these methods work.
 

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Keep in mind horses are claustrophobic by nature, their fight or flight instinct tells them they are safer in open areas. All of those closed in areas make her nervous I am imagining you can set up situations to help her with her claustrophobia which should help with the trailer. Your horse doesn't have a trailer problem, she has a doesn't like closed spaces problem. Your in a tough spot not having your own trailer to practice with.

You want her to crave being in those spaces by making them good places to be. The wash rack would be an easy place to start. The idea is make the wash rack a good place to be and not being on the wash rack means work. Start out working her near the wash rack, lunge with lots of changing directions, send her between you and the wash rack. When she starts looking to slow down and needs air walk her partially into the wash rack, stop and let her rest rub her and make it a good place, then back her up and put her back to work, then walk her a little bit more onto the wash rack same thing let her rest, continue until she she wanting to be on the wash rack. Wash rack = rest. You want to back her out before she goes to back out, if you know she will stand for 4 seconds back her out at 3 seconds. See how this will also translate to the trailer? You can do the same thing with the stall, the cross ties or any place you want her be.

The first day you may only be able to stand her for a few seconds, then next work up to a minute. If she backs up on her own then go ahead and back her aggressively for 30 feet, then put her feet to work. Do not allow her to get all the way onto the wash rack, or trailer until she is comfortable half way on, then 3/4 on, and she waits for you to tell her to back up. I do not agree with trapping her on the trailer so she cannot get out, that is feeding into her fear of being trapped. Let her learn she is safe and free to get off, but getting off means work.

One thing I have done to help with closed space issue is I have a bunch of tires that I stack up to make an isle way and get them used to going through the space. Then I get them to stand in the space and back out, then I will put more tires or a fence in front so they have to walk in and back out, I keep stacking tires until they are about 4 feet high, and I can send my horse in, have them stand there and wait to be told to back out. Not everyone can do that but I'll bet you can probably find something to create smaller spaces like plywood, barrels, existing fences, gates, and just get her used to being enclosed. And when you do get a trailer to practice with she will be ready and understand the rest/work concept.
 

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I have a horse that always has to ride backwards in a trailer. We had issues just loading her into slants, but then also unloading from slants. I can get her to stand in there but then when we go to back out when she starts feeling the floor it gets loud which spooks her which causes her to rush out, and causing a lot more noise... We also found out she will only load into the 1st slant in a slant trailer so we have room to turn her around. For a 16hh big Thoroughbred, she has mastered the turning out where the trailer doesn't even more.

What we do with Sassy is have someone lead her in then someone shut the door behind her. I know not entirely safe. But I have her on a lunge line and I run it through one of the rings then step back and ask her to "step up", and eventually close the slant and then the back door is opened. She is a claustrophobic horse, but also does not like the sound when backing out of a trailer.
 

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What about leaving the trailer in her pasture so she can explore it on her own time
 

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I follow Clinton Anderson's methods.....I don't have any problems with any of my horses loading in a two horse front load trailer. Do a search on Youtube for Clinton Anderson, trailer loading demo........it deals with horses that fly out backing up also. Can you send your horse back and forth between small spaces? Do it beside a fence, then do it with a barrel beside the fence and send them through between the barrel/fence......get your horses feet moving, I would not put food in the trailer until the horse is loaded up, calm and ready to go otherwise you are rewarding a bad behavior........
My mare who is going to be 12, her son who is going to be 5, my appy gelding going to be 10 and my boarder's horse who is going to be 6 have all been trained to load up by sending them into the trailer, the boarder doesn't send his but walks in to tie him.....I have to hold my mare back from piling on until he's ready for her, I throw her lead over her back, she hops on and gets tied.......
Good luck and keep us posted on how you are managing, just be careful with the horse flying out backwards that they don't run you over......if they fly out, use a long enough lead (10-20 ft.) and back his butt up and then send him around lunging, send him back and forth.....make it uncomfortable for him and make it rest time inside the trailer......
 

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My mare tried that. I put the bar up and she knew she was not going anywhere so would quiet down.... Well at least until we got moving...
 

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my gelding did this..he was fine and would back peddle..i lead him back in and stayed in with him..he back peddled again but his butt hit a closed door..he kinda looked at me with this embarassed look and calmed down before i exited ...i dont recomend this really unless you REALLY know your horse as you could get injured staying inside..but for him it works and he calms faster..and hes fine when the trailer gets moving
 

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Expending on this ^ if its a two I walk into the stall NEXT to her. OR have a long lead rope, pull it through the feed door and poke my head through. She jumps right in, then i tie her and once she hits the end of the lead she will stand.
 

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The simplest solution is to institute a "no back up until/unless I say so" rule. Have had lots of experience loading frightened rescue horses who are under tremendous stress. Spending time introducing them to the trailer by walking all the way around it in both directions is a good start. You must get the idea across that the trailer is the best place to be. Moving forward is always stress free. Stopping is fine. Backing up is met with something negative (this is something applied during the whole time he's backing up, and it immediately stops when he stops moving backward. Note: if he steps it up, you step it up. Use only minimal negative reinforcement. I start with just a fast repetition of "no". Might then bump leadline next time. Invade his space after that, if necessary. Backing up has to be not as good a choice as moving forward or staying put. This method has never failed me. My claustrophobic horse even got and stored it. He also liked trailers that were not white inside and that had a source of air and light ahead of him.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Thank you all! There's a lot of good advice here. I will work on these things. I think I'm not putting enough time/effort in to fixing the problem, and expecting too much in return. Thanks again!
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