generations horses have been chased, killed and eaten by predators
in the wild such as the bear, wolf, lion and yes even the most efficient
predator of all, the human. As prey animals their self-preservation
instincts have been well honed.
the past few hundred years most horses have not been free to roam
at will across the open plains. Even though horses have been domesticated
for many years, their survival instincts are still very much intact.
These powerful instincts are still responsible for much of the horse’s
natural behavior and decision making process.
have confined the horse into the human world of corrals, paddocks,
stalls, and trailers. By doing so it now becomes our duty to try
to understand the horse’s natural instincts and view his life
in our world from inside his head, looking through his eyes. In
fairness to our horses we must introduce ourselves and our claustrophobic
environment to him in a way he can gently understand and gradually
learn to accept.
horse may view you trying to load him into a trailer as a predator
trying to make him walk into a dark cave. For many horses this simple
request is just too far beyond their instinctual comfort level.
Their survival instincts shout to them with no uncertainty to “never
trust a predator and absolutely never go into a dark cave.”
instincts function to keep the horse alive. Horses will often fight
to the point of hurting themselves in order to avoid what they perceive
as the certain death that awaits them inside the trailer. While
humans may see his refusal to walk into the trailer as stubborn,
the horse sees it as the age-old struggle of life and death.
the years, the attempt to get horses into trailers has produced
some of the most horrific examples of horse handling ever witnessed.
If you’ve been around horses very long I’m sure you
have seen examples of attempts to load horses into trailers using
sheer man-handling, butt ropes and whips.
a youngster I once witnessed a horrendous trailer loading situation.
The owner had lost patience with his frightened and shaking horse
that refused to get in a small, dark two horse trailer at night.
He had tied the lead rope inside the trailer toward the front when
I heard him say, “I’m going to get my loading shovel.”
He proceeded to retrieve a large, metal scoop shovel from the back
of his truck and beat the horse repeatedly in the rear until it
leapt in sheer panic into the trailer.
the front window over the feed bin had been left open and in it’s
frantic attempt to escape both the shovel and the trailer the fear-crazed
horse jumped into the feed bin and through the window becoming lodged
with his head, neck and one front leg through the window. The rest
of the story is too gruesome to relate here but I’m sure you
can draw your own conclusion.
how do we convince our young horse that he will not die by walking
into the trailer? We must prepare him to calmly step into the trailer,
because he must load himself into the trailer for it to be right.
Attempts to force him into the trailer will be anything but calm.
of horses have loaded into thousands of trailers over the years
so I would certainly not claim that my way is the only way. It is
simply a way I have found that works well for the horses I’ve
training horses to load on trailers most well-meaning people start
with their horse and their trailer. We should back away from trying
to accomplish too much, too quickly. Instead, break down trailer
loading training into small bite-size pieces that are more easily
accepted by our horse.
with any type of training, the foundation is the key to success.
I recommend building a relationship of mutual respect and trust
with the horse. Work with him for a time on ground exercises on
the lead rope such as leading, backing, yielding front and hindquarters
and circling or lunging around you.
you have established this foundation, you will be ready to begin
more focused trailer training. I have designed a horse-friendly
“trailer trainer” as pictured. This simulates the size
of a two horse trailer. The left side has a short wall on the outside
and is open on both ends. This makes it less claustrophobic so the
horse is more willing to step onto it and walk across.
first lead the horse all the way through the left side. Take your
time, hold steady pressure on the lead rope and give a release for
any positive move toward the “trailer”. After walking
through, I rub the horse in praise then lead him back through the
same side several more times. An additional benefit of this exercise
is exposing your horse to the sounds of crossing a wooden bridge
as he walks across the floor.
I lead him onto the left side and stand in front of him blocking
the open end. I rub him and then ask him to back off using the same
cue I use to back him as a ground exercise. I repeat this several
times until he stands and backs off calmly.
I stand at the front corner of the left side and send him up onto
the “trailer” using the same cue I use for lunging or
circling as a ground exercise. I direct him onto the “trailer”
with my focus (eyes) and left arm. I encourage forward movement
with the rope in my right hand swinging toward the hindquarter.
I instantly stop swinging the rope and drop my right hand every
time the horse makes the slightest shift or movement toward the
he is hesitant or resistant about stepping up on the “trailer”
I will lunge him a little on the ground near the “trailer”
then lead him onto it several times until he is comfortable. If
you encounter resistance, go back and reinforce the previous step
until he is completely comfortable. Try again to send him on the
“trailer”. Let him stop, and rub him when he places
one or two front feet on the “trailer”. Let him back
off here then send him on again until he is willing to step on with
all four feet.
he is standing on the left side calmly you may have to help him
back off by standing on the ground by the short wall near his head
and applying slight back pressure to the halter and using your “back
up” cue. Eventually you will want to have him back off by
standing behind him and wiggling the lead rope.
you can send him onto the left side without resistance and back
him off calmly, then you are ready to move to the right side of
the “trailer”. With the door tied open, start all over
in the same sequence of exercises that were described above for
the left side.
you can send him onto the right side with the door tied open and
back him off calmly, then you should shut the door but not latch
it and lead him onto the “trailer”. Stay with him inside
at the front of the trailer, rub him and talk calmly to him. The
interior will look different to him with the door shut, so let him
stand and investigate until he is calm. If he gets nervous and you
can’t calm him, you may safely escape by simply pushing the
door open and leading him off through the front.
he is calm standing in the “trailer” with you, you should
back him off and lead him back in a few times. Now you are ready
to latch the door and send him in by himself while you are standing
near the front corner of the opening. Stand facing his front shoulder
with him facing into the opening of the “trailer”. Give
him good direction and focus by looking into the “trailer”
and holding your arm straight with the lead rope pointing into the
“trailer”. Your other hand should have a couple of feet
of the end of the lead rope to swing toward the hindquarter to encourage
him to move forward. Be sure and give him plenty of slack in the
lead rope so he knows he has enough rope as he moves forward onto
the “trailer”. I use a 12 foot, yacht braid lead rope
for this as well as for all my ground exercises.
patient in encouraging him to step onto the closed “trailer”
by himself. Remember if you encounter hesitancy or resistance go
back to the previous step, lunge him a little on the ground near
the “trailer”, or send him onto the left side a few
times then try again to send him onto the right side. At first be
satisfied with him only stepping on with one or both front feet.
When he is in this position stop encouraging forward movement, let
him relax, rub and praise him. You may then back him off and continue
to ask him to go back on until he is able to go all the way in with
all feet and stand calmly.
all this is accomplished, he should be well prepared to step into
any trailer. Always give him time to investigate any new trailer
and let him take his time about getting in the trailer until he
can do this calmly, with dignity and no hesitation. Don’t
wait until you are “late for the show” to ask him to
load in your trailer!
all horse training, try to break your lessons down into bite-size
pieces. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you must get
him all the way in the “trailer” in the first motion
or even that you must accomplish all this in one or two sessions.
You’ll find the lesson he has trouble with today will be much
easier for him tomorrow, after he has had time to think about everything.
It is helpful to do this training over a number of different sessions
with patience, a calm demeanor and no time constraints.
calm, patient and focused. Try to see everything from his perspective
and you will develop a wonderful and fulfilling relationship with
this most noble animal.