I get asked about trailer loading a lot. Most times I think people are making the task too big and daunting – trying to get the whole horse in the trailer and keep him there, while the horse’s self defense mechanism and worry builds. Here are some basics I keep in mind when working on loading:
First some safety basics:
-NEVER load with a trailer not hooked up- always make sure the trailer is secured to a vehicle
-never tie with the butt bar or door open. This is a sure recipe for a horse breaking a halter and flying backwards. That is tough to fix once they learn that, and confidence that is hard to pick back up once lost.
I always shut the door, then tie. Then when I arrive, I untie, and open the door.
-never make assumptions about how your horse was yesterday and how they should be today. Watch, pay attention, respond.
-have a knife handy and it’s a good idea to keep a first aid kit with your trailer too.
Some training tips now:
-don’t do it all at once, and never do it in a hurry. Practice when you don’t have any rush to get somewhere
-don’t focus on getting the whole horse in. Ask for a step up, back off, give a break
-quit while you’re ahead!!! I too often see a horse make some nice changes and then folks get greedy. It doesn’t all have to happen in one day –
Unless it’s an emergency and your horse is bleeding to death, don’t ruin their confidence around trailer loading by doing it for too long and asking too much.
-you’re not teaching the horse to get in the trailer, you’re teaching him to get curious and interested in going forward. Focus on that.
-work on the backup and leading forward before you get the whole horse in. Once your horse gets all the way in and starts going backwards is not the place to expect them to suddenly know how to come forward – they’re over threshold there.
-food can help but it sure won’t keep a nervous horse in a trailer. You wouldn’t get me to stay in a closet of death for a pie – but I’d get in if you were my friend and helped understand why and how to get in, and that I would be ok in there.
-perfect your leading. It sounds simplistic but 7/10ths of good loading is just good leading. I have often loaded a horse better by only fixing their leading, and taking that into the trailer.
-give it more time, wait longer, take breaks, and expect less. I cannot emphasize those points there enough.
-don’t shut the door til your horse is good and calm. Unless you enjoy a horse flying back down the ramp when you get there.
And for the love of Pete, drive slow, drive safely, and don’t forget your friend is bouncing around back there absorbing every turn, stop and movement.
And please –
Unless your horse is bleeding to death, tell Cowboy Joe or Know it All Sue or Strong Arm Andy to back up and mind their own business. I highly doubt their ways of getting your horse in will do him good in the long run.