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Dont list your horse trailer for sale quite yet: 5 tips from a Parelli trainer on how to load a difficult horse

Phoenix, a rescue horse, is hesitant to get onto the trailer.  To learn more about rescue horses in Washington state, visit www.safehorses.org.

There comes a time in every horseowner’s life when they encounter a horse that simply will not load on the trailer. After hours of frustration and struggle, it may even be tempting to list all of these seemingly useless horse trailers for sale!   Kelly Sigler is a 3-Star Parelli Professional who uses the principles taught by Pat Parelli.  She shared five valuable tips to help overcome this challenge in a natural way that eliminates fear and dangerous situations for you and your horse.  For Kelly, this transition to “natural horsemanship” has been a life changing experience.


Even the Pros Struggle at Times

In addition to being a 3-Star Parelli Professional, Kelly Sigler competed at the Intermediate Level in Eventing, and is a longtime lover of horses.   She began show jumping as a young girl and won numerous local championships in Hunter Over Fences before she even graduated from high school.  As a 3 Day Eventer, she trained with Olympic Gold Medalist David O’Connor, and competed in both national and international events.  Her main competition horse, George, was named the 2003 Central Texas Preliminary Horse of the Year, and Kelly was named the Preliminary Rider of the Year.  Kelly was a wildly successful competitive rider with an amazing and talented horse.  What could go wrong?

Kelly Sigler competed at the Intermediate Level in Eventing and is now a 3 Star Parelli Professional.

Kelly Sigler competed at the Intermediate Level in Eventing and is now a 3 Star Parelli Professional.

Kelly’s competition horse, George, who had traveled all over the country and world for competitions, one day decided he did not want to get on the horse trailer.  A large storm had just swept through his Texas home hours before, and the panicked horse saw the trailer as one more place that “predator humans” wanted to trap him.  For several days, Kelly attempted to drag and bribe the frightened horse in to the trailer with no success.  Frustrated, tired, and disheartened, Kelly finally turned to the help of a stranger who used Pat Parelli’s Natural Horsemanship techniques.  George was on the trailer within fifteen minutes. 

“Before this happened,” Kelly said, “I really didn’t understand or have a clue about how my horse actually felt about the trailer.  I thought that he was just being stubborn.  That experience totally set my journey into Natural Horsemanship!  I wanted to explore more and find out how horses thought and felt — and how to motivate them without acting like a predator.”  This experience launched her into a whole new world of horsemanship where she learned to interact with her horse in a natural way that built a trusting relationship.

Kelly is now a certified 3-Star Parelli Professional who operates the 20-acre Looking Glass Farm in Wagener, South Carolina.  She devotes her time to teaching other horse owners how to interact naturally with their horses so that a relationship built on trust instead of force and fear can be achieved.  One of her mottos is “never ending improvement,” which she personally follows through continual barn and facility improvements and the training of her new foal (born May 2014) whom she would like to raise into a top performance horse with a Natural foundation.

Kelly Sigler is a 3 Star Parelli Professional -1

Kelly Sigler is a 3 Star Parelli Professional -2

Kelly Sigler uses the principles of Natural Horsemanship to train her horses.  Theses techniques can help a scared horse build confidence on the horse trailer.

Horses Think Your Horse Trailer is a “Scary Metal Cave on Wheels!”

For people, taking your horse on a trip in the trailer seems like a perfectly normal and necessary task.  For the horse, there is nothing natural or mundane about it.  Kelly explained why many horses don’t want to be anywhere near a horse trailer.  “Horses are prey animals,” Kelly stated, “and their instinct tells them NOT to get trapped –or they will be eaten.  For that reason, horses are naturally very claustrophic.  A trailer is the ultimate squeeze and claustrophobic.”

Sometimes it is also useful to consider the personality, or shall we say “horsenality” of your horse.  The Parelli system divides horses’ personality into four quadrants:  introverted, extroverted, right-brained, and left-brained.   Kelly explained that, “all horses need patience.  A right-brained horse will need more time developing their confidence.  A left-brained horse might not be frightened about going in the trailer, but you want to be careful not to act like a predator and force them in.”  She even cautioned that a “left-brained” horse can change into a “right-brained” horse!  By identifying your horse’s horsenality, you can better understand why they act the way that they do and decide what you can do to help them handle the situation.

Horsenality Profile - George


This image shows horse George’s “Horsenality” profile.  Horses are classified as left-brained or right-brained and extroverted or introverted.  Knowing your horse’s classification can help you understand why they act the way that they do. 

Kelly’s Top 5 Tips to Load Your Horse Onto the Trailer

 Kelly offers these five tips to help your horse load on the trailer using the principles of Natural Horsemanship: 

  1. Don’t make it about the trailer at firstHave the horse find the area around the trailer as a “sweet spot” where they can relax.  You can do this through ‘approach and retreat’ and allowing your horse to rest by the trailer.  Have the horse approach the trailer calmly until they reach the point when they are uncomfortable and want to stop.  Let them stand there for a moment and look around.  Then lead them away from the trailer and repeat the process.  Each time they should be able to approach the trailer a little bit closer.  Eventually, they won’t think being near the trailer is a big deal.
  1. Wait for your horse to be curious about the trailer.  Wait for when they start to want to investigate and touch the trailer with their nose, and accept and reward the slightest try.  When their confidence and curiosity is up, you may ask them to go on the trailer. 

Kelly Sigler provides 5 tips to load your horse onto the horse trailer.

Horses’ natural instincts tell them that the trailer is a “trapped” and scary place.  Kelly’s tips can help overcome this fear.

  1. Don’t make them stay on the trailer.  In the beginning, if they only get their front feet in, that is great!  You want to be the one that asks them to back off.  If they need to get off on their own, that is okay.  If you ask them to back off, they will see you as a hero, and not a predator trying to make them squish into the scary metal cave on wheels. 
  1. Gradually increase the time they can stay on the trailer.  After they are comfortable staying there for at least one minute, start playing with the butt bar.  It may help to tie a long string to the bar, so you don’t get into a dangerous situation when you try to pick it up. 
  1. Do ‘approach and retreat’ with the butt bar and door.  Once the horse is fine with the butt bar touching them, you can practice securing it.  Then do approach and retreat with the door.  Always stay safe…Do not tie the horse unless they are good with tying.  Do not tie the horse unless the door is secure and be sure to untie the horse before lowering the butt bar or opening the door. 

Natural Horsemanship Can Be Part of Your Everyday Life

Use these tips to slowly build your horse’s confidence around and on the trailer.  Help them change their mentality of the trailer as a “scary metal cave on wheels” into simply another safe place to be.  For Kelly, she prefers big open stock trailers for horses.  She shared, “Horses can turn and be in what position they need to be.  It is the least claustrophobic option and very inviting.”  Other custom horse trailers are available through Double D Trailers.  Be sure to keep in mind Kelly’s advice about visibility so that your horse does not feel closed in or trapped.

Double D Trailer Stock Horse Trailer

Kelly feels that a stock trailer is the best option for claustrophobic horses.      

Kelly’s work with Parelli Natural Horsemanship has allowed her to help students far and wide.  She hosts multiple clinics at her home farm as well as working with outside groups.  In fact, she helps run an extremely valuable course with Tori and Justin McLeod of 4HFES and NCSMART, LLC who were featured in last month’s blog article.  Kelly says,  “The course that I do with Tori and Justin, in my opinion, should not only be mandatory for anyone running a barn, but anyone that has a horse!”  This course focuses on the preparatory steps to help your horse react calmly in emergency situations.  The prep work is all based on Natural Horsemanship.

Kelly truly believes in the work that she is doing.  “Natural Horsemanship, I believe, is the best way to give a horse the best start in life.  The principles of Natural Horsemanship not only help people be better with their horses, but other humans- it is life changing for the better!”  Her work is very fulfilling, and she loves working with students who are motivated and willing to learn.  As for the biggest challenge, she said the hardest thing for people to do is change.  “Trying Natural Horsemanship is a leap – but worth it.  Your horse and everyone in your life will thank you!”

Kelly Sigler is a 3 Star Parelli Professional -3

For Kelly Sigler, learning Natural Horsemanship is well worth the time and effort.

 If you would like to learn more about Kelly Sigler, check out her website at www.kellysigler.com or visit Pat Parelli’s site to learn the basic principles of Natural Horsemanship.  Loading your horse onto a trailer can be difficult at times, so it is important to consider your horse’s state of mind.  Help them learn that it is a safe place to be that can ultimately help them travel to exciting places.  

**What are some of your horse-loading stories? 

**Do you have any special techniques to help an antsy horse get onto the trailer?

**Please share your comments in the comment section online (all personal information is kept private.) 

Note:  The top image is of a rescue horse named Phoenix who was hesitant to load onto the trailer.  Trainer Terry Phelps said, “A lot of what I use to help the SAFE horses overcome their trailer fears has roots in Natural Horsemanship and Parelli work. Most are truly afraid of that big box and it takes patience and a willingness to work through it at their pace for it to succeed.”  If you would like to learn more about rescue horses in the state of Washington, visit www.safehorses.org.  Be sure to check out our next blog article where we talk more about these rescue horses and why they are a a wonderful option for adoption! 

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