How to Easily Load and Unload an Anxious Horse onto a Horse Trailer
A young teenage named Rachael has been waiting all summer to take her horse to the county horse show – and finally the day has arrived. It’s a perfect summer morning, the sun is shining, there’s a cool breeze, and everything’s all set.
Her horse has been washed and groomed, and his dark bay coat almost sparkles in the summer sun. During months of training, the excited young rider looked forward to show day. Finally, her beautiful Thoroughbred gelding would get his chance to perform in the show ring.
But, there’s one big problem.
For almost two hours, Rachael and her mother have tried desperately to coax the horse into the trailer – to no avail. A few times, he got close to the trailer door, just a few feet away from the entrance…only to anxiously bolt off backwards. The young rider tried pushing, pulling, even begging the horse to get in the trailer, but nothing worked.
The stubborn Thoroughbred just wouldn’t get into the horse trailer.
After another half hour of trying to coax the horse into the trailer, they gave up. They were exhausted, the horse was not going to move, and they wouldn’t be able to make it to the show on time.
Does Your Horse Have Trailerphobia?
If you have an anxious horse that doesn’t like loading into the trailer, you’ve probably been in a similar situation. You can waste hours and hours trying to convince your horse to get into the trailer – only to end up defeated, frustrated, and disappointed. And after you try everything to get your horse to load, only to fail, you might begin to wonder – is something wrong with my horse?
Loading and unloading can be quite the hassle – some horses can walk into a trailer without a second thought, while others can’t even get close to the trailer without rearing up and bolting the other direction. What makes the difference? Why do some horses freak out at the sight of a trailer? What makes a horse so tough to load? What causes anxiety in horses during loading? And can you fix it? Is there any hope for a super anxious trailerphobic horse?
While it’s completely natural for your horse to be suspicious of a giant scary-looking horse trailer, there are certain training techniques that you can use to help your horse load and unload successfully. You can train your horse to be comfortable around the trailer – making for safer travel for you and your horse.
However, although it’s true that training techniques and certain trailers can help your horse react positively to getting into the trailer, some horses are better than others at trailer loading and unloading. In fact, your horse’s personality can affect whether they are nervous and skittish or calm and confident around your trailer.
But before we get into specific training tips that you can use to help reduce your horse’s anxiety around the trailer, lets discover why your horse is so anxious around the trailer in the first place.
Anxiety in Horses During Loading and Unloading
First things first - it’s completely natural that your horse’s stress levels spike during the loading and unloading process. Why? Well, let’s look at it from your horse’s perspective. Horses are prey animals, and like all prey animals, they are constantly on the lookout for dangerous animals and situations that could trap them and hurt them.
When a horse sees a dark, scary-looking trailer that has metal doors that will shut them in the trailer and trap them, your horse’s heart starts to beat faster and his anxiety starts to rise. This only gets worse when horse owners try to drag or force their horses into the trailer during the loading process.
Anxiety in horses also increases when horses are put into small, confined spaces. Horses are naturally claustrophobic – they’re used to being out in a wide-open pasture with plenty of space to move around and enjoy. When they’re put into a small, confined area like a horse trailer, anxiety in horses rises.
When your horse’s anxiety starts to increase, your horse can start to sweat excessively, which can lead to dehydration and cause other health problems as well. If your horse is stressed during travel, he could get sick and it’s likely that he’ll end up at his destination rattled and exhausted. If you’re traveling to a big event or show, anxiety in horses can negatively affect your horse’s performance as well.
To make sure that your horse unloads from the trailer calmly, well-rested, and ready to perform, you have to do all you can to eliminate anxiety in horses. This can be done with certain training techniques, lots of practice, and also special trailer features.
Your Horse’s Personality Affects How Well He Loads into the Trailer
For all horses, walking into a horse trailer is not something that they naturally want to do. In fact, their instinct and everything inside them tells them to run far away from the dark, enclosed, scary horse trailer. And, it makes complete sense, because horses are prey animals. Whenever they are faced with a scary situation that feels dangerous to them, their natural reaction is “fight or flight.”
And for horses that are already a little more anxious and untrusting, getting close to the horse trailer sets off all their internal alarms – making them want to run away as fast as they can. Horse training expert Kelly Sigler, a 3-Star Parelli Professional, says that when horses see a horse trailer, “their instinct tells them not to get trapped.” While you see a horse trailer that will take you down the road to the county horse show, your horse sees a dangerous metal box that will trap them and lead them to certain death.
That’s why loading onto the horse trailer can be so difficult and cause anxiety in horses. According to Kelly Sigler, a horse’s personality plays a big part in how they react to trailer loading. Just like people, horses have different personalities that can make them more prone to bolting away from the trailer, or more curious and confident.
Kelly works with the Pat Parelli training system, which divides a horse’s personality into four quadrants – right-brained, left-brained, introverted, and extroverted. There are three levels in each of the quadrants as well – mild, moderate, or extreme. For example, if a horse is a mild, right-brained extrovert, that means that he’s impulsive, hyper alert, panicky, high-headed, and over-reactive.
Right-brained horses like the one described above will need more time to develop their confidence around the horse trailer. Left-brained horses might be braver around the trailer, but they are also more likely to buck or charge if you try to force them into the trailer (because they will see you as a predator).
That’s why it’s important to know what type of personality your horse has before you try to train it to load onto the trailer. Depending on whether your horse is right- or left-brained will affect what training techniques work best. Do you know your horse’s personality type? Check out the chart on the right to see what quadrant your horse fits in.
Why Does My Horse Have Anxiety?
Whether your horse is an introvert or an extrovert, if he has anxiety, it will be a little harder to train him to be comfortable around the trailer. Anxiety in horses can stem from many different sources – anything from seeing an out of place hay bale to hearing a scary unfamiliar sound can put your horse on edge and make life difficult for you as well.
Often, confusion is what causes anxiety in horses. If he doesn’t understand where he is, what’s happening, and what he should do, he will start to panic. This confusion happens often when your horse is outside of his comfort zone. That puts him in an uncomfortable situation that leads to stress and anxiety.
5 Common Causes of Anxiety in Horses
While many horses experience stress for situational reasons, there are some common causes of anxiety in horses. If your horse has been anxious recently, it’s important to look at these factors first to try to find the underlying cause.
#1 Too Much Feed
Every horse owner knows that it’s important to feed your horse fresh, quality hay and feed. But did you know that how much you feed your horse is just as important as what you feed him? If you’re feeding your horse too many nonstructural carbs and grains, you might be over-feeding him, leaving him with excess energy that he can’t burn off with his usual exercise and activities.
When your horse has too much energy, he’ll start doing things that he wouldn’t normally do around you and might appear panicky or over-reactive. This can easily be solved by adjusting your horse’s feed so he gets the right number of calories and balanced energy levels.
#2 Not Enough Exercise and Turn Out
Horses are big, powerful animals that aren’t meant to be trapped in their stalls all day. While a couple of hours of riding might be enough to wear you out, most likely it isn’t enough for your horse. Horses need time to run around outside on their own.
When you turn your horse loose into the pasture, it gives him freedom to use all the energy he wants and wear himself out. This turn-out time allows your horse to wander, graze, and play with the other horses. It’s an important part of any horse’s daily routine.
If your horse spends too much time in the stall or stable, he can develop anxiety because he’ll start to feel trapped. Make sure to give your horse enough time outside on his own to burn energy and wander free.
#3 Sudden Separation
Horses are pack animals – both in the wild and on the farm, they develop strong connections with the other horses around them. For that reason, separation can be a big problem and cause severe anxiety in horses. When your horses have gotten used to living together, then suddenly one is sold or moves to a different farm, both horses can suffer because of the drastic change.
If you do have to separate two horses, try to do it as gradually as possible. Keep the second horse nearby and slowly minimize their visits so they get used to being apart from each other. Over time, both horses will develop more confidence alone and they will adapt to the new situation.
#4 A Strong Personality
All horses have different personalities – some are naturally calmer and more relaxed while others are more active and hyper. Sometimes, a horse that is acting “anxious,” just has a lot of energy and is simply being his normal self.
If your horse has naturally high energy levels, you might want to seek help from a professional trainer. They will be able to help you develop exercises and training plans that will align with your horse’s active personality. When choosing a horse, it’s important to choose one that matches your energy level as well. If you only want to ride a couple hours a week, but your horse has lots of energy and needs multiple rides a day, it might not be the best match.
#5 Physical Discomfort or Mental Distress
Obviously, if your horse is in physical pain or feels endangered, it’s completely natural for him to respond with anxiety. When horses are put into strange situations or when they hear unfamiliar sounds, they are going to be on edge and more anxious than usual.
The best way to overcome this type of anxiety is to slowly introduce your horse to the strange new sound, animal, object, or situation. When your horse is afraid or anxious, it’s your responsibility to show them that whatever is scaring them is not going to hurt them.
With horse trailers, it’s the same thing. To your horse, your horse trailer is a scary looking metal box that’s going to trap them and hurt them. It’s natural for them to be anxious around the trailer, especially if they’ve had bad experiences in the past. But, with time and training, your horse can become comfortable around the trailer and your loading and unloading experience with your horse will stop being such a nightmare.
How Stress Is Physically Dangerous to Your Horse
When your horse experiences stress around your trailer, his heart rate goes up, and he might start sweating intensely and even become dehydrated. Anxiety in horses can causes a horse's body to release cortisol, then adrenaline and epinephrine - all hormones that rouse your horse and could make him do things he usually wouldn't do.
This physical “fight or flight” reactions can put your horse in danger. If you manage to get your horse into the trailer in an anxious and stressed physical state, it’s likely that his cortisol levels will be elevated during the whole journey. He’ll probably arrive at your destination shaking, nervous, and exhausted. When your horse is stressed and anxious, he might contract an illness like shipping fever, also known as pleuropneumonia, which can lead to a persistent and intense cough.
Anxiety in horses is not only dangerous for the horse, but it’s also dangerous for you as well. Many horse owners try all sorts of things to get their anxious horse into the trailer. While they might start of with bribing him with treats and gently coaxing him into the trailer, as tensions build, they might resort to methods that put both them and their horse in danger.
One woman named Leigh from Pennsylvania told us that one time, she saw to strong men lift up the hind quarters of a stubborn quarter horse mare to get her into the trailer. They locked their arms behind her rear end, shoved her into the dark trailer and slammed the doors shut.
That type of loading procedure is very dangerous – the horse could rear up and hit its head on the trailer or fall and hurt a front leg. And, it’s dangerous for the owners as well, who could be kicked by the horse or hurt their backs from the weight of the horse.
The loading process should not be a dangerous life-threatening experience for you or your horse. And horse owners should always take into consideration the physical health and the mental well-being of their horses when loading them in the trailer.
6 Trailer Loading Tips to Help an Anxious Horse
The first time your horse gets into your trailer should never be the same day you are planning on traveling. Horses need time to wander around the trailer, sniff around inside, and slowly get used to it. When they feel comfortable around the trailer, then you can start leading them inside and training them to load and unload without any stress.
Check out these simple tips to help train your horse to overcome his trailerphobia:
1. Let Your Horse Take the Lead
It’s important to not rush your horse when training him around the trailer. Go at his pace, and let him become curious about the trailer. Maybe he’ll sniff around or poke his nose into the different parts of the trailer. Every time he shows interest in the trailer and reaches out his nose, reward him with a treat and lots of praise.
Letting him take the lead will build his confidence and curiosity, and with you by his side, it will help your horse feel safe and protected in his first encounters with the trailer. If you see that he’s feeling confident quickly, you could even ask him to go on into the trailer.
2. Build Your Horse’s Confidence Around the Trailer
If you horse is scared to even look at the trailer, you might have to start even slower. Try using the approach and retreat tactic to help your horse slowly become more comfortable approaching the trailer. At first, he might not want to get too close, but that’s okay. Calmly walk towards the trailer until you notice your horse getting anxious. When he becomes bothered, pause for a few minutes. Let your horse take a deep breath and look around. Then, walk him away from the trailer.
You can repeat this process, each time getting a little closer to the trailer. You might not get all the way to the trailer on the first day, but that’s okay. Remember, going at your horse’s pace will help build his confidence and lead to long-lasting results. Soon, your horse’s anxiety around the trailer will turn into confidence and serenity.
3. Slowing Increase the Time Your Horse Stays on the Trailer
After your horse is more comfortable around the trailer, it’s time to actually get inside. Don’t force your horse to stay inside the trailer the first time he gets on. Instead, reward him while inside the trailer, then lead him off after a few minutes.
When he’s comfortable staying in the trailer for a few minutes, you can start playing around with the different parts of the trailer. Move the butt bar or divider, and show your horse that it’s nothing to be afraid of. Help them get used to the noise and movements of the different trailer parts and accessories.
4. Ask Your Horse to Back Off, Don’t Let Him Do it on His Own
After spending a few minutes in the trailer together – and praising him and giving him treats – ask your horse to back off before he tries to do it on his own. This will show your horse that you’re not trying to trap him in the trailer. When he sees you helping him off the trailer, he will see you as a friend and hero rather than a predator.
If your horse is going at a slower pace, you can still use this tip. Even if he only has his two front legs on the trailer, you can ask him to back off and train him that way.
5. Use the “Approach and Retreat” Method for All Trailer Parts
When training your horse to be comfortable around the trailer, it’s all about repetition in a calm and safe environment so your horse will slowly feel more and more confident. Use the “approach and retreat” method for the butt bar, divider, and door so your horse can get used to these different trailer parts.
You might need someone to help secure these items so you can be close to your horse’s head, rewarding him and talking to him throughout the whole process. Make sure to stay safe while you train your horse in the trailer – always make sure the butt bar is secure and the door is closed before tying your horse. Make sure to untie your horse before releasing the door or the butt bar.
6. Don’t Force Your Horse to Back Off the Trailer
The best way to train your horse to be comfortable around your trailer is to use a “walk-on-walk-off” design like this 3 Horse Slant Load Trailer. With this type of trailer, your horse will never need to back off the trailer. Since horses can’t see behind them, backing up causes uncertainty, stress, and anxiety.
With a “walk-on-walk-off” trailer, your horse will never have to back up. He’ll load through a side loading door, then to unload, he’ll walk straight off the back of the trailer. This type of trailer eliminates anxiety in horses and makes unloading and loading so much easier for you and your horse.
Learn more about loading and unloading horses in a 3D-printed horse trailer.
Is Your Horse Trailer Really “Horse Friendly”?
The type of trailer you have makes a huge difference in how easy or hard it is for your horse to load and unload – and how stressed your horse is during travel. Some trailers are simply not very “horse friendly.” These trailers can actually cause anxiety in horses. Take for example, a conventional slant load trailer. These types of trailers have a stationary rear tack area, which creates a very narrow loading doorway. And since the tack area is blocking one side of the trailer, usually they’re dark and have almost no airflow.
Your Horse’s Four Basic Needs
Horses have four basic needs in order to survive: light, space, air, and safety. If your trailer doesn’t offer all four of these things, it’s just not a “horse friendly” trailer. A good horse trailer will have all four of those things that work together to prevent anxiety in horses. Here’s why they are absolutely necessary for your horse’s physical and mental well-being…
1. Light. Your horse needs light to be able to see his surroundings. If you horse is unable to see while in the trailer, and especially while stepping into the trailer, he will become very anxious and scared because he will start to feel trapped and claustrophobic. Make sure you choose a trailer that has a wide, open entrance so the outside light can illuminate the inside of the trailer while your horse is loading. Large windows and a light-colored interior make everything easier to see for your horse.
2. Space. Every horse needs room to move around without feeling cramped or trapped. Big horses will need more spacious trailers that are built for larger animals. Trying to squeeze your large warmblood horse or your draft horse into a regular sized trailer is never a good idea.
3. Air. When thinking about the air in your horse trailer, you need to consider both the air quality and the temperature. Look for a trailer with enough overhead vents and windows so that there will be quality airflow while traveling. Also, you don’t want your horse to overheat on hot summer days, so make sure your trailer is properly insulated with the correct materials.
4. Safety. The horse trailer should protect your horse from danger – that’s why every horse trailer should have at least two inches of padding around the horse stall and chemical bonded walls instead of rivets.
Your horse won’t know if your trailer is the year’s top trailer model or if it has state-of-the-art building materials. But he will notice if the rivets in the wall shriek and squeal as you drive down the highway, or if the sharp edges on the side of the trailer are poking at his legs or ribs.
You want your horse to feel safe and comfortable in the trailer, not anxious and afraid. That’s why it’s so important to find a horse trailer that’s truly “horse friendly.”
Make Loading and Unloading Safer and Easier for You and Your Horse
Both getting your horse into the trailer and off loading him from the trailer can be dangerous and stressful moments. Some horses bolt out of the trailer at what seems like 1,000 miles per hour as soon as you open the trailer door. Other horses recklessly bail out the trailer door backwards as soon as their owners untie them.
Every time your horse is panicked and stressed, it puts you in a dangerous situation that can quickly spin out of control. Equine practitioner Robert M. Miller has had to deal with many horses injured from trailer-related incidents. He said that “the most common cause of trailer-related injury is failure to adequately and properly train the horse to load and to haul.” (1)
If you want to keep yourself and your horse safe while loading and unloading, you need a trailer that will safely allow you to not just transport your horse, but also get him in and out of the trailer. Traditional trailer designs don’t make it easy for your horse to enter and exit the trailer. That’s why Double D Trailers came up with a solution to the dangerous loading nightmare that so many horse owners face.
SafeTack Trailers – The Best Trailer Design for Loading Your Horse
The Reverse SafeTack horse trailer from Double D Trailers is a trailer that’s designed specifically to make loading process much easier and much more horse-friendly. Instead of having to walk into a dark, cramped, scary-looking compartment, your horse will easily load into the trailer by simply walking onto the side ramp through the wide side doors.
Since it’s a rear-facing trailer, when you unload, your horse won’t have to back off, so he won’t be tempted to bail out backwards like most horses in traditional trailers. Instead, he can just walk right out the back of the trailer after you open dividers. The rear SafeTack compartment in the back of the trailer even swings open like a second door, which gives your horse a wider space to unload.
Unlike most slant load trailers that don’t have any barriers supporting the horse in the stall closest to the door, on a SafeTack Double D Trailer, there is a stall divider separating your horse from the door. That means that when you open the doors when you arrive at your destination, your horse will stay safely inside the trailer until you are ready to unload.
This special patented design gives owners more control when unloading, making it much safer for them and their horses. The dividers are easy to move, open, and close, and they protect your horse from bolting out of the trailer. The best part of the design is the reverse facing configuration. This eliminates the biggest problem of loading – the anxiety that your horse feels because of having to blindly back out of the trailer backwards.
Customize Your Trailer to Fit Your Horse’s Needs
A trailer that meets all four of your horse’s needs – light to see, space to move, air to breathe and safety from danger – is a trailer that will make your horse feel comfortable and calm. With a SafeTack Double D Trailer, you can make sure your trailer meets all four of those requirements – and you’ll even get additional safety features that will keep your horse safe and happy on the road.
When you travel with a SafeTack reverse load trailer, you’ll never have to back your horse ever again. He’ll be able to quickly and easily walk right into the trailer, then walk right out when you arrive at your destination. This trailer design is one of the best for successful, stress-free loading. It's designed to eliminate anxiety in horses during travel. We can even customize the stalls to fit your horse, no matter what size it is.
Choose the safest and most reliable trailer option for your horse – and say goodbye to loading and unloading nightmares and the danger that comes with it. Check out a SafeTake Double D Trailer today. If you have any questions about the patented design, feel free to contact Double D Trailers owner, Brad Heath.