One of the most dangerous parts of traveling with horses may be trying to load them into horse trailers. Unless your horse is thoroughly trailer broke, it’s probably a bit of a challenge to get them in and out each time you want to go somewhere. A seriously problematic loader needs to be handled by an experienced trainer, but if your horse is just a little hesitant or could load easier, these tips will help make trailering him a lot safer.
Turn on the Lights
Horses don’t like to go into small, dark places -- thousands of years of evolution have shown them that these areas tend to be hazardous to their health. If you turn on all the lights and open up all the windows to bring in as much daylight as possible, it’ll help a hesitant horse feel more secure about moving into the trailer.
Horse owners in the market for custom horse trailers can help their nervous horses out by having the interior of their new trailer painted white. Not only will the bright color make it easier to keep clean, your horse will find it less scary to walk on into the new trailer.
Practice, Practice, Practice.
Whether your horse is learning to load for the first time or you’re just getting him accustomed to a new trailer, practice is key. The more positive experiences your horse has in the trailer, the better he’ll do when it counts. Practice load him as often as possible in the days and weeks leading up to your planned outing.
Don’t forget to reward your horse for his progress. Just because he doesn’t pop right into the trailer on the first go doesn’t mean he’s not trying -- reward his improvements and keep him relaxed during training sessions and he’ll stay calm during loading and unloading. A calm horse is a safe horse.
Bring Along a Friend
Owners of multiple horses may find they have a particular horse who loads poorly, but other horses that are easy as pie to get into their horse trailers. Load a buddy into the trailer first, in full sight of your nervous horse, before trying to load the nervous one. Horses are herd animals, after all, and the extra company may be what he needs to stay calm.
Other times, when a nervous horse sees that his friend is perfectly content to wait in the trailer, he realizes there’s nothing to fear and loading becomes monumentally easier. Even with an extra horse to help calm your nervous horse down, load slow and don’t get the nervous horse stressed out. He’s doing his best. Don’t forget to reward both horses for a job well done.
Leave the Door Open
It may seem like a little thing, but you really need to focus on keeping your horse from feeling confined right away. This is easier to do in a big trailer, but even in a little two horse trailer there are tricks to keeping your horse confident and secure. Perhaps the most important thing you can do is wait to shut the door until everybody is calm and relaxed.
Try to think like a horse -- when you shut the loading door, it’s suddenly much darker and stuffier than it was with the door open. Don’t rush shutting the door -- leave that until right before it’s time to leave and let your horse get comfortable in the trailer first. The more relaxed he is, the better he’ll behave.
Check Your Trailer
When it feels like you’re doing everything right, but your horse still gets nervous loading, the fault may be with your trailer. Does it pitch or give under your horse’s weight? He may sense that the floors are getting soft, the springs are bent or the balance is off -- but, of course, he can’t tell you, he can only refuse to go inside smoothly.
Horse trailers need frequent maintenance to be at their best, if yours has gone a while without having had a check-up or a tune-up, give it a thorough examination or take it to the shop. Your horse may have good reason to be scared of your trailer, and if so, he’s going to get worse about loading as time goes by. Not only is his fear a serious safety hazard, so is the condition of a trailer that induces these kinds of reactions.
Keep it Quiet and Friendly
A horse that refuses to load at an event may create a sea of spectators who want to help -- this is absolutely the least helpful thing at a time when your horse is feeling nervous. The prodding, murmuring throngs make the situation a lot worse by creating a lot of tension that your horse may sense, making him even more nervous about getting inside the trailer.
Stop what you’re doing if a crowd forms, give your horse a break and send the throngs back to their own horse trailers. Don’t let them provoke you into prodding, taunting or hitting your horse in an attempt to force him into the trailer, either. If your horse won’t trailer, it’s likely because he’s afraid -- try a bribe or distraction and put away the fear tactics.
Make it Smell Like a Horse
The manufacturer can do a lot to make custom horse trailers friendly places for your horse, but they can’t make your new trailer smell like a horse -- that’s something you’ll have to do on your own. Your horse may hesitate at the smell of a new trailer, or even one that’s been freshly cleaned and disinfected, simply because it smells foreign.
Bring in some clean, used bedding, horse blankets that haven’t been washed or anything else sterile that your horses may have left behind in their stalls. The more the trailer smells like home, the more likely your horse will step right in and make himself comfortable. Include the bedding or blankets from other horses that your horse likes if you own multiples.
No matter if you’re taking all your horses across country or a single horse to the vet in a two horse trailer, loading safely should be your first concern. Not only is a safe load better for your horse, it’s better for you, too. After all, you don’t want to be trapped in a small trailer with a frightened beast capable of crushing you if he turns too fast in a panic. At the end of the day, a calm horse is a safe horse.