Written by Rachael Kraft (Updated April 19 2023)
One of the most dangerous parts of traveling with horses may be loading a horse in a trailer. Unless your horse is thoroughly accustomed to the horse trailer, 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 7 tips will help make learning how to load a horse into a trailer a lot safer.
Like most of us humans, 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 loading onto a trailer.
In addition, opt for a horse trailer that has a bright interior. 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.
Read more about loading anxious horses.
Whether you’ve never learned how to load a horse into a trailer or even if you’re a seasoned pro, consistently practicing loading a horse in a trailer is key. The more positive experiences your horse has in the trailer, the better they’ll do when it counts. Practice loading your horse in a trailer as often as possible in the days and weeks leading up to your planned travel.
Don’t forget to reward your horse for their progress. Just because your horse doesn’t pop right into the trailer on the first go doesn’t mean that they are not trying. Reward the improvements of your horse, and keep them relaxed during trailer loading training sessions.
Remember: a calm horse is a safe horse.
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. We like to call this the ‘monkey see, monkey do’ strategy. Of course, it won’t work for every problem loader, but many horse owners see success with this trailer loading method.
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 they need 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 onto the trailer 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. They’re doing their best! Don’t forget to reward both horses for a job well done.
It may seem like a simple 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 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 all of your horses are calm and relaxed. Opting for a horse trailer with the patented SafeTack design is helpful. When you leave the door open, the rear tack swings completely out of the way. This way, your horses have even more room in the stall area to feel comfortable in the trailer.
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. Instead, leave that until right before it’s time to leave and allow your horse time to get comfortable in the trailer first.
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 give way as your horse loads on the trailer? Your horse may sense that the floors are getting soft, or the trailer isn’t equipped to hold their weight -- but, of course, your horse can’t tell you that. They 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 a repair shop. your horse may have good reason to be scared of your trailer, and if so, they’re going to get worse about loading as time goes by. Not only is the fear of your horse a serious safety hazard, so is the condition of a trailer that induces these kinds of reactions.
Learn More on Essential Horse Trailer Safety Features.
When learning how to load a horse into a trailer, you’ll likely experience a public mishap or two. A horse that refuses to load at an event may create a sea of spectators who want to help. Unfortunately, this is absolutely the least helpful thing at a time when your horse is feeling nervous. The prodding and murmuring make the situation a lot worse by creating a lot of tension that your horse may sense, making them even more nervous about getting inside the trailer.
Stop what you’re doing if a crowd forms, give your horse a break and send everyone back to their own horse trailers. Don’t let others provoke you into prodding, taunting or hitting your horse in an attempt to force him into the trailer, either. If your horse won’t load onto the horse trailer, it’s likely because he’s afraid -- try a bribe or distraction and put away the fear tactics.
A horse trailer 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 stall 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 themselves comfortable. Include the bedding or blankets from other horses that your horse likes if you own multiples.
In conclusion, loading a horse into a trailer can be a daunting task, but with the right preparation, techniques, and understanding of your horse's behavior, it can be a safe and stress-free process.
By following the seven tips outlined in this article, you can ensure that you know how to load a horse into a trailer while keeping them comfortable, confident, and secure during loading and transportation. With practice and patience, you and your horse can embark on many safe and enjoyable journeys together.
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