Trailer Loading

My horse has trouble loading after my barrel race. We have tried a lot of different things. She sometimes loads better than others, but nothing we do really seems to have an effect on her. What do you suggest?

Trailer loading can be a very frustrating venture. The key is to break it down into it’s individual parts. Let’s discuss the theory first. A horse needs to know that a trailer is not a bad place to be. How do you convince your horse of that? By how you drive, how you act when you get your horse loaded, if your trailer is too small, comfortable, if it rattles loud or if it’s fairly quiet, how long your average haul is. All these factors and many more can make that horse feel more or less secure about being in the trailer. All these items we have discussed are each a form of pressure. We cannot expect our horses to just blindly accept everything we do with them. However, we can help them learn to accept all forms of pressure by introducing them slowly yet firmly and waiting for the horse to accept it or relax through it. Then we can build up from there. In short, you need to make sure that your horse would rather be with you when she feels threatened, rather than away from you and not trusting you.

Now let’s discuss the application of preparing to load. Just as in the above paragraph, it is all about getting your horse to accept pressure. There are two types of pressure that your horse needs to be content with in order to load confidently. First you horse needs to know how to lead. Sounds simple, right? But she obviously can’t. Teaching a horse to lead is teaching them to move their feet forward, backward, right, and left, when you apply pressure to the lead rope and halter around their head. Getting a horse to follow you around like a puppy without a leash does not help whatsoever. After you have your horse leading correctly, the other type of pressure that it needs to accept is being driven from behind to go forward, by using a lead line, whip, flag, etc. They shouldn’t be scared of your tools, but they should never be dull or desensitized to them either. Once you have your horse leading respectfully as well as moving forward as you drive her on both sides equally, then, and only then, you are ready to attempt to load.

Finally, the application of loading. Walk to the trailer calmly, step up in the trailer and gently lead her in. You can also use the technique of driving her in. You can have someone else drive her, while you stand in the trailer and direct her head with the halter and lead, but NEVER pull on the lead and drive her at the same time. Always use one or the other. When you get one step in, back off, let her have some release, then slowly move to two then three, etc. Once she gets in, let her back out right away. Do not make her feel trapped while in the trailer. Let her learn that nothing bad happens in the trailer. Here is another very important rule to remember; Always shut the back gate, then tie the horse up. And when unloading, always untie the horse from the outside of the trailer, then , the back gate. If you have a horse backing out of the trailer on its own too fast, DO NOT attempt to pull on it to keep it in. Just breathe and move out with it, then load it back in and repeat until the horse gets a little bit better. I also want you to consider a few other factors about loading that may be affecting her. After your event be sure she is in a calm state of mind before loading. Do not attempt to load when the excitement level
is high in the parking lot and all the other horses are leaving. Be sure you and your helpers all stay calm and no one is yelling or moving fast. I Hope this helps. Until next time, ride smarter, not harder. Send your questions to