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Whether you’re hauling to a show or for any other reason, it’s always easier when your horse loads well. We’ve all known those horses that freak out when it’s time to get on the trailer and honestly, you don’t want it to be yours. It can feel embarrassing and disappointing, and it can add a lot of anxiety to the whole process. It’s a lot more fun when you don’t have to worry about your horse having a fit when it’s time to get on the trailer. 

Years ago, I had a mare named Jasmine who would rear up almost every time I would go to load her. She had to be last-in, first-out because she was so badly behaved. Her problem was that she was herd-bound and had zero respect. There are a variety of reasons as to why a horse doesn’t like getting on a trailer, and it’s always best to talk to your trainer about your individual situation, but here are a few tips to try if you’re having trouble:

Groundwork, groundwork, groundwork. Did I mention groundwork? This is a necessity when it comes to training your horse in general, but it could save you precious time and energy when it comes to hauling (not to mention a lot of anxiety). Groundwork should not just be about responsiveness to your aids and your body language; it should also be about developing the bond between you and enforcing respect. If they don't have respect for you and if they don't trust you, chances are things are going to be more difficult. Every time you interact with your horse you’re training it whether you know it or not, and allowing them to get away with certain things can lead to problems later down the road, like with trailer loading!

Desensitization. You can help your horse get used to the trailer by exposing them to it more. Walk them around it, let them explore it, open and close doors (preferably with someone holding the horse) until your horse becomes acclimated. 

Load with a buddy. Attempting to load your horse while another horse is already on the trailer is a great way to introduce them to the process. They can watch the other horse load up and see that they’re safe. 

Practice. Load your horse onto the trailer regularly without actually going anywhere so that they can get used to it. This is also a great way to teach patience: have your horse stand in the trailer for different periods of time. You can even take a short drive with your horse in the trailer and return to your barn; this is a good way for anxious horses to learn that they are actually going to come home at some point. 

Always remember that safety comes first. When loading, sometimes you are confined in a relatively small space with a large animal, and you have to be careful with horses that don’t load well. It is not fun to get kicked or shoved in a trailer (or in general). Have at least one other person there with you to help, or just in case. If you feel like your horse might be too much to handle, talk to your trainer. They can help you address you and your horse’s individual needs.

Emily Liebman
Horse Trainer/Instructor
Published on 2019-09-26