The task at hand is to put a thousand pound plus animal into a small confined area. Loading a horse into a trailer or confined area is something a horse instinctively wants to avoid at all costs. Horses by nature are claustrophobic. Horses like to have escape options in case a predator comes along.
Horses instinctively use flight to escape from predators, and it is very difficult to run very far or fast in an enclosed space.
If you haven’t spent any time ground training and building a solid respectful relationship with your horse, you need to do that first. If you and your horse have not agreed that you are the leader in your relationship, trailer loading will just be an exercise in frustrating both of you. Having your horse safely enter a horse trailer is a very simple task, to us humans. But horses don’t think like us, they think a lot like horses. Once you have established a relationship with your horse so that you can have the horse move forward on cue you have the first step done. The second step is can you get the horse to walk over a log or jump over a barrel? This helps with the first step into the trailer.
The third step is can you get the horse to pass calmly between you and an unmovable object that has a gap of about 4 to 5 feet? This helps the horse deal his fear of being in confined areas. If you can do all three of those task with no difficulty or resistance, than you are ready to move on young buckaroo.
Introduce the horse to the trailer. Walk the horse around the outside and let it smell and get a good look at the trailer. If the horse is overly skittish, use your leadership skills to calm the horse. Petting, calm body language and similar things you do to calm the horse. Push the horse towards trailer, not too far, then wait for the horse to relax then take him away from the trailer. This may take some time and then it may not. This is not a timed event, take your time and be calm. If you act like you have all day then the task may only take five minutes. If you act like you have five minutes, then the task may take all day.
I like to use a rope halter and 12 foot yacht braid lead rope. The thick nylon web halters and cotton lead ropes will give you no feel or control of the horse. I also use a 4 foot fiberglass “horseman’s stick” with a 6 foot 1/4 inch horseman string attached to the end. The horseman stick and string are extensions of my body. They are not a whip or horse beating weapon. Once the horse has been introduced to the outside of the trailer and he is calm, take him away for a few minutes. Let him relax, maybe get a bite of grass. If this a remedial horse that has been in a trailer before but has soured, then the introduction can be short. If the horse has never seen a trailer before it helps to do a nice slow outside tour and let the curiosity grew.
Now open the trailer door to its normal position. Make sure you can fix the door open. You don’t want the wind or something to push the door onto the horse at the wrong time. A large stock trailer is the best type of trailer to start a horse on, but any trailer works. Get the horse to approach the trailer using the ground work training you have allowed the horse to master. Use the halter, lead rope, your body and horseman stick to block the horse’s escape route. The only escape route allowed for the horse is into the trailer. If the horse appears to be trying, let it alone. Remember horses learn on release of pressure. If you are overwhelming them with pressure, you will get nothing but resistance. You want the horse to “learn” to go into the trailer, not force feed him. If the horse becomes stagnant and looks as if it’s not trying, now is the time to lightly encourage him to go forward. Slowly increase pressure on him if he doesn’t go forward.
Sometimes the horse will feel trapped and back out. That’s fine, let back out and just send him forward into the trailer. It may take awhile, just be patient.
Patience is the horseman’s best friend. If the horse begins to step into the trailer leave him alone. If he steps in all the way or half way that’s fine. You have one of two choices. You can back him out or let him stay. The horse may back out on his own, don’t stop him. Confining him too quickly will just confirm his worst nightmares. Remember don’t get mad, mean or start sputtering curse words. Relax! Take a big breathe and let out all the tension. How is the horse the going to relax if you are going crazy? Think positive firm thoughts that the horse is going in the trailer.
Read the horse’s body language and give just enough pressure for the horse to go forward. Don’t be quick on the draw to give pressure and force the horse in to the trailer. Act like you got all day and simply out patience the horse. If you are calm and steady the horse will walk in in no time. Remember, this is just a start. Routinely put your horse in the trailer. I put my horse in a trailer every time before I ride her. I can open the trailer door and she just walks in, she knows what to do. Try putting the horse in the trailer sitting on a chair using a 22 foot lead rope. Try putting the horse in the trailer using no halter or lead and just a horseman stick. You don’t need food as a reward, but a carrot or apple slice when horse goes in the trailer does say to the horse that the trailer is a good place to be.
Remember you don’t need to push and shove or scream and yell, or use six men a small boy and tractor to get your horse in a trailer. All you gotta do is whisper with your leadership like you mean it. TLC baby! Trust, Leadership & Communication.
There are variations to the method I have explained. These methods take a little higher skill level of timing and feel. When a master performs them, they look like magic. The first method involves a 22 foot yacht braid lead rope, rope halter and horseman stick and string. The person just stands calmly several feet from the trailer with the door open. The person drives the horse towards the trailer and takes pressure off the horse when the horse sticks his head in the trailer. Then the person leaves the horse alone. As long the horse is interested in the trailer he is left alone. If the horse starts to leave he is circled or lunged around the person then sent back to the trailer. Eventually the horse goes in the trailer.
The second method takes more setup. A stock panel round pen is built around the opening of the horse trailer. Let the horse in the round pen and allow the horse to become comfortable. Some horses will investigate the trailer other may not. Just watch the horse and if he is curious and wants to examine the trailer, let him. Your job is to make to the trailer the best place to be in the round pen. Push the horse towards the trailer and let him rest there. You may have to have the horse do a few laps at a canter or trot to encourage him to want to rest. The only place the horse gets to rest is at the trailer. So if the horse starts to find he doesn’t want to be near the trailer he gets a few laps. Then stop him at the trailer by taking pressure off the horse. Slowly encourage the horse to enter the trailer. Again if there is resistance and the horse flees the trailer area, he gets to exercise some more. Never once do you touch the horse to get him the trailer.
I do ask that if don’t think you can do this on your own, get the help of a professional that uses fundamental horsemanship methods. This is for you and horse’s well being. It only makes sense to use your horse sense when you are training a horse.