Loading a Horse on a Trailer: Simple Step By Step Guide

At one point or another, you will likely have to travel with your horse by trailer. Some horses do fine loading into a trailer, while others panic and refuse to go in. I know how frustrating it can be when your horse resists all of your best efforts to get them to load, so I put together this information to help you avoid the same issue.

How can you get your horse to load on a trailer? You can get them to load by following these steps: 

  • take the proper safety measures when loading your horse (see article below)
  • work on desensitizing your horse from tight spaces
  • use basic groundwork to encourage the horse to get on the trailer
  • give your horse a good experience once they’re in the trailer
  • be consistent with getting your horse to practice getting on the trailer

 

Trailering your horse is a necessary activity if you want to compete, attend events, or even get your horse to the vet if need be. Ensuring that you can safely load your horse on a trailer will save you from a lot of frustration…believe me, I’ve been there. These are the steps I have repeatedly done to teach horses to load onto a trailer:

STEP 1: Take the Proper Safety Measures When Loading Your Horse

Guide to Safely traveling with a horse

Be Aware Of Potentially Dangerous Situations That Could Occur

When you are working with a horse to load correctly on a trailer, there are some safety hazards that you should be aware of. First and foremost, make sure that the trailer is always hooked up to a parked vehicle before trying to put your horse on it. Horses weigh anywhere between 1000 Lbz to 1 ton; their weight could easily cause a trailer to move if it’s not hooked up to a vehicle.

When a horse is getting worked up over a task that you’re asking them to do, they can start to ignore any sense of personal space you may have. Knowing this beforehand will allow you to do groundwork exercises to get your horse respecting your space.

Avoid putting yourself in dangerous areas when working with your horse and a trailer. These areas can include between your horse and the trailer wall once your horse is in the trailer. I don’t ever recommend going into this area; your horse could easily squish you or freak out and seriously injure you.

Don’t stand directly behind a trailer that doesn’t have the horse secured inside; the horse could run back off the trailer and accidentally run you over. Always stand to the side and be aware of the horse’s location at all times.

Be Aware of How Your Horse May React in the Situation

Knowing how a horse that is wary of getting in a trailer may act can help you to prepare and be safe ahead of time. The most common action I see from horses working to get on a trailer is that they’ll run backward either off the trailer or away from it. Make sure that no one is ever standing behind the trailer as you work with your horse.

Be cautious as you lead your horse onto the trailer; your horse could jump on and accidentally hit you and knock you over. Teaching your horse to self-load will keep you out of harm’s way.

Always be sure to secure the panel or door to the trailer before you tie your horse in. If your horse is tied but there is no panel to stop them from stepping back and off the trailer, you are eliciting a very serious and dangerous situation. In order to avoid this, always secure that back panel or door before tying your horse in.

STEP 2: Work On Desensitizing Your Horse From Tight Spaces

Set Up Obstacles to Work Through

If your horse is reluctant to get onto a horse trailer, it could be because of the tight and claustrophobic space that the trailer presents. Horses are prey animals, so the feeling of being trapped, like in a trailer, can definitely trigger that flight mode. Desensitizing your horse from tight spaces will help to get your horse more comfortable with the trailer.

To begin with, set up obstacles that will challenge your horse with a tight space;  I’ll usually set up two barrels side-by-side to walk through or a narrow chute using ground poles. The goal here is simply to get the horse used to these tight spaces by going through them repeatedly.

Teach The Horse That Going Into the Tight Space is a Good Thing

If the horse balks before going into the tight space, make them move their feet. Go trot around the ring a few times and then come back to the obstacle and try again. As soon as the horse steps foot into the tight area, reward them and even let them stand still. This is teaching them that tight areas are a place of relaxation and refusing to go in them will mean more work.

Don’t Let Your Horse Run Through Narrow Obstacles

Some horses are brave when it comes to walking through narrow and tight spaces, but they’ll simply run through the obstacle because they’re nervous. If the horse has the idea that it can rush through the scary stuff to get it over more quickly, then the behavior needs to be corrected. This behavior can be dangerous for you as the horse may push you over trying to get through the obstacle.

When a horse does this, I’ll first take some time to re-establish the horse’s respect for my personal space. I do this via groundwork. I’ll get the horse focused on me. When I go to do the obstacle again, I’ll keep doing the groundwork exercises to continue to encourage the horse to focus on me and my space. I find that this usually does the trick to walk through the obstacle slowly.

If you’d like to know more about desensitizing training and how to make your horse bombproof, check out our article, Bombproof and Desensitize a Horse: The Ultimate Guide.

STEP 3: Use Basic Groundwork to Encourage Your Horse to Get On the Trailer

Groundwork Tips for Beginner Horseback Riding

Groundwork allows you to work the horse without having to ride them. This is a great way to help them positively associate something they may think negatively of. For example, if your horse doesn’t like getting on the trailer, every time they refuse to enter or go near the trailer, you can work them via groundwork. As soon as they approach the trailer, you let them relax and stand.

This will help your horse to associate the trailer with rest and relaxation instead of work. While this particular method may seem tedious, and I admit that it can take hours of work before a horse realizes that the trailer is the safe zone, I’ve had great success with it.

Approaching the Trailer

First, You’ll lead the horse up to the trailer; you should do this with confidence and assertiveness. If you’re confident, the horse will be more confident. If the horse balks, encourage them forward; if the horse starts to back up, immediately make them trot out and around you on the lead rope.

Work the Horse Around You

Have the horse do a nice working trot around you for a few minutes. You can have them move their hind-end and front-end to make it seem more like work. Once you’ve worked the horse for a few minutes, approach the trailer again. If the horse balks or refuses, go back to working the horse around you.

Reward the Smallest Steps in the Right Direction

If the horse has a bit more surety about approaching the trailer, you can let them rest and stand for a moment. In the beginning, this may not look like the horse actually getting on the trailer. It simply may look like the horse putting one front foot in the trailer. As soon as they do this, release all pressure you may be applying and praise your horse.

Make Sure You’re Asking the Horse to Back Out of the Trailer

It can feel like such a win when a spooked horse can get just one foot on the trailer; it can be easy to praise them and let them step themselves back off the trailer. This, however, is teaching them that they can still have the authority to make the decision of whether they are getting on the trailer or not.

It’s important that you always ask the horse to back off the trailer instead of just letting them do it themselves. If they do it themselves, this is when you would send them back into working mode. You want your horse to understand that rest = trailer to the point that they don’t want to back off themselves.

Groundwork is considered the foundation of horse training. If you’d like to learn some basic groundwork techniques, check out our article, 5 Best Groundwork Exercises for Your Horse.

Step 4: Give Your Horse a Good Experience Once They’re In the Tailer

In order to help your horse have a positive association with the trailer, it’s vital that you make sure that anytime they are in the trailer they have an enjoyable experience.

Let Them Rest From Work in the Trailer

Since the training method I use focuses on teaching the horse that refusing to get on the trailer means work, I want to emphasize that getting on the trailer means rest and a job well done. Once the horse is on the trailer, I’m going to give them all the praise I can and let the horse know that it’s doing good.

Remember, if your horse is particularly wary about getting on the trailer, then this is a huge improvement. Don’t do anything that may quickly dash that improvement and make you start back at square one. Don’t rush your horse or be annoyed with them just because they were scared of the trailer in the first place

Let Them See That Being on the Trailer is a Good Time

I once had this pony that would get so excited when she learned that she would be getting on the trailer. She would start pulling to go towards the trailer and she’d hop right on all by herself and walk into her spot. Why did she do this? She knew that there was a nice full hay net waiting for her inside.

Horses love to eat and they are usually more very fond of the places where they are given food. By just letting your horse stand on the trailer and eat hay, you are helping them feel right at home.

Give Your Horse a Trailer Buddy

Horses are herd animals, meaning that they naturally rather be with other horses. To help your horse have a positive association with the trailer, stick another horse on the trailer with them. Choose a horse that is a seasoned pro at being in the trailer and one that won’t throw a fuss. Their calm demeanor will help to keep your horse calm.

Step 5: Be Consistent With the Practice of Getting On the Trailer

Travel with a horse

Horses learn by repetition, so it’s only natural for them to get used to the trailer if you work consistently with it. This may seem like a hassle, but it’s more fun than you realize. Once you can get your horse on the trailer that means that you can start going to shows, activities, and off-site trail rides. You’ll want to trailer your horse off the property every weekend!

Always remember that horses need consistency to be able to understand what you’re asking of them. Be consistent in your training methods and the way you ask the horse to do something. This will help your horse to become more susceptible to your cues.

Frequently Asked Questions

What If I Can’t Get My Horse Off the Trailer?

In some trailer styles, like stock trailers, the horses can usually turn around to walk off the trailer; however, in some straight-load and slant-load trailers, the horse is required to back off of the trailer. That means that the horse is going to have to take a big step down to the ground with their back legs.

If a horse refuses to back off of a trailer, it’s usually because they’re scared since they can’t see or feel where their hind legs are going. If this is the case, there is a very simple exercise you can do to help your horse.

On the ground, away from the trailer, simply ask your horse so back up over a ground pole. This will create an obstacle for them to maneuver over with their hind legs. Once they get comfortable, look for other things to back them over; it can be the small concrete step into the barn or anything that can pose the challenge of backing off something.

When your horse can confidently do this, put them on the trailer and practice backing them off. Remember to apply the pressure until your horse takes a step in the right direction, then praise them.

What Kind of Trailer Should I Get?

There are mainly three different kinds of trailers. A straight-load trailer is a two-horse trailer where the horse loads directly on and directly off. A slant load trailer is where the horse loads and is tied off and shut in on a slant. A Stock trailer is a wide open trailer where the horse can be tied off or simply loaded on and let go.

Each trailer has its pros and cons; I personally like stock trailers because they’re open and usually have good ventilation. You as the horse handler have more room to maneuver in the trailer while loading horses. Before you buy a trailer, take time to research and inspect the different types to see what would best suit your needs.

Having the ability to travel with your horse opens up so many more doors for adventures and fun! If you’d like to know some tips for traveling long-distance with your horse, check out our article, Horse Travel Made Easy: 20 Essential Travel Tips.