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Horse Travel: Training Your Equine to Load into a Transprotation Trailer

Getting a horse into a trailer is one of life's great challenges, especially if the horse isn't sure that's where he wants to be. Aside from wasting time and getting people (and horses) upset, loading can be dangerous when people become impatient and try shoving, yanking or forcing a horse into a trailer; an annoyed or frightened horse can react by lashing out with hooves, biting or just mashing you against the side or front of the trailer.
There are ways to teach a horse to load properly, and like all training endeavors, their relative ease depends on your patience and your horse's history. If your horse has had a bad time being loaded, has been pushed or abused or roped in the past, chances are it's going to take some time to get him used to going quietly and easily up a ramp and into a dark trailer. On the other hand, if you start a young horse's training early, you will be rewarded with a horse who thinks that loading up to go somewhere is part of normal, everyday equine doings.

Getting Started at a Walk

When you're training your horse to do something that has several parts (walk up the ramp, stop at the end, stand still, don't back out, etc.), you have to break the training down into those parts. In loading, your first objective is to teach your horse the command "walk". Start in an arena: you'll get to the trailer later. Use a long lead rope with a 32-inch chain over his nose and up his offside cheek, take the lead in your left hand and a dressage whip in your right. Give him lead and say , "walk", with a light tap on the rump to urge him forward. Once he's taken a few steps, say "whoa" and pull on the lead to tell him to stop. When you tell him again to walk and he does, praise him. If he shows displeasure by shoving you or turning sharply in front of you, start again and keep at it until he can walk when you ask him to and stop without backing up. Ideally, he'll walk when you say "walk" and the dressage whip will gather dust.


Once your horse has learned "walk", it's a matter of convincing him that it's necessary to walk into the trailer. Don't try to lead him in: that's one way people get injured. The idea is, he'll go in under his own steam. You may have to let him walk partway up and stop, then start again. He may try to back up: if he does, let him go and then load him again.

This is where patience comes in: if yours is greater than your horse's, you will win and your horse will load. If you let him win, you'll be stuck with a horse who makes it a hassle every time you want to go somewhere. When he backs out of the trailer, remind yourself that patience counts. You won't take a break, leaving him to think (know) he's won. You will patiently, stolidly walk him back into that darned trailer until he realizes that you will never become bored with this project. At that point, he will start to understand that he's going to keep walking up that ramp until the end of time—or until he stays put.

If you must tap your horse on the rump to get him to move forward, you'll already know that from your work in the arena. (It isn't preferable, but sometimes it's just that way). But don't hit your horse in the trailer—it's dangerous for both of you—and never hit him if he's doing what you've asked. Once he's complied, praise him and let him rest. (That way he knows that once he's done it right, the tedium stops).

Training takes time. Expect it to take several sessions before your horse knows "walk" and "whoa": dealing with things like steps will take more time. You should also load your horse at different times of day: loading at night is a variation on the theme.

Read the next horse training article on Trained Horses Need a Break.
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