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Trailer Loading [Part 1]
WRITTEN BY: Cheryl Sutor   [1998]


Training Question:

We have a 6 year old mare that is a joy in everything except loading into a trailer. We bought her when she was 3 and we did not know she was fearful. We believe that she was abused while loaded, and now she is terrified of the trailer. Her eyes enlarge, her head goes up and she backs up so fast she has broken snaps on ropes to get away. How do we assauge her fears and get her into the trailer?
From: Penni



Trainer's Response:

I have had many people ask me about trailer loading over the years, and have shown them the exact exercise I have outlined below. I have yet to find a horse that this hasn't worked on! These exercises are geared toward the horse that is terrified of trailers. If your horse is not terrified of trailers, but simply does not want to go into them, or has trouble backing out of them, check out Trailer Loading [Part 2].


STEP 1:

This step will Desensitize the horse to a given stimulus (the trailer). You simply drive your trailer right into the pasture or paddock that your horse will be turned-out in. Turn the truck off and securely tie the doors of the trailer open so that they do not come loose and flap in the wind (loose, flapping doors would most likely frighten your horse even more and also invite injury).

Be sure that the pasture is not so large that your horse can simply ignore the trailer and stay at the opposite side of the field. On the other extreme, make sure that the pasture isn't so small that your horse cannot "get away" from the trailer should she become frightened and want to run away instinctively.

The first time you put your horse into the pasture with the trailer, she may walk calmly away from you, or she may get frightened and decide to buck and run (so be careful when turning her loose). Do not leave a halter on her (for safety).

Once she "gets over" her initial fear, curiosity will settle in and she will sniff, blow, paw, bite and rub on the trailer. Be sure to do this step long enough that she completely gets over her initial fear!


STEP 2:

This step enhances what your horse has learned in step one. You start out with your trailer in the pasture where your horse is turned-out in. This time, you will feed your horse in the pasture. Put her favorite grain in a bucket. On the first day, place the bucket at a distance from the trailer where she feels 100% comfortable. The next day, move it at least 1 foot closer. Each day after, you gradually move the bucket closer to the trailer until you can put the bucket right on the floor of the trailer while she eats out of it.

You will soon be able to secure the bucket inside the trailer so that she has to take one step, then two, then three...then all feet in the trailer. Continue with this until she will walk directly into the back of the trailer to eat her grain. Once she has done this, you can start to take her for short, gentle rides in the trailer.

Be very, very careful when driving a horse trailer. Most of us don't realize how hard it is to keep balanced in the back of the trailer. A good exercise for yourself is to stand in the back of the trailer while a friend drives it around. You will be very suprised at how uncomfortable and difficult it is to stand back there! Many horses develop a fear of riding in a trailer because of one really bad ride.



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This article was published on: 1998. Last updated on: 1998.