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Trailer Loading 101

We've all experienced it, or have seen it. We're at a horse show, trail ride, or even just leaving from home, and the horse we thought had no problems getting on the trailer, refuses to set one foot on it. Whatever the case, it can be very frustrating. So, where do we begin to get that horse on the trailer.

We need to have some way to tell the horse to move forward. Using a dressage whip or something similar, begin by tapping the horse lightly on his hips. Once the horse takes a step forward, stop tapping. Once the horse is solid and understands this cue, you are ready to move on. Note: work on this step away from the trailer.

Start with the horse a comfortable distance from the trailer. Ask the horse to walk towards the trailer, and allow him to stop wherever he is comfortable. Let him stand and pet him. Once he is comfortable at that spot, ask him to walk towards the trailer again. As the horse gets closer to the trailer, he will obviously give us smaller steps. Remember with each step closer to the trailer, allow the horse to stand while petting him, and get comfortable being at that exact spot. By doing so, if at some point, the horse goes backwards, you will be able to get the horse back to the point closest to the trailer that he was comfortable. If the horse starts to back up while we're tapping him, continue to tap until he steps forward. Also, don't forget, that as you get closer to the trailer, the responses by the horse may be minimal. You may need to accept something as small as a thought of forward movement.

As you're getting the horse to the back of the trailer, it is important to control the horse's head. No matter where the horse goes, you will want to keep the horse's nose pointing at the trailer stall that you are loading the horse into. Next, you are looking for the horse to put a foot on the trailer. Gradually work on getting the horse to put the foot on longer while having it off for shorter periods of time, until he leaves it there. Repeat this step for the second foot, as well as the third and fourth feet. Repetition is the key. You may even want to set a number of times that you are going to have each foot get on and off the trailer, such as 30, 40, 50, or more. While you are working on this, the horse will go through ups and downs in performance.

The horse may try to rear or run between you and the trailer. A simple correction of tapping below the knees is all that is needed. In the case where the horse tries to go between you and the trailer, tap until the horse stops going around you in that direction and goes in the opposite direction. In the case of rearing, tap the horse only while the feet are in the air, and immediately stop as soon as the feet touch the ground.

Here are some closing thoughts. A bridle can be extremely helpful in controlling a difficult horse. A basic full cheek snaffle bit is best if you decide to use a bridle, and remember to make sure the reins are contained. Hook the lead rope directly to the bit. Always have the trailer hooked to a sturdy tow vehicle to prevent the trailer from rolling away or moving.

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