There shouldn’t be any problem getting a horse to load in a trailer if the trailer is big enough. If the trailer isn’t tall enough the horse will probably refuse. Many "bad loaders" are being put in trailers too small.
But some tips to help…keep the trailer open. Park it so the sun is behind you – shining into the trailer from behind. If the other way the horse is looking into a dark hole and self preservation will keep many from going there. With it plenty lit, use enough bedding to muffle the sound. Have the trailer SOLID – hitched so it doesn’t move around when he steps in. Park it 10-15′ from a fence/barn/something behind the horse. when you open the door it will then form sort of a ‘chute – the door blocks one side, the back something is there, the other side is open and the "front" is the trailer. This way he can’t run backwards 30-40’ avoiding going in the trailer. Go slow. Watch him but don’t turn around and face him. Walk in from the back of your open side and walk in like there’s nothing to it…if everything is in place right many horses will follow. Sometimes a rope around the butt helps but use it to guide not force him in. Forcing is what you want to get away from. He has the right to refuse (and you have the right to do what you need to in order to make the trailer a "safe" place to be). Some horses a whip popped behind them does that. You can touch them with it but unless he’s kicking DON’T *HIT* hime with it. The whip is a guide, not a weapon. Some horses a little feed works – others will refuse until you give in and feed them outside the trailer. Praise small steps. When the horse gets the front legs in and stops don’t push – praise for doing that much. At least he’s trying! Make it safe to be with you.
If this doesn’t get through to him – and if you’ve got a proper size trailer lit up so there’s no excuses…try parking it in a paddock with him. He has water outside but his food is in the trailer. Obviously you must make sure he knows it’s there. If he goes in and comes out a few times that’s ok…he’s learning he can go in and he’s in control of coming back out without being forced. Once he’s relaxed about it do up the back. Fuss over him a bit praising him. Make it no big deal unless he goes in (praise) or does something dangerous (striking, kicking – discipline). Don’t jerk on him – if you jerk on his head, he flips up in the air and hits his head it’s going to be that much more difficult next time. Using these things the biggest challenge was a horse who they had to drag in – she was a notoriously bad loader and a bratty personality so her timid owner she learned she could run over. She’d kick to intimidate (not really meaning to hurt but unacceptable). She’d rear, she’d run backwards…it was a 45 minute to an hour battle to get her in a trailer. Then she’d dance, jump around and all once in the trailer. Using these techniques within a week her teenage owner was loading her alone and it became a case of get out of the way she wanted in the trailer. She learned she wasn’t going to be hurt in there and there was hay in the trailer more often than not. I did, however, veto a trailer the people looked at because it was too short for her…she could do it but if anything ever happened to raise her head suddenly (braking hard to avoid a vehicle pulling out in front of them, whatever) she’d smack her head and become afraid again. They ended up getting a larger, wide, tall trailer and combined with a few simple things to let her choose what we wanted anyway the "loading problem" was solved. It was done without whipping and dragging her into the trailer, although there was a whip there especially the first few times. (The whip could touch her rump and, with her previous attempts to kick if she kicked the whip no harm done).
Once you get the horse in the trailer, relaxed and quiet do up the back door with him tied inside. Don’t tense up at this point – stay relaxed as if it’s no big deal. Let him stand in there a short while – 5 minutes. Take him out then next try leave him in 10 minutes. Once he’s standing well and eating hay – go for a short ride. Pay attention to your driving! Start and stop slowly and steadily – if you’ve ever tried standing up on a bus or back of a trailer you can appreciate what your horse is dealing with with fast starts and stops. Make turns slow and even. You can drive normal speed in dry conditions – leave much extra time and room in rain, snow and other less than ideal conditions. Be prepared for the drivers who pull out in front of you. The first couple of trips let him stand five minutes, go on a short ride, come home, let him stand a few minutes then unload him…all the time remember no big deal! Once he comes off the trailer praise him for good behavior.
Most horses that are comfortable and with room are good to load. Some bad loaders – a Saddlebred mare years ago who was called all kinds of names for not going in – when she did it was clear why she hated it – the two horse trailer she had to duck her head to fit in and her rump was crammed into the trailer by the door. How eager would you be to fit in a box too small and driven on sharp turns with fast speed changes making it hard to stay on your feet? Another mare had in a previous (another too small trailer!) trailering had an accident that resulted in 27 stitches in her head…again – how eager would you be?! She had a genuine fear of being hurt based on her experience…her eyes showed a willingness to go and wanting to do what was asked with genuine fear at what she thought would happen if she did. Another problem was a 16.1 Walker going in a six foot high trailer – he did it but clearly was NOT comfortable. A larger trailer and no more issues.
Yet another – with a big enough trailer but narrow stalls (a 2 horse trailer) – was a POA filly bought at a sale. Two hours in the rain trying to get her in the trailer meant lesson number one when she got home was learning to load! Special care was taken to drive as if hauling eggs…this ride had to be pleasant for her. She got home and a paddock/stall was arranged with the trailer in the "gate" area. Her feed was placed in the trailer. She had water in the paddock but for food she had to go in…of course being loose she could back out whenever she was uncomfortable. Gradually she taught herself she could eat and be relaxed. Within a couple weeks she would go in the trailer and just stand there. She learned she was in control and there was no more fear.
Horses want to do the right thing. We ask them to do things to adapt to our world – things that make no sense to them. Trailers are dark scary boxes to the uneducated equine – fear is a powerful thing. They cannot learn when scared. We have to show them there is nothing to fear and do our part to insure they won’t get hurt. We are taking away their flight defense option putting them in a small scary place – then they’re locked in and the whole box moves. When you think about it from their perspective it’s amazing so many load as well as they do – and most others will do so if we just try to see their side.
Contributed By: JanH