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Trailer Loading – A Common Sense Approach

How to safely load the horse that won’t load

by Dr. Glenn “Andy” Anderson with Rahel M. Klapheke

You have probably faced problems loading a horse at some point in your career, whether it was a one-time refusal or you have a chronic “no-loader.” Not only is a horse that does not load an inconvenience, but a safety hazard as well. In some situations, a horse can put people and objects in danger causing serious damage. A frustrated handler may resort to drastic measures such as drugs or brute force in a desperate attempt to solve the problem.

A “common sense approach” to trailer loading was presented during the 1994 American Association of Equine Practitioners’ Annual Convention, presents a safe and effective way to teach horses to load and stand quietly in a trailer without drugs or brute force. Even if you do not have a problem with trailering, read on. These principles and concepts have applications to many other areas of human-horse interactions.

Before resorting to drastic measures or even brutality, recognize that the smallest try on the part of the horse should be rewarded. Many people actually teach a horse not to load by inadvertently punishing positive behavior and rewarding attempts to escape or evade loading.

Use the following recipe to begin. The ingredients are used to encourage the horse to make the positive choice to load and discourage his attempts to escape or evade loading. The main objective is to convince the horse that he really wants to be in the trailer. Here is what you will need:

A halter and a soft lead rope A chain shank should be available (though infrequently used) A horse trailer in good repair A stiff, six- to seven-foot fishing rod A plastic bag taped to the end of the fishing rod A positive and patient attitude

First, put yourself in the horse’s position. They have legitimate reasons for fearing or not wanting to enter the trailer. Previous experiences, shadows and darkness all cause horses not to load. Consider these things before attempting to load a difficult horse.

Unfortunately, most horses will explore all their options before deciding to load into a trailer. The rod with the attached bag is used to aggravate the horse when he tries to avoid the trailer. It should never be used to inflict pain, however.

Reward the smallest attempt by the horse to enter the trailer by immediately stopping the aggravation and by rubbing his head and neck. Sometimes, a horse simply looking in the direction of the trailer should be rewarded. The horse should always be rewarded for lowering its head while pointing its ears toward the trailer. Do not be concerned if he begins to load into the trailer and then backs out. Simply aggravate him with the rod and bag until he begins to walk forward again.

Handlers should be prepared to deal with evasive behavior as it occurs. When the horse begins to back away from the trailer, back him up much farther than he intended to go. This is where the chain shank might be useful. He will quickly learn that backing is not a good choice. If he turns sideways at the rear of the trailer, continue to aggravate him until he makes some attempt to straighten his alignment.

Never lead a horse away from the trailer when he is trying to avoid loading. This rewards and reinforces the horse’s ill behavior.

In addition, never pull or push on a horse. He clearly has the advantage. Pulling only teaches him that he can win every tug-of-war or pushing contest.

Once the horse finally loads in the trailer, do not trap him with the back door or butt bar. Instead, let him back out as he wishes. Then reload him until he is content to load and stand quietly until asked to back out.

Teach a horse to unload on two cues: a tug on his tail and the verbal back, rather than by getting in front of him and backing him out with the lead shank.

A second person is sometimes needed in front. While you tug the tail and ask him to back, the assistant uses the shank to back him out of the trailer.

Remember to reward the horse for even the smallest try. Don’t teach a horse not to load by punishing positive behavior and rewarding ill behavior. Give the horse a clear-cut choice. Allow him to enter the trailer because he wants to, not because he is forced to