My first recollections about moving horses were how anxious and uncertain I was. Of course, this translated into anxious horses unwilling to load. In time and with much practice I began to read horses and work with them. I now recognize that for owners and horses it can be a difficult time. When working with horses, teaching them to load and learning about proper trailering is an area that each of us needs to spend more time.
When at the Symposium, a horse owner, Charles, asked how to get started. Here’s what I have learned. Babies can be loaded with mom onto a trailer almost daily when they are young. They accept it as a normal part of their lives and become easy loaders when they get older. With yearlings, two year olds and adult horses, I’ve begun working with them by putting a trailer in their paddock or field and feeding them out of the trailer, moving the feed further and further into the trailer over time. The space will become comfortable to them and they can begin to be led onto and off of the trailer. If you do this with a tag trailer (one pulled behind a tow vehicle), please hitch the trailer to a vehicle or tractor. A horse can flip an unattached tag trailer.
There are two secrets that will make loading horses much easier. Have you ever been to a hunter or jumper show? Where do riders get their first refusal? I’ve found that it happens at the first jump and it has everything to do with a rider being tense or uncertain and the horse senses that. It’s the same with loading a horse. If you are tentative or uncomfortable, the horse will tune into that and refuse to load. I purposely relax and think that I’m going to load this horse with no difficulty. I mentally say that I’m going to keep this horse safe. I’ve watched horses visibly relax when I’ve done this. I tell folks that it’s assertiveness training. I find that if I have an expectation, the horse will respond (I hope that it is an effort on the horse’s part to please me) and load. The second secret is, if you can get a horse’s head and neck in a trailer, they will load. Horses by their nature are animals of flight. They imagine lions and tigers in every dark place. If you can make a trailer bright inside by turning on lights etc, you make the trailer less of a foreboding place. Encouraging them to look in so that they feel safe and you being confident will make it easier for your horse to load.