Let's Get Loaded: When Your Horse Refuses to Board His Trailer

Suzanne Drnec offers suggestions about what to do when loading your horse in the trailer becomes the real horse show.
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Suzanne Drnec offers suggestions about what to do when loading your horse in the trailer becomes the real horse show.

There's nothing like loading a reluctant horse into a trailer to draw a crowd. The collision of a wild-eyed horse, a frustrated handler, and a small dark box-on-wheels induces ordinary folk to step up to watch with macabre fascination. Indeed, loading a horse in public view can be a frustrating, embarrassing event--unless you're John Lyons, of course.

?Practical Horseman. Al Rights Reserved.

?Practical Horseman. Al Rights Reserved.

If you contemplate horses and trailers, you'll find there's no good reason any horse should ever step into a claustrophobic, dark closet that rocks and bounces--your horse doesn't care how much you paid for your custom trailer. As prey animals, horses like to be where they can see clearly in a large area around them, and they don't like low roofs over their heads. Hopping in a trailer probably sets off every evolutionary alarm a horse has. Yet, with patient training and preparation, horses do load into these boxes and jounce down the road at owners' whims.

You've probably read all the books on how to teach your horse to load and ride in a trailer. But, I can almost guarantee at some point in your horse parent career, you will experience the dreaded public-loading debacle. It may be at a show, a trail ride, a clinic, or a new stable. Somehow, your horse seems to know when he's being watched. Those friendly Flickas that usually amble docilely up the trailer ramp can suddenly turn to stone, refusing to take a forward step when surrounded by self-proclaimed, expert horsemen.

This sudden change in your horse's attitude and demeanor seems to cue audience participation: "Use a longe line" "Try grain" and "Pick up one foot at a time" are early suggestions. If the spectacle continues, you'll hear more unique advice: "Back him in" "Poke him with a broom" and the famous Black Beauty classic "Try a blindfold." Any of these might work for you in private, but not in front of a crowd. The methods that work great at home in a few minutes' time--a bucket of patience, and some horse cookies--fall flat when on stage.

You and your horse will break into sweat while audience members shout additional suggestions. Your horse only becomes more adamant about not stepping into the trailer, even though he may have entered and ridden like a pro earlier in the day. Eventually, a lone volunteer will step out of the crowd (like a citizen offering to subdue the rogue circus elephant), and offer to "help load him up now."

Unless the volunteer has a "JL" monogram on his starched western shirt, I recommend refusing the offer. Now that you and your horse have become a public spectacle, the situation is dire. Those people likely to step forward to help often want to assume a heroic role. Your horse knows this and therefore will be immune to all ordinary and reasonable efforts to put him in the trailer.

(Note: Some people say "on the trailer" but this suggests your horse riding on the luggage rack. It also describes what happens when you simultaneously try the longe-line pulley, broom-poking, and hoof-picking-up with your blindfolded horse. He may actually end up on the trailer, or you. Definitely not the same as "in the trailer.")

What do you do when the expert emerges from the milling crowd? Just say whoa. Thank him politely, but firmly decline. The expert's ego-driven methods probably won't work. You and your horse will simply get more agitated as each new Lyon-tamer steps up to help. By the time your horse realizes he has an audience, the game is lost.

There's only one thing to do. Put your horse back in his stall or wherever he came from, and pretend you have no intention of ever loading him in the trailer again. Brush him, feed him, and go get a cup of coffee. The critical step is to bore the audience and hope it disperses. In an hour or so, when you and your horse are alone, simply put him in the trailer. He will have made his point. Without observers, there's no point in causing another scene. Game, point, and match to the horse. Trust me on this one: The best way to load a difficult horse is to let him load himself.

Writing or riding, Suzanne Drnec enjoys horses and their people. Drnec is president of Hobby Horse Clothing Company, www.hobbyhorseinc.com, a show apparel manufacturer, and also the caretaker of an assortment of lawn ornaments including a Paint, a Quarter Horse and an antique Arabian. Comments? Email them to suzi@hobbyhorseinc.com.