As an avid trail rider, you're accustomed to loading and unloading your horse most every weekend. You travel to find and frequent the most scenic trails and add some variety to your rides.
Before your next trailering excursion, learn the safety steps that will keep you and your horse safe as you load and unload. Respected trainer and clinician Julie Goodnight works with trail riders and "trailerers" at many of her clinics. She's seen horse owners skip important safety steps and trust that their horses will be safe.
But even the calmest horse can spook, step back, or slip, causing a harmful chain reaction if the loading, tying and untying process isn't done in order. If your horse is tied in the trailer, but knows the back door is open for escape, he might pull back and panic when he can't get free. The panic session compounds when he hears the trailer's loud echo and slips on a metal floor.
Follow Goodnight's seven-step technique to avoid setting your horse up for a loading or unloading accident.
Here's the proper trailer-loading and -unloading order for optimum safety and results.
Step 1. Prepare the trailer. Leave your horse in his pen. Hook up your trailer to your vehicle. (As you do, check all lights and blinkers, brake connections, and tire pressure.) Drive your trailer to a flat, open area where your horse won't step on debris. Securely close all trailer doors and windows; never drive with trailer windows open—your horse could hit his head on a roadside object, and flying debris could injure his eyes. Close manger windows and escape doors so your horse won't try to get out through these too-small openings and become injured.
Step 2. Open the stock door. While your horse is still in his pen, open the back of your trailer to the stock compartment, and prepare your horse's footing and feed.
Step 3. Load your horse. Outfit your horse in a comfortable halter, and lead him from his pen to the back of the trailer. If he's still learning ground manners, use a rope halter that places pressure on his poll. Load him into the trailer. (If you horse resists loading, see Goodnight's easy-loading technique in the April 2011 issue of The Trail Rider.)
Step 3. Shut the stock-compartment door. Shut the stock-compartment door immediately, before confining your horse by tying. If you have a slant-load trailer, it's safe to secure the compartment's partition before you shut the door. But when the compartment door is open, don't tie your horse. If he tries to back out (a likely scenario) and finds that he's tied, he may panic and injure himself (and you).
Step 4. Secure your horse. When the compartment door is closed and secured, tie your horse, then use the human escape door to exit the trailer. Or, tie your horse while you stand safely outside the trailer.
Step 5. Park, and untie. After you arrive at your destination, park at a level area, then begin the unloading. To do so, you'll retrace your loading steps. First, untie your horse.
Step 6. Open the back door. Double check to make sure your horse is completely untied, then open the stock-compartment door.
Step 7. Unload your horse. Back your horse out of the trailer. Then tack up, and have a safe trail ride!
Bottom line: Never tie your horse in the trailer until the stock-compartment door is closed and secured locked; always untie your horse before you open the door for unloading.
Julie Goodnight (www.juliegoodnight.com) lives in central Colorado, home to miles of scenic trails. She trains horses and coaches horse owners to be ready for any event, on the trail or in the performance arena. She shares her easy-to-understand lessons on her weekly RFD-TV show, Horse Master, and through appearances at clinics and horse expos held throughout the United States. She's also the international spokesperson for the Certified Horsemanship Association (www.cha-ahse.org).
Heidi Nyland (www.wholepicture.org) is a lifelong horsewoman, equine journalist, and photographer based in Mead, Colorado.