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4-Step Horse Trailer Loading

Learn general horse trailer loading advice from several reputable horse trainers. We'll take you step-by-step through one horse trailer loading experience, explaining how he learned to load a horse into a trailer with ease. For each step, we'll add insightful commentary from other horse trainers. You can apply these horse trailer loading techniques to your own trailer-loading efforts.

Sweeton works on the "go forward" cue away from the distraction of the trailer.

Horse Trailer Loading Tips
Horse trailer loading techniques abound: using feed as a lure, butt ropes to prevent a horse from stepping back, and the "halter-pulley method," which uses leverage to practically force a horse in a trailer. But these methods usually have limitations.

Feed, for instance, is a temporary solution, at best. "If your horse is sick or colicky, your horse isn't going to give a hoot about whether there's feed in the trailer," notes Lisa Bockholt, a select John Lyons certified trainer based in Kingsville, Texas. "And if you're out on a trail ride and you don't happen to have any feed to load up to go home, you'll be in a pickle."

Sometimes the fault lies with your trailer. Joe Andrews of Mountain Magic Ranch in Loveland, Colorado, says you should first evaluate your trailer for weaknesses. For instance, if you have an older trailer with bent braces under the floorboards, your horse will feel the "give" and refuse to load, fearing that it's unsafe to rest his full weight on the trailer floor.

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Safety for the handler, first, and the horse, second, is paramount. In fact, many trainers train horses to load on cue from a distance to enhance handler safety.

One common safety decision is whether to get into the trailer with your horse (other than closing the gate and butt bar in a slant-load). Vallerie Sweeton, head trainer at Horses of Hope Riding Center Inc., in Baxter Springs, Kansas, prefers not getting into a trailer with a horse. "Inside a trailer is a tight space, and there just isn't room for error," she says. "If a horse slips, spooks, and so forth, I don't want to be in there with him."

A horse will often sniff and paw at the trailer to check it out. Here, Sweeton notes that Jet has "loaded his head," making slow-but-steady progress.

Step #1: Teach the "Go Forward" Cue
Trainer Vallerie Sweeton helped Shelia Mishler and her 11-year-old daughter, Paige, to load Jet, a Paint Horse gelding who'd recently begun refusing to load. Sweeton started with the "go forward" cue, tapping the gelding on his upper hip while cueing him with a kissing sound. She also pointed Jet's nose in the direction she wanted him to go as she gave the cue.

"I'm teaching Jet that he needs to go forward when I ask him to," Sweeton says, holding a crop. "He'll learn when he gets a little tap on the hip, it means walk forward. I'm starting gentle - touching and giving a kiss. Then I'll gradually build the pressure with the crop. As soon as he moves forward, I'll let off. I'll do that on both sides.

"As soon as he walks forward, I quit tapping," she continues. "If he backs up, I'll try to keep myself in position with him and keep giving him the cue until he makes an effort to step forward. I may have to kind of boogie along with him a little bit."

Trainer comments: Larry Levrets of Heart to Horse in Bandon, Oregon, also uses the "go forward" cue when teaching a horse to trailer load. He then loads and unloads the horse repeatedly until he's comfortable.

But first, he says, you need to gain your horse's trust. He notes that horses "read" people during ground training the same way they do a rider. "A trailer, from your horse's point of view, is a scary place to go," he says. Therefore, he continues, your horse must know that you love him, that you're in charge, and that you can be trusted.

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