That it is better to start with groundwork is what you as owner of a poorly loading horse often might not want to hear. Yet it is essential that you are the one who decides which way the horse goes and whether it should stand still or walk forward with you. If you do not already have this control outside the trailer, chances are that it will be very difficult to make the horse do something that it finds a bit exciting.
Tip: Make sure you can let your horse walk, stop and go backwards at any desired spot around the trailer.
2. Be sure you use a trailer that fits the horse
Sounds logical? You would think so. Yet it often happens that the trailer onto which the horse is loaded does not fit its size. For example, because the trailer is too low, or because it is too short for the horse to get into it.
Tip: Do you have a big horse? There are special XL trailers on the market. You will see that this makes loading so much easier. The lighter and more spacious the trailer, the better it often goes!
3. Practise, practise, practise!
If you want to start at a dressage competition you will have to practise regularly to get a good result. The same applies if you want to participate in a jumping course. But what about trailer loading? Do you practise that just as often?
Especially if you are dealing with a horse that finds loading very exciting, it is advisable to practise this a bit more intensively for a while. For example, daily before you start riding. That’s how it becomes a routine for him.
Tip: Put your trailer in the yard for a while (of course with a car or tractor in front) and walk your horse in and out. Make it as easy as possible and walk your horse in and out at least once a day.
4. Make it as easy as possible
A horse is a flight animal and likes to oversee its environment to keep an eye on everything. Being locked up in a trailer that to him seems quite small is therefore quite a challenge! Try to make it as easy as possible for your horse to do well. You can do this for example by removing the front bar from the trailer while practicing. This way you can walk on without having to stoop beneath the bar. The trailer also immediately looks a lot more spacious.
Tip: If you have a two-horse trailer, remove the partition from the trailer before practicing.
5. Pay attention to your own body language
You may not expect it directly, but your own attitude and body position have a major influence on whether or not you are able to load your horse. Search the Internet for some videos of horses that don’t want to load on the trailer. You often see that the person holding the line is turned with his shoulders (and face) towards the horse. A logical reaction, but in doing this you actually say to the horse ‘just stay there’ – while you expect the opposite reaction from him.
Tip: Do you have a horse that always locks up in front of or on the ramp? Then pay attention to the position of your own shoulders. Maybe you are unknowingly asking it to stop yourself!
6. Use pressure and relaxation
A horse learns through the use of pressure and relaxation. You put pressure on your line if the horse does something that you do not want; in this case, for example, standing still on the ramp. Make sure you release this pressure immediately as soon as the horse takes a step forward. This is his reward for giving the right answer to your question.
Tip: Your reward (releasing the pressure) must follow the horse’s correct response within 3 seconds. Otherwise the horse will no longer know what your reward is about.
Rest is the greatest reward for a horse. Did you succeed in walking him on the trailer a few times? Then put him back in his field. You cannot give him a bigger reward. This way you ensure that your horse does not associate the trailer with ‘leaving home’ and that can help you a lot in your training.
Tip: Feed can also help you with your training, but do not use it lure your horse into the trailer. Finding something to eat when he gets in the trailer (for example a hay net) can help your horse to relax more easily and to start seeing the trailer as a nice place.
8. Step by step
A big challenge when trailer loading is not to want too much in one single training. Just translate it to your dressage test. If you want to teach a young horse shoulder in, he often cannot do that for the whole long side of the arena on the first day, right? The same applies to trailer loading.
Tip: Divide the training sessions into small steps for yourself and repeat these steps until they have become a habit for your horse.
9. Drive slowly
This may sound obvious, but if you have a horse that does not load well; pay attention to your driving style. Standing in balance on a moving trailer is a hefty workout for a horse. As long as you drive straight ahead it is not too bad, but especially corners and roundabouts are quite a challenge for a horse.
Tip: Don’t pay too much attention to impatient fellow road users and take roundabouts and turns at a very slow pace.
10. Make a video clip
Are you still unable to to load your horse despite these tips? Then have someone video your practice. First watch the video yourself when you are finished. Sometimes you suddenly notice something, for example that you have your shoulders turned towards the horse. Are you stuck? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org, then we will see how we can help you further!