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Trailer Loading Problems

I have a 13 year old Arabian, who when we got her went a little reluctant in loading her in the trailer, the next time she loaded with no problem, then today we wanted to ride them on the trails at home she was reluctant but a little persuasion she did when we were done and, try to load her she would not no matter trying to persuade her with a treat etc., she refuse to go in well, a hour went by and, finally my husband force her in which I totally disagreed with but, she finally did, how can I find a away to help her feel more comfortable with loading her, she is pregnant due in December, could that have something to do with it.....
Thank you, Jeanette

Hi Jeanette,

Questions about trailer loading problems are some of the most frequent emails I receive. So, please know you are not alone. Even fine, experienced riders have the same challenges in this area of ground skills and appropriate training techniques. This has nothing to do with her being pregnant.

First off, whoever is the primary handler of the horse needs to develop a bond with the animal that goes way beyond riding. Unfortunately, riding is usually the general focus with humans and their horse. This is a behavioral situation and not related to riding skills at all. I shall assume you are the primary handler. Your ground skills need to be pretty good. You need to be able to lunge your horse on a long line as well as short line (lead rope) lunging. You need to practice with your horse your ability in 'sending' the horse where you want on the line. In other words, having the horse not just move around you in a circle, but also straight ahead, then stop on command, turn and come back to you. You can then send the horse into a stall, have him turn and then come out (backing out is fine) without you leading him into the stall. You can send the horse part way around a tree, ask him to stop and then come back to you the same way. Most folks never understand or try 'sending' horses where they want. They only think of leading the horse into something. I never (or rarely) step into a trailer in front of the horse. I want to horse to walk in on his own. This is safest for the human and the horse. Besides, once this is learned by the horse (and human) it leads to numerous advantages in handling your horse.

Once you are comfortable in lunging your horse in the ways I have described in the previous paragraph, begin to lunge the horse near the trailer entrance. Only go as close to the trailer as the horse is comfortable for a bit. Gradually, while lunging the horse, move him closer to the trailer and keep him moving around you. At some point, as the horse completes a circle, he or she will be headed right into the trailer. The horse will stop on his own in front of the door. As long as he stands there quietly, praise him with a few (but not too many) "Good boy's". Then ask for one step towards the entrance. If he does and stops, fine. Give a "Good boy". If he seeks to get away, he goes around in more circles. Eventually, direct him into the entrance again. He may take a step closer and stand, that is fine. Give a bit of praise then ask for another step. Repeat the process as much and as long as it takes for your horse to walk into the trailer quietly on his own. The longest session I have had was with a very rank mustang mare right off the range. It took four hours for her to walk in on her own.

This technique takes skill, patience, a developed sense of 'feel' and the desire to avoid abusing the horse. Coercion, bribery, abuse and similar tactics are too be avoided always. Once the horse loads easily, a treat is always in order. You should only do this when you have lots of time, are refreshed and relaxed and not when you are trying to get somewhere with the horse. It is a separate issue than riding. If you abuse the horse into the trailer, it will take that much longer to get him into it the next time, if he does at all. If it doesn't go well, please try to hang in there and do not put the horse away right after a refusal. You can end a session without the horse going into the trailer if it gets too long and you become too tired, by asking the horse to do something he can, then praising him and putting him away. Let’s say you have been trying to load him for several hours and are getting too tired to continue. I would just keep lunging him without trying to load him, having him stop and change directions for 10 minutes or so. Then give some praise and put him away. This way you always end your training sessions on a positive note. The horse never wins by refusing to do something; he just keeps 'working' and gets praise for doing what you have requested.

This training technique is difficult to describe in an email. It works wonderfully well with patience, timing and some practiced skill. Once learned and practiced by you, you will become a better horse person and understand what a trainer goes through to develop a horse into a socialized being that is comfortable with humans. It is about leadership and partnership, not about expediency or control. It is not about showing who is the boss or dominance. Your horse is not being stubborn, willful or doing anything to you. Your horse is afraid to load, pure and simple. It is about trust, not abuse. It is about being the great, compassionate leader. Think about being Gandhi or the great parent for your horse. Talk to your folks about this concept. I am certain they will be behind this 1000%. You will develop skills you cannot yet imagine with horses, once you get this skill learned.

Please let me know how it all goes. I am most interested if you can get this technique through this rather impersonal medium of cyber space. I hope I have been able to be helpful here. Keep me posted. I am here to help. You may feel free to call me if you desire. I am currently at the Colorado number (970) 927-1221. Blessings to you, your family and horses.

Sincerely, Franklin

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