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Page 14- Tips for Trouble Free Trailering by Lynn Palm in August Issue of Horse Digest



Lynn Palm and Her Dog

Lynn Palm and Her Dog

Find it here There is nothing more frustrating than not being able to load or unload a horse. Knowing how to safely trailer a horse opens up a new world of places to see and enjoy with your equine partner. It is a must for a horse to learn if you plan on competing. Learning trailer loading and unloading builds on the basic training commands of “come to me,” “move away from me,” “whoa,” and “back.” If your horse is not solid on these maneuvers, review them before moving onto this lesson.

Set the Stage for Success
Outfit your horse with leg protection and with a properly fitting halter with a lead line attached. Park the trailer in an enclosed paddock or small field. I prefer using a trailer with a ramp, but the same procedures apply to a step-up trailer.

Back up the trailer so it is close to and alongside a fence. This creates a barrier on one side of the trailer, and it helps to focus the horse’s concentration on the trailer. Keep the trailer hooked to the tow vehicle for stability, and set the brakes for safety.

Open all of the trailer’s doors and windows. Horses fear going into dark, confined areas””like a closed up trailer! Try to make the inside of the trailer look as much like the outdoors as possible. If the trailer is a “walk through,” drop the chest bar down.

Steps for Teaching Safe Trailer Loading:

Let the horse sniff and investigate the trailer.

Position the horse at the end of the trailer’s ramp, keeping his body and head straight.

Stand part way up the ramp facing the horse. Give the “come to me” command to get him to come toward you. Never pull on the lead to force him into the trailer as that will teach him to lean against the lead. Be patient with this step.

As he moves inside, back up so that you are entering the trailer in front of and facing him. In this position you can see his reactions and keep his body straight.

Once in the trailer, run the lead rope through the hay bag to give him the feeling of being tied, but do not tie him yet. Fasten the chest bar. As he concentrates on eating, step out of the trailer and walk around to the back. For safety, always stand off to one side of the trailer in case your horse kicks or moves backwards. Pet and reassure him as you fasten the butt bar.

Return to his head and tie the lead to a stall ring or other secure spot so he can stand comfortably without any tension on his head or the lead. There should be just a little slack in the lead when it is tied so he cannot get his head down too far and get into trouble. I like using a quick-release safety knot with the lead passed through it. Let your horse stand awhile in the trailer and get accustomed to it.

Do Not Forget To Teach Him Unloading
Just because the horse has loaded into a trailer, does not mean he knows how to safely unload. You also must teach him this skill.

For teaching unloading, it is best to have a fence line a short distance behind the trailer as well as one beside the trailer. The horse is now inside the trailer either tied by his lead line or his lead is threaded through the hay bag.

No Need for Speed
If his lead is tied, untie it and thread it through the hay bag. Go around to the back of the trailer and stand off to the horse’s side. Do not stand directly behind him in case he kicks or backs out quickly. Talk to him and pet his hip to reassure him and to let him know that you are back there. Slowly unfasten the butt bar and lower it.

Move back to his head, unthread the lead from the hay bag, and gather it in your hand. Unfasten the chest bar. Standing off to the side of the horse’s shoulder, give him the command to “back.” If you need reinforcement, gently push on the point of his shoulder as you move with him and repeat the voice command.

Back him out of the trailer as slowly as possible. Rushing this step only teaches the horse that it is acceptable to back out quickly. The fence behind the trailer will remind him not to run out backwards.

As he backs, follow him and use the lead to keep him straight. If the trailer has a ramp, a horse typically will have an easier time unloading because of its gentle incline. If it is a step-up trailer, be prepared for him to be surprised the first time he steps back and down to the ground. He may be startled and come right back into the trailer. If he does this, make no big deal about it. Ask him to back out again until he accepts stepping down.

Safe Trailer Tying Tips
A young or green horse can be startled when first learning to stand and ride in the trailer. If tied, he may pull back and react in fear at being restrained. Rather than tying inexperienced horses, I often just loop the lead line through the hay bag. This gives them the feeling of being tied without the constraint.

The horse should be tied only when he is comfortable with trailering. Select a secure tying point above the horse’s head and as close as possible to him. Tie him with enough of a slack in the line so he has the freedom of movement to touch the butt bar with his rump. This will give him security plus a place to balance himself against while the trailer is moving.

There is a lot more to trailer loading that I would like to share with you. Get more tips for teaching your horse trouble-free trailering in my Longevity Visual Series, Part 2″””Advanced Ground Training.” On the DVD, I demonstrate stress free step-by-step methods to teach trailer loading, and I give important trailer safety advice. Learn more about the video and other educational products at