If you want to know how to unload a horse from a trailer, this guide is for you.
As an experienced equestrian, I’ve driven plenty of horse trailers over the years and know how dangerous it can be to unload an anxious horse from one.
When arriving at a show, the last thing horse owners want is a nervous horse exploding out of a trailer and hurting you or themselves!
Here are some of our best horse training tips to help build your horse’s confidence so the unloading process is stress-free.
Table of Contents
- Be aware of your horse’s behavior and come to an understanding of their stresses and fears.
- Teach your horse to back up outside of their trailer in small training sessions.
- Learn the correct way to unload your horse from all types of trailers safely and correctly.
Why do Horses Rush out of a Trailer?
Often, people with horses spend time training their horses to load but don’t learn how to unload a horse from a trailer safely and correctly.
A study on horse injuries sustained during private transportation in Australia and New Zealand reported that 7.3% occurred when unloading. 
To fix your horse’s trailer unloading issues, you must first find the cause.
This can include:
- Lack of confidence
- Bad experience
- Fear of being shut in
- Fear of things behind
- Not taught to unload
We need to look at how horses think and how it affects them going into horse trailers.
Understanding Horse Behavior
Horse owners need to keep their horse’s natural instincts in mind and think about what the elements of trailer loading and unloading mean to them.
A horse must step up into this thing surrounded by walls, and because they are prey animals, it is natural for them to feel claustrophobic.
They then travel in this enclosed space, constantly having to readjust their balance while hearing different sounds outside, which might scare them. 
And then we expect them to calmly back off a trailer, not knowing what’s behind them!
But good horse training starts with teaching a horse to back up.
Teaching a Horse to Back up From the Ground
Your horse might load into a trailer fine, but one common mistake many owners make is not teaching them to back up.
1. Use a Rope Halter
Always use a rope halter when teaching a horse to back up from the ground.
A rope halter has knots and loops strategically placed to apply pressure when needed and release instantly when the horse responds.
2. Apply Pressure on the Halter
- Stand next to your horse and grab the halter above the knots where the lead rope clips, with your thumb facing down.
- Apply about two pounds of pressure, moving it from side to side, and say “back”.
- Release the pressure as soon as your horse backs up a step or two, and let them walk forward again.
- Repeat this on both sides of your horse several times.
3. Moving the Horse Away From You
- Stand about three feet in front of your horse.
- Direct your energy by lifting and shaking the rope, stopping as your horse backs away a step or two.
- Allow your horse to move towards you again, then repeat.
4. Relaxation and Reward
- When asking your horse to back up, look for signs of licking and chewing, which means the horse is relaxing.
- Consider it an “aha” moment for your horse and that they understand!
- Always reward your horse by gently rubbing them on the head between the ears in a circular motion.
Preparing a Horse to Unload from a Trailer
When training or retraining a horse to unload, you must break things down into small pieces to build their confidence, which starts away from the trailer.
I was lucky enough to learn from a horse trainer who spent time with the great Ray Hunt, a pioneer in natural horsemanship, who taught me the training process of preparing a horse to go in a trailer.
He often used Ray Hunt’s quote, “Recognize the smallest change, the slightest try.” 
By rewarding the horse for its efforts and taking your time, you will work through your horse’s confidence issues.
Once I have a horse that can back up confidently, I ask them to back down and up a small hill.
I also ask the horse to back up over a pole as it makes them think about where their hind feet are placed.
At first, your horse will be unsure as they cannot see behind, but take your time and let them figure it out.
You can also back your horse over pool noodles, between poles, and into their stall.
Think outside the box so your horse steps back over different obstacles and can confidently unload from a trailer!
Check out this video for more awesome tips:
How to Unload a Horse From a Trailer
- Keep a calm manner loading and unloading your horse, and never bribe your horse with feed.
- Start by letting your horse put one foot, then two feet in the trailer.
- Let them stand there, then ask them to back out slowly by holding the halter and saying “back.”
- Repeat this a few times; then, let them stand with their hind feet in the trailer before asking them to back out quietly again.
- Keep repeating this loading principle to avoid having a panicky horse.
- When arriving at your destination, untie your horse and have someone open the back trailer doors and the butt bar.
- It is vital you keep both you and your horse safe.
Safety When Unloading a Horse
1. Always ensure the area is clear without distractions before opening the trailer doors and unloading your horse.
2. Never turn your horse around on the ramp; they will eventually anticipate the turn, which can lead to a loss of control.
3. Keep backing your horse away from the trailer even once they have unloaded before asking them to stop so you have complete control.
4. Let your horse get used to standing in the trailer once you have stopped; otherwise, they anticipate being unloaded and may become anxious.
How long can a horse last in a trailer?
A horse can last in a trailer for around 9 hours, providing they have food and water and adequate ventilation.
Are you supposed to tie horses in a trailer?
It depends on the horse’s size and temperament, the number of horses you are hauling, and the trailer design.
How do you move a stubborn horse?
Ask them to back up using a rope halter then, they should want to move forwards.
When looking at how to unload your horse from a trailer safely, preparation is key, and be prepared for dangerous situations.
Teach your horse to back up and down hills, and other obstacles like poles before training them to back out of a trailer.
Horse owners should take their time so their horses have a positive experience every single time they go in the trailer to ensure animal safety and happiness.
1. NBCAAM CB. How do Horses Get Hurt During Transport? [Internet]. The Horse. 2017 [cited 2023 Sep 8]. Available from: https://thehorse.com/19732/how-do-horses-get-hurt-during-transport/
2. Colborne GR, Tang L, Adams BR, Gordon BI, McCabe BE, Riley CB. A Novel Load Cell-Supported Research Platform to Measure Vertical and Horizontal Motion of a Horse’s Centre of Mass During Trailer Transport. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science. 2021;99:103408.
3. Ray Hunt Legend [Internet]. www.ranchandcountry.com. [cited 2023 Sep 8]. Available from: http://www.ranchandcountry.com/article_info.php?articles_id=7#:~:text=Notice%20the%20smallest%20change%2C%20and
Alison is passionate about horses and has been a freelance pet and equine writer for six years. She grew up in England, where she had her own horses and competed in show jumping and dressage competitions.
Now based in the Middle East, she is a qualified riding instructor specializing in rider biomechanics and is certified to teach the Equestrian Franklin Ball method.
When she’s not around horses, Alison can be found hiking in the mountains or off travelling to some exotic location!
You can find her at https://www.linkedin.com/in/alison-ocallaghan-79918a3b/