How to load a stubborn horse into a trailer, a question every equestrian has at some point!
This is a serious problem for many reasons which I will cover in this guide.
However, there are solutions for when a horse won’t load in trailer.
You just need some patience, so let’s get started.
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Table of Contents
Why Does My Horse Stop Loading?
Your horse stops loading or won’t load at all for several reasons, but the most common causes are anxiety, fear, and a bad experience.
The common horse owner assumption that they are just being naughty isn’t the best way to look at it.
However, it does create a dangerous situation for both you and your horse. Horses that don’t want to load often have an extreme reaction when you ask them to get in a trailer.
This is can be anything from planting their feet to rearing, bolting, or flying backward. Often if you are harsh or add more pressure the reaction gets worse.
It takes a bit of horse psychology to understand why your horse has trailorphobia. Remember to stop and listen to what your horse is trying to say. The majority aren’t truly stubborn.
This is where you really have to put your patience to the test when it comes to horse loading. If you can understand the cause, you can work with your horse to overcome it in a way you are both happy.
The biggest reason why difficult horses won’t load in the trailer is anxiety. If your horse used to load with no problems, it’s possible it got a fright during its last journey.
Perhaps you had to brake fast, or the driver gave them a particularly bouncy ride.
With that in mind, don’t let your frustration overcome you and try a more relaxed approach. Remember, horses feed off your energy. If you are calm, it will help remedy the problem quicker.
I always find a sensitive horse is more likely to react badly.
With that in mind let’s look at some ways to solve a how to get a horse in a trailer problem.
How to Get a Stubborn Horse In a Trailer? (7 Steps To Follow)
More modern thinking is the best way to approach a horse that is difficult to load. I really like Warwick Schiller’s approach.
He takes time to listen to the horse and follows baby steps to help the horse learn how to load calmly and correctly.
Here is a short video from Warwick on how he approaches these types of horses.
Now, let’s look at the various tips and steps you can use for the loading process.
#1 Keep Your Horse Below Its Flight Threshold
Horses are flight animals, once they cross the line into flight mode is when you start to get more and more issues and dangerous situations.
Each horse will have a different tolerance level before they tip over the edge. Learn to spot the signs of your horse getting triggered. When you see the anxiety building stop and go back a step or steps until your horse relaxes again.
This will take plenty of time, sometimes a lot of time. However, over time the goal is to reduce the time it takes and eventually have a horse that nicely walks into the trailer. This brings me to my second step.
And remember an agitated horse can lead to a dangerous horse.
Just a couple of tips before I continue:
- Always use a lunge line during this process
- Always wear gloves and sturdy shoes
#2 Keep Your Patience
I know this is hard, especially if you want to get to your lesson, horse show, or the vet on time but patience is key.
Take a few deep breaths yourself if you feel frustration creeping up. Give your horse lots of praise for every positive reaction it has.
#3 Help Your Horse Gain Confidence
Don’t wait until you have to take your horse somewhere to work on a loading issue. You will be under pressure to get the horse on and have less patience.
What you need to do is practice multiple times with your horse to help them gain confidence with the trailer.
Do this in steps. Walk your horse toward the trailer until you notice its signs of becoming anxious. At that point stop where you are and just hang out until your horse relaxes.
Once relaxed, ask the horse to get a little closure. Sometimes it is good to walk away from the trailer and reapproach. Again stop and repeat handing out until they are relaxed.
This can take a long time, and you might not even get the horse in the trailer the first day you try. Keep repeating this process until the horse walks into the trailer calmly.
A confident horse is more likely to be a cooperative horse.
#4 Build Up Time in the Trailer
Once your horse is walking without incident into the trailer, you can work on building up the time you ask them to stand in it.
At the start only ask them to stay there for a minute, then lead them off. Make sure you reward them each time they do this nicely. And remember, stay calm and relaxed yourself!
Not everyone does this but I like to give the horse a treat, so they associate being in the trailer with something nice.
Do this multiple times, each time staying in the trailer a little longer; 2-3 minutes, then 3-4 minutes, and so on. But be careful not to cross your horse’s threshold.
#5 Asking the Horse to Get Off the Trailer
Always ask your horse to get off the trailer before they cross the threshold of wanting to get off themselves. This helps them learn that they aren’t stuck in there.
If you have room turn your horse and lead them off head first instead of asking them to back off which can create more anxiety.
This brings up the question “how to load a horse in a straight load trailer?” Often, you will have no choice but to ask the horse to back out with this type of trailer.
Use all the same steps mentioned above and if your straight load has a front ramp, lead your horse off this way for a while.
If you don’t have a front ramp you will have to ask them to back off. Do this slowly and reward each step back your horse takes.
Also, just to note, always take out the divider when teaching an anxious horse how to load and unload from a straight load trailer.
The larger space is safer for both you and the horse. It is also more open and less claustrophobic for the horse.
#6 Make the Trailer a Place to Rest
One method I’ve come across to get horses to go to areas that they don’t want to is to make the scary location a place to rest.
Once you’ve done some approach and relaxation exercises near the trailer try to incorporate this approach.
Remember, you aren’t punishing your horse when you do this, so still stay calm. OK, so let’s see how this works.
Approach the trailer but don’t get too close. When the horse shows signs of wanting to move away from the trailer make them do some work. Walk them in circles or even lunge them at a trot if you’ve put the trailer in your arena.
Let the horse bring themselves back down to a slower gate and approach again. Hopefully, you can get a bit closer this time before the horse reacts.
When the horse reacts, repeat the ‘work’ Approach again, and hopefully, your horse will want to stop when closer to the trailer. When that happens allow it and let your horse rest.
Repeat the work rest process until your horse is happy getting close to the trailer and staying there. The goal is that they associate the trailer with a resting spot.
You are essentially making resisting going in the trailer uncomfortable and going in comfortable.
#7 Reward Your Horse
For each baby step your horse makes reward them. Let them learn that they can trust you and that what you are asking is ok and won’t hurt them.
Here is another excellent video from Warwick Schiller that you can gain some excellent advice from.
4 Horse Trailering Tips
It is important that you make your horse trailer as inviting as possible. This will help solve problems quickly and even prevent them from happening in the first place.
Here are some greats tips I’ve learned over the years.
#1 Good Light
Horses do not see the same way we do. A closed-up, dark trailer can look like a black hole that will swallow you up to a horse.
Make sure your trailer is as ‘open’ looking as possible. This means ensuring a good amount of light is flowing inside. Make sure windows aren’t blocked and the entrance is wide and inviting.
In the beginning, it helps to take out dividers and open any front entrances if your trailer has them.
A trailer with good ventilation is important. Fans or air vents are essential to ensure good airflow. Trailers can get too hot in high temperatures.
You want to keep your horse comfortable so they don’t have a bad experience.
Check out our list of the best fan for horse trailer.
#3 Trailer Safety
Trailer safety is something you can’t neglect, ever. You are putting your precious friend in there, so keep on top of servicings, tires, floor checks, etc;
Your trailer should also have pads on the areas that touch your horse’s side, and ideally rubber floor and wall matting.
Always put some sawdust or shavings on the floor of your trailer. This will prevent the floor from getting slippery if they pee or poo during a journey.
Alway check for loose fittings or anything that becomes sharp and fix these straight away.
Make sure to check our guide on flooring for horse trailers.
#4 Learn to Drive the Trailer Well
When pulling a horse trailer you need to do things more smoothly whether it be turning or using the breaks. You want to give your horse the smoothest ride possible.
Should I feed my horse before trailering?
Fed your horse plenty of hay before trailering but reduce the amount of grain.  When you do provide grain, make sure you give it at least 1-hour before traveling. I also always provide a haynet in the trailer for my horse.
Can a horse load himself into a trailer?
Yes, many horses can load themselves into a trailer. However, this takes training and patience. Only horses that are confident and relaxed about trailering will do this.
Is it safe to load a horse in an unhitched trailer?
No! The National Ag Safety Database (NASD) says “Never load a horse or leave a horse in an unhitched trailer. Do not unhitch a trailer with a horse still inside. Trailers are very unstable and can easily tip on end. 
Can a horse be loose in a trailer?
Yes, a horse can be loose in a trailer under some circumstances. Large trailers that allow for box stall creation a good for this. Sometimes it’s the only way to travel an unhandled horse. However, take care to learn the best ways to do this.
I hope this guide on how to load a stubborn horse into a trailer has helped give you some good methods to solve this issue.
Remember, patience and calmness are the best way to create a horse that happily will load into a trailer for the long term.
Have you solved this problem? I’d love to hear your stories.
- 1. Trailering 101 [Internet]. www.totalequinevets.com. [cited 2022 Jul 21]. Available from: https://www.totalequinevets.com/client-center/resources/TEVApedia/equine-trailering-101#:~:text=Before%20you%20go%3A&text=Give%20your%20horse%20plenty%20of
- 2. NASD – Horse Trailer Maintenance and Trailering Safety [Internet]. nasdonline.org. [cited 2022 Jul 21]. Available from: https://nasdonline.org/1043/d000842/horse-trailer-maintenance-and-trailering-safety.html#:~:text=Never%20load%20a%20horse%20or
Siun is an all-around animal lover, with a passion for horses. She grew up in the United States, competing in the hunters, equitation, and jumpers. Now living in Ireland, she competes with her own showjumping horses. She is experienced in the care and training of horses, as well as teaching riding lessons. She loves to combine her love for horses with her work. When not working, Siun will be found at the stables, rain or shine.
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