Loading Horses – Just as Hard as a Dressage Lesson

You have probably met some horses in your rider-career that did not like being loaded in a trailer. At different competitions you can often meet people struggling with the horse when it is to enter the trailer when heading home. It is quite annoying after a long day that the horse does not want to walk into the trailer and stressful for both the owner and horse. For the same reason it can really pay off to invest some time in teaching the horse to enter a trailer.  

Several horse owners have a wish to participate in competitions, courses, go to the beach or the woods with their horse but give up beforehand because they have trouble loading the horse. You can also be in an emergency where the horse must go to the hospital. In this situation, it is crucial that your horse walks into the trailer.  

Often many horses are only familiar with the trailer when they are going to competitions or are moved to a new facility. Often you have a deadline, and you are therefore in a hurry to be somewhere at a specific time. This stage of mind of stress and being in a hurry are projected into the horse and does not make anything easier when it comes to entering a trailer.  

Very normal to be insecure 

Behavioral specialist Karin Rosenberg Engelbrecht explains that it is very naturally for a horse to be afraid of the trailer especially when they are closed and quite dark. Horses are by nature designed to walk around on big wide fields, where they have a huge view and able to spot possible danger.  

Horses are depended on being able to orientate. This is not possible inside a trailer. Photo: Malgré Tout. 

When we ask the horse to enter a trailer we ask them to walk into a small dark room where they cannot escape possible danger. Some horses do not care at all, while others are more resistant. It only takes one bad experience with the transporter before the horse connect it with something unpleasant and dangerous. 

Just as demanding as an intense dressage lesson 

It does not have to be very difficult to teach your horse to walk into a trailer, but it does require patience and an understanding of the horse. Perhaps it has had a bad experience with a trailer which is the reason for its’ insecurity. Furthermore, loading in a trailer is just as demanding of the horse as any other type of groundwork, Karin Rosenberg Engelbrecht explains.  

“Mentally 10 to 15 minutes of training with a trailer is about the same as an hour of intense dressage for the horse,“ she says. 


Good advice on successful loading in trailer 

Karin’s best three guidelines to teach your horse to enter a trailer is:  

Have patience – it is not a natural situation for your horse to enter a trailer. 

Permit the horse to back out of the trailer when it needs to and follow it. Then try again. 

Only practice for about 10 to 15 minutes at the time.  

Loading with focus on learning psychology  

Karin Rosenberg Engelbrecht believes that there are several different ways of teaching the horse to walk into a trailer. Karin’s method is based on principles from leaning psychology and divided into steps. Many of these can be thought outside the trailer. 

  • First part of habituating the trailer is to make sure that the horse walks forward on a signal. Teach this in the arena before you begin with the trailer. 
  • Teach the horse a stop signal so that the horse stops when you pull the rope.  
  • Make sure you horse know how to move to the side when you gently tap the side of the horse with a whip.  
  • Teach the horse to enter narrow passages.  
  • The horse should be familiar with different types of surfaces as tarpaulin or through a puddle. 
  • Combine the training with narrow passages and different types of surface.  
  • Remember lots of treats, praise and cuddle. 

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