When your horse won’t load

I think we’ve all been there. You know, standing behind your trailer with the ramp down and your horse’s feed firmly planted on terra firma, determined not to move even an inch. The Clinton Anderson video above offers some good advice for how to load the difficult horse. Not the horse that is genuinely scared; the horse that decides it just doesn’t want to get on.

None of my horses came to me as “good loaders”, in fact I can remember a few epically long mornings and afternoons where I was determined not to quit until the horse was standing on the trailer. Years ago I missed an event because of trailering issues, and I had an “exciting” experience with Freedom the first time I trailered him alone — and he realized that he was alone!

Thankfully, all my horses have gotten over it and now cheerfully hop on and ride quietly. I guess they’ve figured out that trailering usually means that we’re going to do something fun.

Today, I saw a first. A horse that had been trailered to the hunt refused to get on the trailer to go home. After more than an hour of bribery, cajoling and threatening, the owner decided to ride him home. 9 miles. After hunting. Thank goodness it was a beautiful day.

Since we’ve all been there, we also know that lots of people helping you try to load your recalcitrant horse is not always a recipe for success. Too many people, too many brooms or other flying objects can just get your horse worked up. The worst case scenario is when someone gets hurt. But even the best case scenario can get a bit dicey.

My main techniques for successful loading are:

  • Start with lots of ground work. If your horse won’t lead well, it probably won’t load either. Practice, practice, practice.
  • If your horse balks, back him up. Not just three or four steps, but maybe 50 feet. Walk forward, back up, turn, halt, repeat. Backing up is usually harder for a horse and it makes going forward more attractive.
  • Load another horse first. Friends make trailering less scary (and yes, when I was teaching Freedom to trailer without trying to jump out the front door, I often loaded a companion to take along for the ride).
  • Put a chain over the horse’s nose. Some people don’t like this, and I’m not advocating that you yank on the chain and cause damage to your horse’s nose, but a little extra leverage can be very convincing.
  • Bribery. I’m not a huge advocate for using food to get your horse to load, but sometimes it’s the most expedient way to get them on.

A few posts where I’ve addressed loading issues before include:

Trailering Safely: Loading Tips

Getting my Problem Horse to Load

Have any of you had a horse that really, truly wouldn’t get on a trailer? What did you do?





6 thoughts on “When your horse won’t load

  1. nice video and tips! i know zip about training a horse to load, so actually worked with a pro to install the ‘load’ button on my mare, and it worked! his system was to use rhythmic tapping with a dressage whip on the hind quarters as a signal for forward. and you just keep asking for forward. all forward movement (even a lean) is rewarded. otherwise, the signal doesn’t stop until forward happens. the trailer is almost incidentally in the way.

  2. I had a horse that wouldn’t get OFF the trailer! He would load fine but when it came time to back out – no way. It would sometimes take hours, and once he even got a nasty cut on his face from throwing his head up in the air.

    Same general concept for training, though – practice backing on the ground, and down small steps; use pressure and release to reward the correct movement; and be patient.

    I find that this saying rings true: “If you act like you have 15 minutes, it’ll take 3 hours…but if you act like you have 3 hours, it’ll take 15 minutes.”

  3. I’ve never had a horse that was difficult to load, thank goodness. But I really liked the tips/tricks and videos here — thanks!

  4. I have helped a number of people load difficult horses, some of which boarded across the street from me. I don’t agree with the backing idea. Especially on a horse who views the trailer as the source of pressure. Backing away from the trailer turns into a reward and makes the horse more reluctant to go forwards. I have had horses back themselves for 100 feet because they decided that was easier than stepping onto the trailer. That required some major discussions about where she was supposed to find the release.

    My husband’s Percheron mare had some loading issues that required a stud chain to correct. It was just one or two firm tugs and she was fine, wore it a few times and now she loads fine without it. Much better than having my arms jerked out of the socket, getting knocked over, or being dragged!

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