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Wrangling on the Range #157

Putting your horse in a Trailer



Loading in a trailer is a very unnatural situation for a
horse-they don't live in caves and can't see directly in front of
them very well. In this picture, there are three disconnected
people expecting their horses to load. Everybody is doing
something that they think is helping, but by doing so, nothing is
working. You want your horse to respond to a situation, not react
to one. If he was to react to any one of those people, yes he
might get into that trailer, but it would be simply a
self-preserving reaction instead of a calm response to an
open-ended invitation.

1. Loose Horse in the Trailer

The horse in the first trailer stall is not secured-the partition
is closed, but he's not tied or clipped by his halter. He can get
into trouble in a number of ways: turning his head around
backwards, bumping his head on the window or sticking his head
too far out. Being secured doesn't completely prevent possible
problems, but it greatly diminishes the chance of one occurring.
Climbing Inside

2. Climbing Inside

John-Michael is leaning in through the window, trying to entice
the loading horse with treats; however, he has more chance of
spooking the horse than helping him load.

3. Horse Poorly Tied

This mare is tied too long with a knot that won't slip free if
she panics. She could also slip on the asphalt, or swing her
hindquarters around and kick the loading horse.

4. Door Latch

This trailer's door latch is sticking out, and it could gouge the
gelding as he loads. The horse might feel like he needs to
maneuver around the latch, and it could be enough to make him not
get in the trailer at all.

5. No Bedding Material

When you're hauling horses, it's a good idea to use
bedding-shavings or straw, perhaps. It keeps your horse from
slipping on slick rubber floor mats and makes the trailer more
inviting by lightening up the area.

6. Poor Loading Location

This trailer is poorly parked, with a large, uneven step from
asphalt. This horse could easily slip on the asphalt, and the
large gap from ground to trailer might make him consider jumping
into the trailer, which could be dangerous. Ideally, you want a
low, level step with natural footing, like dirt or grass.

7. Pulling the Horse

Rachel is giving her horse mixed signals: facing him says "I'm
here and you're there; respect my space," but she's also pulling
him into her space. To the horse, his choices are to refuse or
jump in the trailer on top of Rachel. She's also not wearing
gloves-if her horse pulled back, the lead rope could burn her
bare hands.

8. Loose Halter

An ill-fitting halter can't signal properly, and in this case, if
the horse put his head down, the halter could catch on the door
latch. This halter is so loose it looks like it could slip off of
his nose, and if that happens, the horse is loose.

9. Swinging Door

This trailer door is unsecured, and any number of things-the
rocking of the trailer, the loading of the horse, a gust of
wind-could cause it to swing and possibly scare or injure the

10. Scaring the Horse

Emily is trying to scare the horse into the trailer by standing
behind him and flapping her arms. Acting like a spooky, scary
thing on the outside puts her at risk of being kicked-and scaring
a horse into the trailer is also poor horsemanship.


Working with horses is often about efficiency vs. effectiveness.
Although pulling or spooking or coaxing with treats could be
effective in getting a horse to load, it's not efficient because
the horse doesn't understand the cue-response. The next time he
has to get into the trailer, what if there's nobody there to
spook him in? Efficiency is our goal when working with livestock:
you want your horse to respond to a situation, not react to one.
This time, everybody is working together. John-Michael is holding
the trailer door so it doesn't hit Rachel's loading horse, and
he's also holding the third horse. Emily is attending to the
horse already in the trailer, making sure he's calm and secured
with a trailer tie. After all of the horses are loaded and
secure, these children will shut the trailer windows to limit
dust, debris and forced air blowing on their horses' heads, which
will make trailering a more comfortable and safe experience for
the animals.

The trailer is now more inviting: shavings provide traction and
help lighten the dark space, and the trailer is more balanced,
with a lower step from natural footing. Before loading her horse,
Rachel put on gloves. She made sure his halter fit correctly and
secured his lead rope over his neck. With the lead rope in her
left hand, she has led her Paint to the trailer and is
encouraging him to calmly step inside--she's using a bamboo rod
to help coax him into the trailer, but she's certainly not
scaring him. Gently tapping on his hindquarter is similar to
putting your leg on a horse while riding and having it move
forward the horse understands moving away from pressure. As he
stepped inside, Rachel released the lead rope, allowing the
gelding to load. All three Youth are working in sync with each
other--everybody's looking at the job that they're doing and
paying attention.

You want to make loading into the trailer as much of an
invitation as you can. Here, everybody is doing the best they can
to make the trailer inviting with their posture, positioning and
general attitude. You can see the effect in the horse, as well:
his head has dropped and he's casually walking into what he
considers an inviting situation. 

Jessica Hein is managing editor of the Paint Horse Connection. To
comment on this article, email

Pete Lichau is an APHA member, as well as owner of Rose Gate Farm
( in Argyle, Texas. Special thanks to
John-Michael Cree, Emily Graycheck and Rachel Westmoreland for
their help illustrating this article.


Make sure you practice putting your horse into a trailer MANY
TIMES before going out somewhere. You do not want to be training
your horse to walk into a trailer in some strange place. Train
and practice at home - Keith Hunt

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