Train Your Horse to Load Quickly, Confidently and Consistently
by Laura Schonberg
If you have ever spent any time at a trailhead, busy arena, or show day parking lot, you have likely witnessed this intense scenario: horse(s) refusing to load in a trailer. If you’re anything like me, I experience this periodically at home, in my own driveway. While safely loading relies on the most basic foundational skills, it can also be frustrating to the point of tears. Trailer loading quickly, confidently and consistently depends on the horse following the human’s lead and having the skills to walk in easily and stand comfortably. Consider the following:
Following the human: Is your horse connected to you and will it move off readily (able and willing) when you walk? Would he/she follow you anywhere? When you move to the trailer, is the horse stepping forward freely?
Sending: Can you send your horse to a place, around an object, or into a space (a stall, up a step, through a gate, around a barrel, back over a pole)? Will it follow your feel when you open a place for it to go? Do you have a way to back up your request in a way that is prompt, specific, and understood (moving the feet, end of a lead rope, directing more energy, etc.)?
Free with the feet: Does your horse know it can move its feet in the trailer? Will it move off your pressure for one step forward, back, or to either side?
Stalling: Will your horse wait for you, and step up with only one or two feet into the trailer, and then back off? Will your horse back out of the trailer and wait with one or two feet front feet inside? While at the trailer, will your horse wait for you to load, standing quietly? Once in the trailer, will your horse wait for you to back or step out?
Developing the skills of following, sending, being free with their feet, and stalling/pausing in spaces can and should all be practiced on the ground, and in different locations, to build the confidence and skills to do so in a high stakes situation such as trailer loading. Even spending five minutes, on any one of the above components—on the ground on a rainy night or during a rushed morning—can help establish the relationship required for successful trailer loading. Doing something is much better than nothing to create skills for safe and consistent loading. And, you’ll reap rewards far beyond the back of a trailer.
Thankful to call the Pacific Northwest home, Laura Schonberg is an educator in a local school district and is outside at her place when she isn’t inside at work. Summers are spent cow-girling at a friend’s ranch, with forrays into the Cascade Mountains as time and weather permit year-round. Winter finds her at a local barn doing dressage lessons to support her ranch riding, and re-starting horses through the county’s equine rescue program.