of pool noodle slipped over the end works great. Hold it near
your horse’s nose. When he touches it, make a unique sound he
won’t confuse for a spoken word or other verbal cue (a clicker
works, or a sound like “boop!”), then give him a small amount
of feed or carrot. The sound marks the behavior you want your
horse to repeat and the food reinforces the behavior.
Once that is going well, start moving the target slightly
left, right, or down. Eventually, you can move it far enough
to encourage him to take one step, then two, et cetera. Over
time, you can try it at the trailer, or if your horse is apprehensive about being
near the trailer, introduce him to obstacles that simulate trailer loading to build
his confidence. Baby steps add up and bring your horse closer to the ultimate
goal: following the target into the trailer.
Start with the lowest degree of difficulty, then increase the challenge slowly.
For example, stepping from rubber mat to a sheet of plywood. Next,
create narrow corridors to target your horse through, such as a row of
cones, then low poles, raised poles, then barrels. Anytime he’s apprehensive about a new challenge, return to something easier.
You can also “click” to mark, then reward him for showing any
interest or even a glance in the direction of whatever it is that
makes him nervous.
Driving to Load
Drive your horse on board when your trailer has no escape door
or it isn’t safe to be inside with him. The goal is to load your horse
using a long line to keep his head in alignment with the trailer
while encouraging him forward using pressure at his hindquarters.
The line should slide easily over a door, window, or tie ring without catching or fraying. It needs to be long enough to reach from
horse to the target
in a comfortable
prompt him to
reach and walk
1. Be safe: Wear gloves, boots,
2. Protect your horse’s legs during
training with standing wraps or
shipping boots. Use a head bumper
if your horse elevates his head when
he enters the trailer.
3. Choose a suitable environment:
Use a trailer that is safe, well
ventilated, brightly lit, and appropriately sized for your horse. Put hay
and treats in the trailer while you’re
training (hauling, too).
4. Train in a quiet location with no
5. Choose a time when your horse’s
demeanor is calm.
6. Practice excellent horsemanship
skills: Breathe deeply to release tension. Let go of expectations. Interact
with your horse in a quiet manner.
7. Communicate clearly: Begin with
the lightest amount pressure. Release
the pressure completely the moment
your horse responds correctly.
8. Reinforce your horse with rewards
such as wither scratches, treats, going for a walk, or a chance to graze.
9. Short sessions will prevent cognitive
overload. Take steps to reduce stress
that triggers fight or flight mode and
prevents your horse from learning or
processing new information.
10. End each session on a positive note.