* I am not a professional horse trainer, but I did teach this myself and want to share in hopes of helping others struggling with the same issues! *
Is trailering a nightmare? Does it take you more than two minutes to get your horse on the trailer? Do you have to use drugs and force? If so, this post is for you!
Believe me, I’ve been there. No amount of sedative, chains, whips, ropes around the bum, nothing could get West into a trailer. Even more, once he was inside, he was a monster. With the methods I’m about to share with you, I can now point at my trailer and say “in” from 40 yards away and West will load himself. For real for real.
Before we start with anything, you HAVE to have your horse’s trust and respect. Nothing about walking into a small, dark, aluminum box is natural for a horse, and I imagine it’s quite scary. I wouldn’t follow someone who I didn’t trust into that either if I was a horse.
I highly highly recommend following Clinton Anderson’s method “Lunging for Respect” before starting anything with the trailer. I will link it here! I did this with West years ago and it completely changed him. I still incorporate it into our fitness lunges, and any time he needs a bit of a refresher.
Once you’re sure your horse trusts you and you’re positive that he respects you as an authority figure, you can move into the actual basics of self loading.
To start, we need to teach an “in” command. Do this somewhere that the horse is comfortable. I personally use the stall, but you can use your horse’s paddock as well. Open the door or gate, throw the rope over the shoulder, point inside, and say “in.” If your horse goes in, reward. Your reward can be verbal, physical, or in the form of a treat. I usually choose to use all three. Maximize your reward for greater accomplishments.
What happens if your horse doesn’t go in? Get his focus back and try again. Sometimes it helps to be holding a whip in your hand for a bit of encouragement from behind. An assistant might also be of help when it comes to the encouragement department.
Keep doing this until it’s almost foolproof. Once your horse really understands what the command means and what he’s supposed to do, start to add some distance. Back up from the stall door a few feet. Then a few feet more. Then see if he’ll go to his stall from the entryway of the barn.
After distance, add distractions. Maybe a bucket of grain on the ground in his direct path. Maybe a flake of hay. Maybe it’s another horse in the aisle. The more distractions and distance you add, the better off you’re going to be when it comes time to transition this to the trailer.
This is the easy part. However, it needs to be done right and it needs to be foolproof if you want to make the transition to the trailer as smooth as it can be. Don’t rush it and don’t force it. Nothing worth having ever came quickly! Do short, stress free sessions, frequently. Teaching the “in” command should take no more than a week if done correctly, most horses pick it up on the first day!
Happy training, check back in a few days for the next step to self loading!