View Full Version : Teach to back out of straight load trailer?

Dec. 3, 2010, 11:19 PM
My TB mare is accustomed to a friend's 3 horse straight load in which she can turn around and walk out. I may be getting a two horse straight which requires her to back out. She is quite apprehensive about backing out and did not want to reload once she had backed out (but eventually did). Do horses just get used to backing out? Is there anything I could do to help her out such as a verbal cue when it is time to step down or even installing a 2 x 4 board at the edge so she knows it's time to step down? I think what freaks her out is she doesn't know when the trailer ends and "space" begins. Thanks in advance for any wisdom that can be offered.

Dec. 4, 2010, 11:58 AM
First of all, get a trailer with a ramp. Then teach her to back up when you ask her to, on flat ground. "Back"-she backs, you praise. Not hard. I always say "check" to my horses when their next step will be from ramp to ground. They know what I'm talking about bc I do the same thing every single time. Choose words that are easy for you to say each time then use them each time. Train her to the trailer when you are not in a hurry and have NOTHING else to do. Put her in, praise/treat, let her stand there a few minutes and take her down. Walk around, praise, do it again. Never lose your temper, quit while you're ahead and be VERY generous with the praise.

Dec. 4, 2010, 12:18 PM
Thanks riverbendpol, all very good advice. Unfortunately this trailer does not have a ramp. I did get her in and out of it twice yesterday (bribed her with horse treats and hay and lots of praise). It was harder to get her in the second time- I think it took about 30 minutes- I think because she did not like the back out experience the first time- I was very patient with her because I could tell she was quite apprehensive. Angel knows what back means, she seems very hesitant to back out of the trailer because she does not know where the edge is. I will start using a voice command to indicate when she can step down. She's very smart on voice commands. I just hope she will eventually figure out how to step down confidently. Anyone else care to share your experiences with horses learning to back out?

Dec. 4, 2010, 12:37 PM
Back the trailer into a ditch/hill so the step down is small at first, then work up to the full step. Some horses never get used to it.

My Two Cents
Dec. 4, 2010, 12:58 PM
We have always backed our horses out of a stock trailer. We give a warning word "easy" when they are at the edge. We will start by only putting the front feet in and out a few times to start to get them used to a step down. Be careful of footing when using a hill or ditch that if they slip they don't get their feet underneath. Patience is important!

Dec. 4, 2010, 01:12 PM
I had a horse that hated to back and his issue was NOT with the step, it was with the actual doorway. I don't know if a door had slammed shut on him once, but I cured it by just loading his front end and feeding him treats, backing him out from just the two FRONT feet being in the trailer..

Work your way up to getting him to put 3 feet in. It is a little tricky but if you can catch them right as they lift the third foot up and make them back out on 3, it will help you.

Good Luck!

Dec. 4, 2010, 01:17 PM
Definitely teach her how to back on the ground first! When training her to your trailer... go for a piece of the pie at first -- one foot in trailer, back off; then two feet and back her off. It really sucks to get a horse all the way on and then can't get them off because they don't know how to back.

You can also build a platform 'step' to make it easier for her to get in/out of the trailer while teaching... once she understands that she's not going to fall off the face of the earth you can remove it.

Totally agree with MTC... always back a horse off a trailer... never know when they might be riding in a trailer and they can't turn around!

Dec. 4, 2010, 01:59 PM

Forget the trailer for a little while.

Teach your horse to back to a verbal cue on the ground....use whatever cue you want but be sure it is one you will remember/use when you are getting her off the trailer.

Go to a round pen or a fenceline that is fairly straight. Teach your horse to go between you and the fence...start with a fairly wide space and gradually decrease the distance between you and the fence until she can go through a 2-3 foot wide space...use a 12 foot or longer lead rope, ask for her to pass through and then turn around and come back through. Work on this until she goes through at a calm walk and looks like she's bored silly.

Get a couple of pallets and a 4 x 8 sheet of 3/4 inch exterior plywood and lay it on the pallets to make a "bridge" or "floor" that she has to step up on and walk over.....nail it down to the pallets for stability. Repeat the above lesson using this so she has to step on it, across it and off of it. You can begin giving a verbal cue such as "step up" when she approaches it.

Now get a couple straw bales...set them up two high along the side of the pallets/plywood and stand on the outside of this space...now she has a chute to walk into with a thunky sounding floor to step up onto and over. Again, repeat going through this from both directions by sending her through with you standing in the middle of the "side" and turning her around after each pass through. Continue using the verbal cue you've chosen.

Next...get two more straw bales and place them across the "end" of the chute. Have her walk into the chute and stop (she'll probably want to eat the straw bales...you can wrap in a tarp if necessary to keep her from doing this)...when she has to stop because her ability to walk through is now blocked give her a "whoa" or "stand" and reward her for standing still.

Ask for one step back....she should know this from the ground work done earlier. Praise her and step her forward again. Repeat until she is taking one step without hesitation and with a calm easy look to her. Go to doing a second step and repeat. Continue to extend the number of steps....when she reaches the step off have her stop and stand quietly and move her forward again. Next time ask for ONE more step and then immediately "whoa" so that she has one foot off and the other three on the plywood. Step forward again. Repeat until one foot off is fine and then continue to two feet and then three and finally all four. Move the last two strawbales to the other end of the "side" and "load" from the other direction doing all the steps to have her learn where to step down on your cue. You can raise the side and front of your chute with another couple bales so that you are now having to stand back by the "door"....use pressure back on the halter as little as possible as even from behind by the door this gives some lateral pull encouraging her to turn her head....not what you want.

Go to the trailer and do the same general thing (you can pull the trailer up next to a fence if that helps for keeping her straight)...the step up will be higher even with a low sitting trailer so she will need to learn how tall to step up and how far down the ground is. If you have her moving one foot at a time on cue though she should be fine with this.

Usually takes about maybe 2 hours but plan on more time and quit only when she's done something you can honestly praise her for doing.

BTW there are pros/cons for ramp vs step up but I like step ups for several reasons. I've seen horses slice legs pretty nastily by stepping off the side of a ramp. And I know of a national level cutting trainer whose husband got killed by a kick in the head as he bent down to pick up the half ramp and fasten it...happened on the roadside as they stopped to check horses going home from a big show....horses had been fussing a bit so they pulled off and checked...he was closing up the trailer when one kicked. I HATE having my face/head down close to hind feet when raising the ramp.

Slightly funny story about an old cowboy rancher here about 12 years back....had a mare that would bolt out backwards as soon as the back of the trailer was open..had to untie her first as she would break bull snaps or halters in her efforts to get out. He got tired of it. We have big, deep, wide irrigation canals here....40 feet or so across, 12-15 feet deep and full of water. He backed his trailer up to the edge of one of these, untied the mare and opened the rear...she bolted out backwards into 12 feet of water and had to swim....had a long lead rope on so they were able to grab it and lead her down the ditch (swimming) a couple hundred feet to a spot where the bank was sloped enough she could get out. Never bolted out again.

Dec. 5, 2010, 03:35 PM
Don't worry, once you teach them to back gradually, they learn to feel for the step. I used John Lyons method which sounds a lot like the ones previously described. All mine learn to feel for the step off and not completely shift their weight until the back foot is on solid ground. They back up slowly and carefully in every type of trailer regardless of length.

Dec. 5, 2010, 06:03 PM
They do learn with time. I just help them take it slow. When they are about to take the step down, I say "Step!" so they know it's coming. They seem to pick it up pretty quickly. I am not a ramp fan, so I much prefer the step, but like any equipment, you do have to teach your horse how to use it. If you have a slope you can back up to to reduce height, this can help introduce it gradually.

Dec. 5, 2010, 07:43 PM
I teach my horses to back by a tail tug, but this backfired on me the day someone tried to braid my horse's tail :) they tugged more than I do and my poor horse kept trying to obey and back up for them :)

very easy to teach your horse to back sanely and confidently out of the trailer, ramp or no ramp, in an afternoon if you have a good rapport with your horse: first have good quiet horse, quiet day, and good backing skills already in place. Have the trailer safely set up so you can practice getting on and off.

Approach the trailer as if you're going to load, but stop a few feet before getting on. Pause. Then ask your horse to back a few steps, straight back, introducing your "cue" and praise. Repeat several times. Give a 2 min break of just standing quietly for soak time.

Then lead your horse all the way up to the base of the trailer/ramp. Pause and then again teach your 'cue' whatever it is, to back straight away from the trailer a few steps, and praise. Repeat until the cue is solidly established. Give a 10 min break of grazing/hay bag for reward/soak time.

Then, and here is the fun part, lead the horse up to the trailer and ask them to put one foot in the trailer (if its a step up. both fronts on if its a ramp), and PAUSE, with just one foot in the trailer, and then give your cue to back out. Repeat the one foot a few times, then advance to two feet step up (or all four on ramp) and back on cue. Don't actually load the horse yet, this is an important part of the learning process. Repeat both fronts till the horse is really blazé. Give a 2 min break of just standing quietly for soak time.

Then advance to stepping 3 feet up (loading half way in if its a ramp), pause, unload on cue. Then advance to fully loading, pause, unload on cue.

You should, by that time, have a horse who is thoroughly schooled, totally confident and completely unimpressed by the unloading process.

The secret is having them so well broken to the idea of backing out of the trailer before ever actually loading them, that it completely removes the OMG factor. They don't have to think, they're fully schooled by the time the scary part happens.

Dec. 5, 2010, 09:03 PM
Definitely practice with a platform first as some people have said.

One thing that is also very helpful is to ask your horse to lower her head! That way she will be able to see between her legs where the end of the trailer is. If her head is up, her butt is in her way of seeing behind her. I have found this helpful with horses that are nervous. I have a ramp though. I teach all my horses to lower their heads with just some pressure on the halter. Keeping her head low will also automatically help keep her calmer.

Dec. 6, 2010, 10:15 AM
Thanks so much for all the great advice. I did end up buying this trailer and she has now loaded and unloaded from the trailer a total of about 5 times. I think she is starting to get it. It sure is exciting to finally have a trailer! Again thanks for all of the fantastic advice. Ya'll are great!

Dec. 6, 2010, 10:49 AM
What buck22 said!! Teach them to load one foot at a time and unload the same one. Up to the trailer, one foot on, then one foot unload, then 2 feet on, then 2 feet unload, then 3, then 4. Do NOT let them complete the load until all 4 feet are trained.