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Horse won't trailer and I've tried EVERYTHING ... Help!

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    Horse won't trailer and I've tried EVERYTHING ... Help!

    Hi everyone, I wanted to get some advice on how to make trailering less scary for my horse. When I first got him a few years ago, we had a ton of trouble getting him on the trailer. It's taken up to 4 hours to get him on the trailer after a horse show. We've tried everything - carrots, apples, hay, feed, whips, brooms, clapping, sedation, lunge lines, lip chains, trotting on, blinders ... and he still puts up a huge fight.

    Given all our problems last show season, we've worked for months on groundwork and it really helped - we got to a point where we could get him on within 10min! BUT, everytime we actually move the trailer with him in it, even for just a short distance, he gets super worked up and sweaty, and once we get him off, it takes another 4 hours to get him back on.

    Most things I've read online about trailer problems go back to 'practicing good groundwork' and 'ensuring the animal respects and trusts you', and I agree with this 100%. My problem is that I always go back to square one after shipping the horse struggle somewhere! I'm looking for suggestions on how to deal with a horse that is clearly afraid of a moving trailer, and advice on how to SUSTAINABLY trailer train my horse.

    - A frustrated ammy 😔

    What type of trailer do you have? Slant, straight load, stock? Ramp or step-up? How big is the horse?


      Congrats on getting him in the trailer in 10 minutes!
      Some questions:
      Do other horses go in this trailer (ie, is this the barn's trailer, or is this yours, and only you use it)? If yours: is it possible that there is something in the trailer that hurts your horse - like, the breast bar padding has a small nail in it, that pokes him when he leans on it?
      What is "short distance"? Is this 10 miles, or 100 feet?
      I hope you have a trailer that you can use for practice, and seriously, assuming it's not injuring him, just drive him on mega-short trips.
      Good luck resolving this!


        If he is a scrambler, put the divider across and give him more room. This is more dangerous on a straight load as you now have nothing behind the horse.

        Never tie the horse with nothing behind. Tell everyone that if he goes to back out and steps on the ramp, they must drop it immediately. To do the opposite can mean they can become paraplegic.

        So the horse must learn to load and stand while you leave to put the ramp up and then go in and tie. At the other end you untie before dropping the ramp.

        It is better to ride 5 minutes a day than it is to ride 35 minutes on a Sunday.


          I thought I'd heard every possible weird thing about hauling horses until two years ago when this happened: a boarder who frequently hauled out for trail riding started having serious throuble with her previously-good-to-haul horse. He just got really difficult about every part of it.

          After getting help from a trainer and getting him loading well, then he'd back-slide after being hauled, just like OP's horse.

          After a huge amount of investigation the owner discovered a pinched wire that was shocking the horse when the trailer moved. I believe it was somehow running near the feeder area (trailer had mangers) and was shocking the horse multiple times as they went down the road!

          Sounds like OP is being diligent and trying hard with her horse. There are so many factors that can make horses leery of hauling ( and frankly why should a prey animal ever get in a rattly, small, dark, moving box anyway?) but yes, do check the trailer very very carefully for any possible painful projectile or other problem... even wiring shorts!

          Good luck, it's so frustrating having a horse that isn't easy to transport... and nothing draws a crowd faster than the difficult hauler at the showgrounds!


            Original Poster

            Hi everyone, thanks for the advice. It's a two horse straight load trailer, and the horse is 16.1, so not massive but I can still understand if he feels claustrophobic in the trailer. We do have the partition moved to the side when loading.

            I will check it thoroughly for any parts that may be hurting him on the ride, though I doubt it given its my coaches trailer and she uses it to ship other horses without issue.

            In terms of 'short distance', I mean about a 20min trip ... I agree that maybe some super short (like a a couple hundred feet) trips may help.

            Has anyone ever left a nervous horse on a trailer for an hour or two? Under supervision of course .... I wonder if I should be trying to let him stand there and get over himself for a few hours, but I don't want to make things worse by forcing him to be there longer than he has to


              Have you tried loading him with another horse in the trailer? I know it makes it more difficult to load him but if there is a pal in the trailer maybe he would be more receptive? I had a horse that hauled perfectly fine but would not load unless there was another horse already on the trailer. He didn't care if you immediately took the other horse off once he was loaded but he was unwilling unless there was another horse on board before him.


                Originally posted by Sardar View Post
                Hi everyone, thanks for the advice. It's a two horse straight load trailer, and the horse is 16.1, so not massive but I can still understand if he feels claustrophobic in the trailer. We do have the partition moved to the side when loading.

                I will check it thoroughly for any parts that may be hurting him on the ride, though I doubt it given its my coaches trailer and she uses it to ship other horses without issue.

                In terms of 'short distance', I mean about a 20min trip ... I agree that maybe some super short (like a a couple hundred feet) trips may help.

                Has anyone ever left a nervous horse on a trailer for an hour or two? Under supervision of course .... I wonder if I should be trying to let him stand there and get over himself for a few hours, but I don't want to make things worse by forcing him to be there longer than he has to
                How much desensitizing have you done? Is he OK with you banging pots and pans? Can you swing a lunge whip over his head and smack it on the ground next to him? A moving trailer shakes, rattles and rolls, with much of the stuff going on up high. Big trucks are only seen up high out the windows. If he is not OK with the clanging and banging, and the whip moving near his head, he won't handle the moving trailer.


                  It sounds like maybe you load him with the divider swung over and then swing it back once he's on? Is it a solid (to the floor) divider? If so, some horse panic when they find they can't spread their legs wider to keep their balance. Have you tried a stock trailer?


                    Just wanted to offer encouragement. Once you do figure out a consistent system, and your previously difficult loader learns to amble himself onto the trailer with an expression of mild, "here we go again; I wonder if she refilled the haynet?" -- it is so worth it.

                    I think wouldn't leave a nervous loader to stand on the trailer alone, at this point .... I worry that this would be tremendously stressful for a herd-oriented, flight-oriented animal. It seems like that would make trailering more of a punishment, when really you want the horse to understand that he is doing the right thing by loading.

                    Is there anyone in your area known for teaching horses to feel comfortable loading? In my area (Massachusetts), there is a trainer known for curing owners of difficult loaders. She is kind but clear, and taught me cues for loading that are totally consistent, so even if the horse decides to test me, that first time loading after several months or whatever, I just go back to the system. Since I know exactly how to break things down, the horse does too, and at this point, we're over any drama in at most, at most 5 minutes. There is no yelling, no whips, no butt ropes, no longe-ing outside the trailer (that was a disaster), no crying. :-) (I say this because I remember one night of crying at a trailhead in the woods, as it was getting dark, and husband at home was angry because I was late, etc. The crying didn't work, and I ended up riding horse home 7 miles on roads and sidewalks during world's most mosquito-infested evening ever.)


                      Two things I've tried with past horses in somewhat similar situations:

                      1) a mild tranquilizer for the one that panicked in trailers (I'm sure this is not going to be a popular suggestion, but it did work perfectly over a few sessions. It seemed to break the connection in his mind between trailer and bad stuff. I am proud to say he hauled and stood perfectly on the trailer for the remainder of our hauling career).

                      2) professional loading trainer for two of my horses who were reluctant or horrible loaders. Sometimes ya gotta know your limitations as a trainer, and loading is one of mine.


                        The bare wire causing a current in the trailer is a classic, and more common that one would often think. But if no other horses who are shipped in the trailer are experiencing this, it's probably not the problem here. The configuration of the trailer may not suit this horse. The stall may be too narrow for him (may be OK for all other horses). The trailer may be too low for him to be comfortable. Some horses are claustrophobic about tight spaces, or what they THINK are tight spaces.

                        I'd try shipping in a box stall, or a stock trailer, untied. And use some mild tranquilizer (acepromazine) for the first few trips, just so he can experience stress free shipping. Withdraw the ace after he finds out that a trailer ride can be OK. Make sure that you drive like a civilized person... slow and easy. In the event that you can not find access to a higher ceiling trailer, removing the partitions creates the effect of more space, more air, in the trailer. A horse likes to be able to move his feet, find the position in the trailer that he finds the best for travelling. Do not "leave the horse in the trailer" for a long period of time without the trailer moving down the road, thinking that that will improve things, because it is likely that it won't. More likely that doing this will result in the horse becoming more frantic, since he does not need to concentrate on keeping his balance, and compensating for the motion of the trailer.

                        There is always a reason, your job is to try to figure out what that reason is. Good luck!


                          OP may not want to hear this, but years ago I had a mare (15.2 hands tall) that I would trailer in what was called a Quarter Horse trailer. Step-up, side by side, escape door on the sides, mangers in front. Pretty common trailer back in the 70's (and still is). However, Mare believed the trailer was insufficient, and one day, driving down the road, I heard and felt a lot of commotion, pulled over and found her with her front feet up in the manger. No harm done -- I'd have thought she had plenty of space in the trailer, but not in her mind!

                          I've had slant load two-horse trailers (step-up) that horses either loved or hated. Mostly hated. I bought a 16.1 hand Hanoverian, and he JUST fit in it with the divider tied back! Yes, a long horse. He'd NEVER have fit into my old side-by-side QH trailer. I bought him a more suitable trailer pretty quickly.

                          Try a stock trailer, or a trailer that allows you to walk the horse right through the trailer with ramps (like a side/rear loading Hawk). A trainer friend and I "cured" a claustrophobic bad loader with my Hawk. We took out all the dividing hardware, and spent a few sessions walking him forward in and out of the trailer, gradually adding the hardware and doors as he could mentally deal with it.

                          Something else to consider: when the trailer is loaded and going down the road, is it traveling level or is it tipped up or down from the hitch? A tippy trailer adds stress to the ride for the horse and is lots less stable to haul. Been there, done that, too!


                            Originally posted by NancyM View Post
                            The bare wire causing a current in the trailer is a classic, and more common that one would often think. But if no other horses who are shipped in the trailer are experiencing this, it's probably not the problem here. The configuration of the trailer may not suit this horse. The stall may be too narrow for him (may be OK for all other horses). The trailer may be too low for him to be comfortable. Some horses are claustrophobic about tight spaces, or what they THINK are tight spaces.
                            This. It doesn't even have to be a maintenance problem that may cause a horse to have issues with loading, it can just be the trailer itself. I had a good shipper become a bad shipper due to two trailers. The first was a WB-height straight load (he's 14.1hh) and the chest bar was set too high for him to be comfortable. The second was a 1H slant (think of it as an oddly shaped box stall) with a step up that was more of a jump up for him. He'd stand at the bottom and anxiously dance around until he worked up the courage to jump on. $1100 later, we have a ramp on the 1H slant, and he's back to walking on calmly and cheerfully with 0 anxiety. It wasn't a training problem, it was a trailer problem.
                   - Eventing the Welsh Cob


                              Have you ever tried loading him into a Diffrent rig, w/ a side ramp and shipping him facing backwards? Or in a box stall....I can tell you I had a wonderful loader who was flat out claustrophobic in a 2 horse straight load or a slant..but in a bigger rig head to head riding backwards he never broke a sweat........


                                I have a trailer that was causing my horses to arrive sweaty and disturbed. And then refuse to get back on the trailer. Very long story short: they were slipping on the rubber matted floor while wearing metal shoes. Once I figured this out, I pulled shoes and the horses loaded easily into their "rolling hay dispenser" and rode happily.

                                Have you ever tried riding in the back while it is being towed? This might be insightful.


                                  Have you tried putting him on the other side of the trailer?

                                  At one point I had to horses, one much smaller than the other. So I traveled with the big one on the left and the small one on the right, and all was fine.

                                  Then I just had the small one, and loaded him on the left side of the trailer. He loaded fine, but would start scrambling, and often fell down, as soon as we moved. Once he fell down even before I had the ramp closed.

                                  Then I switched him to the right side, and he traveled fine. He thought he needed to spread his feet to the LEFT, and he couldn't do that on the left side of the trailer.

                                  chief feeder and mucker for Music, Belle and Tiara. Someone else is now feeding and mucking for Chief and Brain (both foxhunting now). Spy is gone. April 15, 1982 to Jan 10, 2019.


                                    Original Poster

                                    Hi again everyone, thanks for all the great support and suggestions! A couple people made the point about the trailer itself not being right for him, which is a very good thought. An expensive fix, but a fix nonetheless 😉

                                    I will see if my coach will drive me around in her trailer with me in the back, I think that's a great idea to see if there is anything obvious that might be spooking him.

                                    We did some trailer training with him today and it was pretty successful - he's a smart horse, and somehow he knows when we are just training vs. actually going somewhere, because today he walked right on. That said, once I closed up the back he had a hissy fit (pawing, swinging his head, snorting), and we weren't even moving. That said, I appreciate what NancyM said above, about how leaving him in the trailer without it moving just makes him concentrate on his fear more, and he needs movement to concentrate on balancing.

                                    I might try taking the partition out altogether like a couple of you suggested. We've shipped him in a box stall two years ago and he tore up the mats and punched through the window bars so we've always been hesitant to do it again, but it might be the best solution for a nervous horse ...

                                    One other thing I thought of today was seeing if earplugs + blinders work ... I wonder if the stuff going on around him is freaking him out ... Has anyone shipped a horse with a radio on in the back? We always have one on in the barn so it might provide some comfort?

                                    I have considered hiring a professional to help deal with it but I don't know of any in my area. I'm going to keep working on it for a few weeks and if we don't get anywhere I'll see if I can find a reputable professional to help.


                                      John Lyons has a great method for teaching a horse to load. It takes time and commitment, but it has worked on every horse I have used it on from young to old.


                                        This is probably a much more "hoke-y" answer, but I'd make it a part of his regular routine to get on. Maybe that is where he eats dinner those days/evenings. It's not weird to load him and let him hang out, as long as he isn't thrashing around or going to hurt himself.

                                        As long as trailer isn't hurting him or otherwise at fault, I'd try to have it associate it with regular life, just like a stall or cross ties.

                                        It truly is a wonder they get in for us though. If I was a horse, and I was looking into a dark weird portable tunnel, I don't know how excited I'd be to jump in.