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Need Advice on Stopping Horse Bolting Out of the Trailer

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  • Need Advice on Stopping Horse Bolting Out of the Trailer

    So, my guy is a 14 year old experienced campaigner who has always self loaded onto the trailer and who has always exited it in a gentlemanly manner - that is, until recently. All of a sudden, without any occurrence to blame it on, he has started bolting out of the trailer when we go to unload him. It doesn't matter if he is alone or if there is another horse in the trailer with him. If we let him leave on his own he rushes/scrambles backwards in (seemingly) a panic. If we try and back him out while lightly holding the lead rope he does the same thing only with his head thrown up in the air. Naturally, he stops at the bottom of the ramp. We are, of course worried about his (and our) safety. Has any one out there had a similar experience and, if so, how did you fix the problem? Many thanks for for your thoughts and suggestions.

  • #2
    I do not have suggestions on fixing this in the trailer, but I have a horse that does the same thing when walking through any opening. He has very wide hips and regularly hits them on things, causing him to be very nervous. We work a lot with just walking him through doors where he is not hitting his hips, and it has helped him to calm down. His problem is actually nice at competitions though because you can leave his door open, and he will not walk out. Is it possible something like this happened to your horse? We always load and unload my horse last with both trailer doors open and as much room as possible.


    • #3
      Make sure he leads well first-- does he stop when you stop, at your shoulder, immediately without tugging on the halter? Get that basic obedience first, so that he is 100% mindful of you.

      Then start at the ramp. You say he loads well, so this should be fairly easy. Walk one foot up ramp, stop. "Good boy," pat/treat. Back off. Take two steps up the ramp, both feet on. Stop, "good boy," pat/treat. Back off. Take three steps up the ramp, stop. "Good boy." Back one step, halt. Pat/treat. Then another step off. See where this is going? Get all four feet on the ramp, halt, then back off step by step, pausing when you say so. Treats work well to keep his mind on what you want, not where he is going.

      When he is fully controlled going up and backing down the ramp, let him load all the way onto the trailer. Then back him off step by slow, halting step. Give treats for standing still so he doesn't get worried. Take a step forward occasionally, so he isn't totally focused on BACK.

      Don't be surprised if he has a moment of panic with one hind foot on the ramp and flies backwards. It happens. DON'T hang on the rope with all your weight, he will only throw his head up, hit his poll, and reinforce his reasons for running outa there. If a horse is very worried and prone to panicked lunging off the trailer, I'll stick his nose in a bucket of grain, held low, and slowly back off with his head in the bucket. Then progress to a few treats in hand, given sparingly.

      Always unload this horse carefully for quite a while. The problem can crop up again if an unfamiliar person tries to unload him and lets him rush. Also, make sure your ramp is not slick! This is a big reason horses rush, if they've ever slipped backing off a ramp. It may help to throw a large towel down on the ramp for added traction, it makes many horses feel more secure.
      “A clever person solves a problem. A wise person avoids it.”
      ? Albert Einstein



      • #4
        Agree w CatchMe, your horse probably had a bad experience - maybe not noticed by his handlers?
        I would start from scratch loading and unloading without going anywhere, start without even closing him in in the trailer. Walk him in, wait, praise him (carrot), and walk out.
        He needs to start trusting you again. Your horse needs to feel comfortable standing there with you in the trailer, open and not backing out until asked to do so.
        I know it is aggravating and takes xtra time but it is the only way to make the trailering a safe journey.
        I've had a huge trouble with my young horse.
        Due to load/unload issues - I was xtremely frustrated being late to lessons or even canceling.
        I prefer to turn my horse around to exit, but depends on your trailer. What I did - I loaded, he backed out hastily, I did it again, moved his feet in the trailer from side to side, making him focus on me, yes a lot of treats! Positive reinforcement
        I've let him exit as many times as he needed, and I made a point of not looking at my watch. also I never restricted his exit once he started backing. If you restrict and tug, jerk lead rope they will go up and hit their head.
        I give slack, he exits and I immediately ask him to load again. Eventually that works.
        I have a step up trailer. No ramp.
        Good luck!


        • #5
          Originally posted by tlw View Post
          All of a sudden, without any occurrence to blame it on....
          So incredibly doubtful.

          It may be without any occurrence to blame on that you know about but he didn't just decide one day to make a 180 degree change in behavior for no reason.


          • #6
            My 18h DraftX does this if I'm not careful. What works for him is to calmly, calmly ask him to back out of the trailer one. step. at. a. time. If his eyes start to get big, his head comes up, or he shows any other sign of "gotta bolt backwards" he is calmly but firmly asked to stop, petted and then asked to take one more step back again. It always takes us a while to get unloaded, but he seems to be comforted by the slow, easy, controlled backing. I've found that the bigger deal that I make out of it, the worse he gets. He also wears a head bumper every ride because he does love to fling his head up as he steps down.


            • #7
              Might not be a viable option, but does he still fly out on a non-ramp trailer? I don't much like ramps myself, and while I don't think it's quite the same I did have a problem loader that liked to get all the way in and then back out at mach speed as soon as you left his head (but before you could get the door shut). I bought him his very own stock trailer, hauled him backwards until he got over the problem and eventually was able to face forward again.


              • #8
                Peppermints in crinkly wrappers are a great incentive to use when working on slowly unloading. I keep crinkling that wrapper, and my horse gets so interested, he forgets to bolt.


                • #9
                  I find many horses that bolt off the trailer unload better if you have a firm hand on their butt before you drop the butt bar. Just a reminder that you are there and something to steady them.

                  Sometimes I will grab the tail and bring it to the side of the horse to lightly support them. I do NOT crank the tail to the side.

                  I also start talking to them before I drop the butt bar. "Easy, easy......"
                  Oh, well, clearly you're not thoroughly indoctrinated to COTH yet, because finger pointing and drawing conclusions are the cornerstones of this great online community. (Tidy Rabbit)


                  • #10
                    Double check your trailer all over, brakes, under, hitch., the matts, is he hearing or sensing something with the trailer that concerns him?


                    • Original Poster

                      Lots of good advice. Thanks for taking the time respond.


                      • #12
                        An old trainer I know had one that would fly back/bolt off the trailer. When all else failed, he backed the trailer up to a pond.

                        Horse didn't fly off the trailer after that.
                        Visit my Spoonflower shop


                        • #13
                          Make sure your truck has the parking brake on.

                          Then stick you horse's face in a bucket of grain, shove the bucket back so that he has to step back in order to keep eating. You can hold the bucket or put it on the floor and then shove it back little by little so he has to step back in order to keep eating. The advantage to putting the bucket on the floor is that when his head is down he can see the ramp between his legs. If his head is up, his butt is in the way and it is hard for them to see the ramp.

                          The worst thing you can do is to pull on him to try to keep him from going back.


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by red mares View Post
                            An old trainer I know had one that would fly back/bolt off the trailer. When all else failed, he backed the trailer up to a pond.

                            Horse didn't fly off the trailer after that.
                            I was going to recount a similar story that my trainer told me. Instead of a pond, it was Lake Erie. Don't worry. The horse didn't catch any disgusting disease from the lake! But he sure stepped out of the trailer more carefully!