Fixing The Hard To Load Horse
Loading and Hauling
In today's world, few horse owners are fortunate enough to have trails that lead right off the property. Horses often need to be hauled to shows and other events.
Transporting a horse is relatively easy, but some horses make it into a difficult and frustrating experience, either by refusing to load or by causing problems en route. If your horse takes one look at the trailer or lorry and goes 'No, thanks', what can you do?
Causes of Loading Problems
The primary cause of loading problems is that the horse was not introduced to the trailer correctly in the first place. Most horses that refuse to load are afraid to go into the trailer for some reason. This may be because they were forced or hauled in, or beaten to make them load. It is not necessarily your fault - a previous owner may have damaged a horse's willingness to load.
Some horses will refuse to load because they are being dominant or difficult and looking for a fight, making it very key not to give them one.
Horses that are only ever hauled to shows may develop loading issues as a symptom of being ring sour and needing a break. This is clearly demonstrated as many of these horses will load fine at the show when going home. (Some horses, however, will load fine at home and then refuse to leave the show grounds, perhaps because they have become over-excited).
Another significant cause of loading problems is poor driving and hauling practices. If your horse is refusing to load, then take the empty trailer out and have a friend drive behind you and then assess how you are driving. Are you going too fast? Is the trailer swinging out around corners? If the horse is having a miserable time on the trailer, then it is not surprising if he refuses to load.
Making the Loading Process Easier
The important thing is that a horse that refuses to load should never be beaten. If it is scared, applying the tactic of 'making it more scared of you' may result in short term gain, but will do nothing to fix the problem. If it is balking, then picking a fight with it will not help.
Make the inside of the trailer as inviting as possible. Some horses will refuse to load into a trailer that is painted black or dark inside...it looks like a cave and something nasty might be hiding in there. If using a front unload trailer, lowering the front ramp can help (these trailers are common in Europe but extremely rare in the United States). Never load a horse into a trailer that is not rated for that horse's size. In Europe, pony trailers are common...a horse should never be asked to load in a pony trailer. There is very real risk that the horse will bang its head, possibly injuring it and certainly making it less likely to load next time.
Hang a net of hay in the trailer...food will make any space appear more inviting. If you are not using partitions, remove them, as they narrow the space and make it look darker. Many horses are much happier if they are hauled loose.
Avoid tying a horse facing forward, straight in a trailer. This is the very worst position for a horse to keep its balance through any turns you might make. Sideways or on a slant is better. If you have a trailer that is so designed that the horse has to travel straight, consider tying him facing backwards...some horses prefer this.
Always haul with the windows open. Horses need a lot of ventilation to be happy, even if it seems extremely cold out to you. (Bear in mind that the ideal room temperature for a human is between 68 and 75 fahrenheit, but that for a horse is 45 to 55 fahrenheit. They are steppes animals originally and like it cold).
One technique that works very well with trailer shy horses is to park the trailer in the paddock or pasture and let the horse investigate it on his own time. Some people have cured hard to load horses completely by parking the trailer in the pasture and putting the horse's supplemental feed inside the trailer...if he wants to eat, he has to go in. This also makes the trailer a more inviting and friendly place.
Make arriving at the destination a pleasant thing. If the only time your horse ever hauls it's to the vet's, then take time to take it somewhere else every now and then (this is also a good idea with dogs).
Always take plenty of time about loading...allow extra time even if your horse is normally good about it. Horses sometimes have stubborn moments and decide they just don't feel like loading that day.
Load Right Now
What if you have to get a recalcitrant horse on the trailer right now? This might be because of a veterinary emergency, or it might be a new purchase and you have a good reason to want to get it home quickly.
The best method in this case is the use of a butt rope. A rope or lunge line is secured to one side of the trailer. While one handler encourages the horse in, the other steps around back and applies gentle, but firm pressure with the rope to annoy the horse into going forward. Some people also use a broom or even a fishing rod placed behind the horse. I have only seen one horse fail to load when this method was applied. (Said animal was extremely determined not to get into the trailer and turned it into a four hour battle...to this day I have no clue why he was so stubborn about it).
A lot of horses will want to look and smell inside the trailer. No matter how much of a hurry you are in, always let the horse do this. It is how they reassure themselves that this is a safe space.
In some cases, loading another horse or animal first may be the best or even the only way to get the horse onto the trailer.