1. Trailer loading is simply a go forward and go backwards cue. Try not to complicate it by trying to get the whole horse on the trailer; concentrate on his left front foot only and move that forwards and backwards until he is loading and unloading quietly.
2. Teach on and off at the same time. Horses that get on but rush off backwards are often much more frightened of getting off the trailer than getting on. This is why when they are finally on they shoot backwards. By teaching this one-foot-on and one-foot-off the horse learns to build confidence and backs off carefully and slowly when asked.
3. Always ask your horse off. In the beginning try to anticipate when you think he might back off himself and give him the cue to do so just before this (if you can, otherwise cue him as he is backing off, as if it was your idea). In the end your horse will wait for you to ask him off, but only if he knows the cue.
4. Get the emotional level right. There is a point at which your horse can learn – a ‘learning zone’ if you like. This is where he is emotional enough to be engaged but not so emotional as to be frightened. In other words, you don’t want him falling asleep or jumping out of his skin!
5. Make the trailer the ‘nice place to be’ but don’t make outside the trailer the horrible place to be. Running the horse around and around, frightening him and making his emotional level go through the roof will not encourage him to load on to the float. It greatly increases the risk of injury to both horse and handler.
6. Never tie the horse before doing up the ramp and always untie the horse before lowering the ramp when you arrive at your destination.
7. Don’t have food in the trailer when teaching this lesson. You may be able to bribe some horses on to a trailer at some times but not all horses will load for food especially very nervous horses or those that have had a bad experience. Having a hay bag can create a particular problem as horses often get to the front of the trailer, grab some hay, throw their head up while getting it from the bag, bang their head on the roof and go running off backwards.
8. Allow yourself plenty of time. For a horse that has never been on the trailer this lesson should take about 20 minutes but it can take up to an hour and a half for a horse that has had an accident or a very bad experience (or simply been taught not to load). Watch your horse for signs of physical or mental (much more likely) tiredness and stop there and pick the lesson up again another day.
For a comprehensive trailer loading course go to ‘online courses‘ on my website and download the PDF course, complete with video step-by-step lesson.