how to load a stubborn horse into a trailer

Ultimate Guide to Loading a Stubborn Horse into a Trailer

by | Aug 5, 2023 | Equine Behavior, Equine Health

One challenge faced by countless horse owners around the world, is the process of loading a stubborn horse into a trailer. Like fitting a square peg into a round hole, this task can test the patience and skill of even the most seasoned equestrians. This guide delves deep into the nuances of this situation, shedding light on the psychology of horses and techniques to encourage a smooth loading experience. At the heart of our approach lies patience, consistency, and an unwavering commitment to safety.

Understanding the Mind of a Horse:

Nature of Horses and Resistance to Loading: Horses are prey animals. Their evolutionary instinct is to be wary of confined spaces that could make them vulnerable to predators. This primal fear can manifest as resistance to loading, especially if a trailer is unfamiliar or has been associated with negative experiences. The keyword here is “trust”. Just as humans hesitate to step into unfamiliar situations, a horse needs assurance that the trailer is a safe space.

Building Trust with Your Horse: Understanding is the foundation of trust. Spend time with your horse, be observant of its fears and anxieties. Reinforce positive behaviors with rewards and create a bond that makes the horse perceive you as its protector. A horse that trusts its handler is more likely to follow cues, even when apprehensive.

Pre-loading Environment:

Creating the Right Atmosphere: Ambience is everything. A chaotic, noisy environment can agitate a horse, making it more resistant to enter a trailer. Before attempting to load, ensure the surroundings are calm. A familiar setting, perhaps a favorite grazing spot or a quiet corner of the barn, can ease the process.

Addressing Health Concerns: Physical pain or illness can also be reasons for a horse’s reluctance. Before concluding that a horse is being ‘stubborn,’ consider the possibility of underlying health issues. Regular check-ups, especially before long trips, can prevent unnecessary stress for both horse and handler.

Key Techniques to Encourage Loading:

Bigger Trailers for Beginners: For a claustrophobic animal, space is comforting. If you’re working with a first-time loader or a particularly resistant horse, consider a more spacious trailer. A larger entrance, good ventilation, and visible escape routes can ease a horse’s anxieties.

Maintain Composure: Horses are incredibly perceptive. They pick up on the handler’s energy and emotions. A calm, confident demeanor from the handler can work wonders. Conversely, if the handler is tense or anxious, the horse is more likely to mirror that energy, making loading more difficult.

Mastering the Bowline Hitch Technique: The bowline hitch provides control without causing discomfort. Familiarize yourself with this technique to establish gentle yet firm guidance. A step-by-step guide is essential, especially for beginners, to ensure both safety and efficiency.

Incorporating Movement: Sometimes, building a horse’s momentum is the key. Approach the trailer in a straight line, using guiding ropes if necessary, and let the horse’s own pace carry it forward.

Circle Working for Resistant Horses: If straight-on approaches don’t work, try circle work. Guide the horse in wide circles around the trailer. This can tire them slightly, making them more amenable to loading.

Adopting Patience and Consistency: Rome wasn’t built in a day, and sometimes, neither is a horse’s comfort with trailers. Take breaks if needed, but be consistent in your approach. Reward even the smallest progress and remember—patience is paramount.

Group effort leading horse into trailer

Addressing Inherent Risks:

Safety First: Loading a horse into a trailer is not without its risks. Horses can get spooked, leading to sudden, unpredictable movements. Ensure that the path to the trailer is clear of obstacles. Wear appropriate protective gear, such as gloves and boots, to avoid any injuries.

Protecting the Horse: Just as you safeguard yourself, protect your horse from potential injuries. The trailer’s entrance should be smooth, with no protruding parts that a horse might bump into. Consider padding the trailer’s walls and roof, especially for taller horses.

Post-loading Protocols:

Once Inside: Once your horse is inside the trailer, the process isn’t over. Ensure the horse is comfortable, with adequate ventilation and no binding of harnesses or ropes.

Reinforcing Positive Behavior: Like any training, repetition is key. Regular loading and unloading practice helps in reinforcing positive behavior, making the horse more accustomed and less resistant over time.

Calming your horse in the trailer

Unraveling the Mystery: Why Horses Might Resist Loading:

Distractions: Sudden noises, other animals, or even weather conditions can distract a horse. Being mindful of the environment and minimizing these distractions can smooth the loading process.

Past Traumas: A bad loading experience in the past can create a lasting memory for a horse, making them apprehensive. In such cases, patience and gentle reconditioning are crucial.

Physical Discomfort: As touched upon earlier, health issues, whether a sore hoof or a larger medical condition, can make loading painful. Regular veterinary check-ups are a must.

Dynamics with Other Horses: If you’re loading multiple horses, be aware of their interpersonal dynamics. Horses have a hierarchy, and sometimes loading a dominant horse first can make it easier for the others to follow.

Allowing horse to get fresh air from trailer

Assessing the Trailer:

A Safe Haven or a Fearful Box?: Your trailer’s condition plays a significant role in a horse’s willingness to enter. Clean, well-ventilated trailers with good footing are more inviting. Regular maintenance checks ensure the trailer remains in optimal condition.

Selecting a Horse-friendly Trailer: If purchasing a new trailer or considering an upgrade, research features that horses find comforting, such as windows, spacious interiors, and non-slip flooring.

Common Mistakes to Avoid:

Aggressive Techniques: Yelling, pushing, or using force are not just inhumane but counterproductive. Such tactics can deepen a horse’s fear, making future loading even more challenging.

Premature Tying: Tying a horse inside the trailer before they’re fully comfortable can cause panic. Always wait until the horse is calm and settled before securing them.

Securing horse in trailer


Loading a stubborn horse into a trailer isn’t just about the act itself; it’s about understanding, patience, and consistency. By diving deep into the horse’s psyche, creating a conducive environment, and employing gentle techniques, we can turn a daunting task into a manageable, even rewarding, experience.

Related: The Best Calming Supplements for Horses

About The Author

<a href="" target="_self">Austin Davis</a>

Austin Davis

Austin Davis, is a real-life cowboy hailing from the sweeping plains of Texas. He was born and bred in the heart of cowboy country and has spent his entire life immersed in the ranching and rodeo culture. With a firm grasp on everything from cattle drives to the subtleties of horse whispering, Austin brings an unparalleled authenticity to his writing that comes straight from the source.

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