Tips for Trouble-Free Horse Trailering

Patience, preparation and a tried-and-true approach to loading can make every travel experience a safe, trouble-free one for your horse. By Whit Watkins with Liz Iliff for Practical Horseman magazine.

Whenever I see a fellow competitor having trouble loading a horse into a trailer, I run as fast as I can. in the other direction. A slight exaggeration, maybe, but that’s how strongly I feel about avoiding trailering problems. I try to set up my horses for success so there’s never any question about how they’ll react when it’s time to enter or exit a trailer. I rely on plenty of patience and preparation to transform their uncertainty into confidence and cooperation.

Here are some tips for trailering multiple horses as well as properly using food as a motivator for loading.

More Than One for the Road
Trailering multiple horses–even proven travel troopers–means adding several steps to your loading plan to ensure that everyone arrives at your destination safe and sound.

Schedule sufficient time to prepare for the trip and load the horses. Attending to details at the last minute will leave you feeling rushed. Then you’ll be more prone to mistakes, less aware of your horse’s behavior and more likely to transmit your anxiety to him. I recommend estimating how much time you’ll need to get ready–then add another 30 minutes.

Arrange to have at least one handler for every horse. Even when you’re trailering a single horse, it’s a good idea to have a helper on hand. My rule is: If you don’t have enough help, don’t go. Discuss each facet of your loading and unloading plan with your helpers so there’s no confusion about how you want to proceed.

Decide the order in which you’ll load. Horses are creatures of habit. A veteran may get miffed if he’s not the first one on the trailer, and a newbie may be more willing to enter if he sees another horse already on board. Also try to accommodate those who have a preference for where they ride–left or right in a straight-load trailer, front, back or middle in a slant load.

Agree on where the unloaded horses will stand. Trailering can be a bonding experience, and separating one horse from his travel buddy can be traumatic. To ease the anxiety of the horse being loaded, position his pal where he can be seen through the open door or window of the trailer. Along the same lines, during unloading keep the horse who’s already exited nearby so his buddy on board won’t feel abandoned.

| © Amy Katherine Dragoo

Prepare for a problem loader. Determine exactly how you and your helpers will work together to get him on the trailer. Stress the importance of safety and staying clear of the horse’s hooves. Also agree on the sequence of steps you’ll follow, such as when the trailer door will be closed, to accomplish them without hesitation. The problem loader is another article entirely!

The Food Motivator
1. If your horse is just a bit nervous or hesitant, you may gain his cooperation by offering him food. In photo 1 my helper is offering my up-and-coming FEI horse, Cipriani, an 8-year-old Westfalen, owned by myself and Nancy Haywood, a little grain in a bucket.

2. After Cipriani has seen the food and had a little nibble, she’ll hold it just out of reach to entice him to step onto the ramp. As he starts to walk into the trailer, she’ll move forward and on the other side of the chest bar to encourage him to walk all the way in. Note that I have Cipriani in shipping boots, which cover his knees and hocks to offer the greatest protection. If your horse throws his head around, you also can use a head bumper.

To read about Whit’s step-by-step approach for turning virtually any horse into a “travel trooper,” see “Trouble-Free Trailering” in the August 2010 issue of Practical Horseman.

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