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Horse Training Tips: Working With the Hard to Load Horse


Two horses peek out of a trailer.Having a horse that is difficult to load can be very frustrating. There are usually two reasons why a horse won't load – fear or by learning he can get away with not loading. Unfortunately, owners often give up after trying to get a "bad loader" on the trailer. This violates one of the fundamental rules of dealing with horses: If you ask, the horse must respond. If he refuses to load, and you "reward" him by putting him back in his stall – he has won the battle. Good luck getting him to load the next time you want to take him somewhere.

Some people try to load problem horses by using lunge lines or by trying to back them into the trailer. Horses and people can get tangled up in those lunge lines too easily and you could end up with a huge mess. "Backing in" is not an option with a step-up, straight load trailer.

I'd like to present you with a safe and easy system that can be used on all horses. Teaching a horse to load is simple psychology. This is where positive reinforcement comes into play. Due to the fact that you are working with a horse that has learned "not to load," try breaking the loading process up into steps. Don't move on to the next step until the prior step is completed with perfection. By the end, you should have a horse that is standing on the trailer quietly.

You should start this training away from the trailer. Begin by just getting your horse to walk forward on command. Use a long lead rope with a chain over his nose. Carry a dressage whip in case you need to reinforce your command with a light tap on his behind. Hold the lead loosely and say, "Walk." After he takes several steps, say "Whoa" and give a tug on the lead rope. Reward him by saying "Good" or by giving him a pat on the shoulder when he masters this maneuver. Do not try to rush the process and try not to worry about how long it takes for your horse to "get" this first step.

Next, repeat the first step near the entrance of a trailer. After repeating this step several times, get him to walk up into the trailer. You may need to add a tap with the dressage whip again as you go up the ramp or are about to enter the trailer – but do not use the whip once he's already on the trailer.

While the butt-bar is being secured or the door is being closed, give lots of positive reinforcement when your horse is loaded, either with treats, praise or pats. Do not tie him up until the ramp/door is closed and secured! This way, if your horse tries to run backwards, he won't break his lead and get scared. That would cancel out all the achievements you just accomplished.

This isn't a quick fix. Just remember that horses learn through repetition. Working on this for 15 minutes a few times a week will be very beneficial!


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