Loading your horse onto a trailer can be the most frightening thing you and your horse do. For both of you. Horse is terrified, you’re terrified, horse knows you’re terrified, equals very bad experience.
I was married to a cowboy. The Cowboy once worked as a wrangler for a company that moved polo horses all over the country. The Cowboy can load anything. I’m not kidding. There is no horse that he can’t load into a trailer.
There are certain basics to understand even before you buy a trailer. Unless you live in North Dakota where it’s freezing all the time, you don’t need a closed trailer. Not even for long hauls. If you want one for convenience, showing, storage, and any other reason, get one. However, for most people moving their animals around for small shows or to go for trail rides, a stock trailer is your best bet. Every horse will load better into an open stock trailer than a closed trailer. They see the open spaces between the boards and to them, it appears much like any stall. The tight space inside an enclosed trailer can look really scary to a horse strange to loading.
Another consideration, and this is a big one, ramp load or step up, which should you choose? Step up ever day of the week. I know, you’re thinking but the horse would rather walk up a nice ramp. No, no they wouldn’t. Have you ever tried to walk or ride your horse over a wooden bridge? The hollow sound of their hooves on the wood freaks out the majority of horses. The footing sounds strange and feels strange. Ditto the loading ramp. It’s not that much different from that wooden bridge. Getting your horse to step into a trailer, jump up a foot, is much easier than getting them to walk up that terrifying ramp. Trust me on this one. Step up is so much better.
If you try to train your horse to load by placing the trailer in a field and feeding them inside, is a perfectly great way to train your horse trailers are not evil. Even after feeding your horse inside the trailer, that horse may not load when you want them to. It takes hard work, consistency, and a firm hand to teach a horse to lead into the trailer. The Cowboy’s horses all jumped right in without even being led. They had lots of time going in and out of the trailer and understood they would load, or the Cowboy would encourage them, something none of his horses wanted. The Cowboy had his ways of making every horse understand he was the one in charge. And that’s what you must do. Get your horse’s trust, and establish a firm understanding of who is in charge.
If the horse you wish to load is strange to loading, take a barn friend (preferably another horse) who loads easily and put them into the trailer first. The horse that finds loading a frightening experience, will follow his friend into the trailer.
If that fails or you don’t have an easy-loader to use as a helper, try food. Use a bucket of feed to lure your horse into the trailer.
If this doesn’t work, you need someone to help you. You lead your horse, while someone else pushes. If your horse is a kicker, tie a rope to one side of the trailer, wrap the rope around your horse’s rump, and lift your horse into the trailer.
Last resort methods are only for one-way trips. It makes no sense to force a horse onto a trailer if you have to repeat the process in a strange place to get home. The Cowboy has used a cattle loading chute as a last resort. I’ve seen horse’s blindfolded to get them loaded though I don’t recommend it. I’ve also seen horses, big horses, come out the emergency exit which is also nothing I’d ever wish to repeat.
The Cowboy was a farrier with the best handling skills I have ever seen. Horses knew he meant business, and he was never mean to a horse. He moved slowly around horses always, spoke gently to every horse, and created an instant connection with every horse he ever worked with. They felt his strength and determination. You need to project that when dealing with horses. If you don’t, believe me they will know.
This is a picture of my cowboy with PeaEye his Florida Cracker cowpony. PeaEay just walked into the trailer every time by himself. All of the Cowboy’s horses did that.