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by Downunder Horsemanship

Training Tip: Ask Clinton: Teaching a Horse to Crave the Trailer

Q: My daughter’s pony won’t go in the trailer unless one of her buddies is in it. When we try to load her by herself, she rears and refuses to go in. What can we do? – Fran S.

A: Trailers are scary for horses because they’re small enclosed areas and make noise when a horse steps onto them – those are both things that really frighten horses. Since horses feel the safest when they’re with their buddies, it’s very natural for your pony to not want to load onto the trailer by herself. Rather than trying to force her on the trailer, give her a reason to want to get on. You’ll do that by moving her feet around the trailer and letting her rest inside of it.

The first step to getting your pony to load on the trailer is to make sure she’s comfortable around it. Start by getting her to move her feet with energy around all three sides of the trailer. I use the Sending Exercise (making the horse move from one side of my body to the other), but as long as you make your pony hustle her feet, you’ll be in good shape.

When your pony is comfortable moving around the trailer (she’s not spooking at it), lower the trailer’s ramp and send her back and forth across it. Sending her across the ramp will help her get used to the noise the trailer will make when she steps up onto it. Anytime she wants to stop and smell the trailer or paw at the ramp, let her. That’s her way of doing her own safety inspection and proving to herself that the trailer isn’t going to harm her.

When she’s calmly walking back and forth across the ramp of the trailer, ask her to take one step inside the trailer. And just before she gets nervous, back her out. Anytime she gets scared, back her out of the trailer. Don’t force her to stay in the trailer because that will just frighten her more. Then ask her to take two steps inside the trailer and back her out again. Keep working on that until her whole body is in the trailer. Then let her rest in the trailer a few minutes as a reward before backing her out and putting her feet to work again. Keep repeating those steps until eventually she loads in the trailer as soon as you ask.

Once your pony realizes that the trailer won’t harm her, she’ll look forward to stepping onto it whether her buddies are already in it or not.