I certainly agree there are many horses that have trailering issues, but the problems usually start before the trailer. I made a list of some things that might really help others with trailering, and I hope some of these daily tips will make trailering a non-issue for you and your horse.
Here’s the number one thing your horse doesn’t know well enough: basic daily manners!
1. Take the time to back your horse everywhere on the ground before you even think about trying to get him into a trailer. Horses are much more comfortable moving forward. You have to raise their comfort level when it comes to moving in reverse. You don’t have to do it for long periods of time, but try to do it frequently throughout the day and in a variety of circumstances. Back him into his stall; back him into the wash bay; back him into the barn, and back him out of the barn; back him into the arena. Seriously, back him up like crazy.
2. Good. Now your horse is backing up nicely. Can you back him, stop him, and then pull him forward toward you? Can you back him just a half step and then catch that foot and step it forward? You need your horse to move just like that when the slack draws out of the lead rope. Why? Picture yourself in the trailer ready to get your horse out. He’s so well trained that he knows what you want him to do so he starts to back up too soon. Shoot! He’s still tied and now the lead rope is stretched as tight as it can be. One of two things is likely to happen. You hope he respects the pressure of the lead rope and steps back forward toward you so you can untie him. But if he doesn’t, then he will probably panic, risking serious injury to you or him and damage to the trailer. Which option sounds better? I prefer my horse knows how to react to the pressure of the lead rope because we practiced the same motion a hundred times before.
3. Will your horse yield to your pressure? If I step into the left or right side of my horse, I can move him over laterally. With a slight adjustment to the pressure, I can get him to just swing his hip around. In the trailer, this is very important because you need to be able to either push your horse out of your space or get him to step over so you can close the trailer door.
4. What is your horse’s “feel?” I talked about this earlier and you know how important it is to understand how your horse will respond to pressure. Does your horse regularly pull on the lead rope or invade your space? Horses are very sensitive animals, but we humans sometimes teach them they don’t have to be. With the loss of that natural sensitivity, your horse can pick up some very bad habits. Always teach your horse to follow the pressure of a lead rope. If you draw the slack out of the rope, your horse should instinctively follow the lead so the rope hangs almost weightlessly.
5. Today I told my client the same thing I’m telling you. Think about how you want your horse to behave when you’re trapped in a little tiny space with him. I think most of you want him to be calm, quiet, and really respectful. So encourage those behaviors all the time you are working with your horse whether inside a trailer or not. I see too many people who fail to make their horse respect their space whenever they are together. Invariably, those are the people who want help when they have to trailer their horse. When a horse is not used to respecting your space, you can’t really expect him to be “respectful” just because you want him to get into a trailer. And your frustration or fear, combined with the horse’s resistance, is likely to get you slammed into a wall and pinned there! Trailering becomes so much easier if you teach your horse basic daily manners.