How to Load a Horse on a Trailer

Three Methods:Loading Your HorsePreparing the Horse to LoadUsing the Right Equipment

Transporting a horse can be a stressful experience for both you and the horse. However, it does not need to be. To trailer-train your horse, you need a firm hand, trust, and patience. Just like anything in life, practice makes the process easier. You and your horse must work together in order to make loading an easy and safe process.

Method 1
Loading Your Horse

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    Have the trailer ready. Have the trailer set up in a secure location where the horse can feel comfortable to enter. Ideally, use a spot where you have practiced loading and unloading previously, and that is quiet and calm.
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    Keep your horse close to you. Use a well-secured lead rope and lead your horse toward the trailer. Present yourself confidently and without fear or anxiety.
    • If your horse begins to get nervous when you near the trailer, stay calm and walk your horse in loops near or around the trailer to get him used to seeing it.
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    Walk into the trailer or lean on it showing the horse that you are calm, and totally relaxed - there is nothing to be afraid of.
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    Place the horse directly in front of the trailer. Walk beside the horse and as you walk, you should be in one barrier and the horse in the other.
    • Use the ‘go forward’ command, if your horse knows it.
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    Keep your horse calm. Always watch your horse's behavior when loading. If he appears skittish, try tactics that will calm him down and then re-approach the trailer.
    • For horses that are difficult you may consider trying restraints on the horse such a rump rope, twitch or war bridle. Some trainers use “butt ropes” at the back of the horse that prevents the horse from backing out of the trailer. Be warned, however, that this might cause panic or distress, and it is better not to use them. [1]
    • Sometimes food may be placed just out of reach to motivate the horse to enter the trailer. Try carrots, apple chunks, etc.
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    When the horse is in the trailer, calmly speak to it and move towards the back and close the tail bar. Once this is secured, raise the tailgate and go to horse and secure inside.
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    Watch for problems. If your horse is colicky or sick, then normal methods of persuasion may not work when loading your horse. Always look for general signs of good health in your horse and be wary of issues such as illness or injury.
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    Double-check for safety. Before you travel, you should always check to see if everything is secure. Make a checklist and walk through it to make sure you and your horses are ready to travel. Consider checking:
    • Is the horse secure?
    • Does the horse seem calm enough to travel?
    • Is the horse relaxed around and in the trailer?
    • Is the tack secured and not likely to move during transport?
    • Is the gate securely locked and closed?
    • Is the trailer secure to the vehicle?

Method 2
Preparing the Horse to Load

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    Gain your horse’s trust. To make loading as not stressful as possible, build trust with your horse. You want to make loading something that is a safe experience that can be done with ease. Practice these steps to gain trust in your horse.[2]
    • Be responsible for your horse's actions. Often, your horse's actions (or reactions) can be attributed to your leadership. For example, if your horse is spooked easily, you may be giving off body language that triggers the horse to get scared. If your horse is lazy, you may not be giving confident instructions to your horse.
    • Establish a healthy relationship with rules. You should be kind to your horse, but still have established boundaries.You do not want your horse to develop bad habits because of ill-established rules. For example, practice grooming or touching your horse. If you notice your horse is uncomfortable with you touching or grooming a particular spot (for example, his hoof), then proceed at the horse's pace until a routine and boundary is set. This helps to establish trust and a routine.
    • Be consistent. You do not want to send mixed signals to your horse. Always be consistent in behavior and rules. This will help establish continuity and patterns. The more you practice anything, the easier it gets!
    • Redirect, do not punish. You want to use positive reinforcement when working with your horse. If your horse does something you do not like, do not hit or punish it. This will establish mistrust, fear, or anger. Instead, redirect the horse into a behavior that you want to see. For example, if your horse is hesitant to do something, do not hit it. Instead, work with the horse to assuage its fears or discomfort.
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    Get your horse used to the trailer. Trailers are not something that are natural for horses; they are closed off spaces where a horse cannot easily escape.[3] Therefore, do not expect your horse to naturally love the trailer. Instead, let him get used to it on his own time. Consider:
    • Putting the trailer somewhere your horse can interact with it on his own time. If you leave the trailer in a grazing pasture, for example, he can encounter it when he wants and become used to it.
    • After the first few days, when the horse no longer seems to care about it being there, start feeding it in the trailer. Start by putting the feed in a bucket inside the door with the ramp down and the doors open. Secure the trailer if you can so that the horse doesn't just dump it. Place the food further and further in each day. Just let the horse go in on its own and exit on its own when the horse has done eating. When the horse is comfortable with this, start closing the ramp while it eats. Have a hay bag available in there, too.
    • Practice walking near the trailer, touching it, interacting with it while your horse is near. Instead of loading your horse as soon as you get a trailer, practice interacting with the trailer around your horse without actually loading him in. Get your horse used to seeing you act naturally and comfortably with this piece of equipment.
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    Adapt your body language. If your horse trusts you, then how you interact with the trailer will signal to the horse how he should interact with it. Do not get frustrated or angry at features of the trailer. Do not be intimidated by using it.
    • Practice using the trailer on your own before even bringing the horse into the picture. Get used to its features so that you can confidently use it and focus on loading your horse.
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    Use positive reinforcement. Apply positive reinforcement when working with your horse.[4] In each step of the loading process, let the horse know what he is doing right and well. You can do this in a number of ways:
    • Presenting small treats when he does something right.
    • Always verbally giving good cues: “Good work!” “Good boy.”
    • Giving comforting touch/pets.
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    Teach the "go forward" command. When approaching the back of the trailer and getting the horse in position to load, tap the horse on the rump/upper hip to give it the “go forward” command. You will want to give clear direction to your horse that you want him to move and load himself.
    • When tapping the horse to move forward, you can use a positive sound to let your horse know that you want him to move forward. For example, you can use a “kiss” sound or a click to indicate you want your horse to move forward.[5]
    • As soon as your horse begins to move, stop the tapping to signal you want him to continue to move forward.
    • You can repeat the load and unloading process with the ‘go forward’ cue until your horse becomes comfortable with this procedure.
    • Remember to reward your horse every time he makes a positive effort to load or unload. This will establish a good rapport and making loading a habit.
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    Be patient. All of this will take time. It will take work. There will be some hardships and mistakes. The important thing to remember is to be patient and to keep working toward your goals. Practice makes perfect!

Method 3
Using the Right Equipment

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    Use a close lead rope. Your goal should be to lead the horse calmly, not to drag the horse to the trailer. Use a short rope and a firm hand and walk your horse.[6] Do not drag or pull the horse; instead, be relaxed and calmly walk toward or around the trailer.
    • Your horse can read your body language and your frustration. If you are frustrated or angry at the horse, he will pick it up and be more likely to panic or disobey.
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    Avoid using whips or stud chain. You do not want to associate pain or fear with loading. For that reason, avoid using equipment that your horse may fear or distrust. This may include:
    • stud chains
    • new people
    • ear pulls
    • force
    • multiple ropes
    • fly masks
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    Pick the right trailer. You want a trailer that is secure and safe, but also will not scare your horse. Pick a trailer that is large and has open windows. Your horse will be less likely to load if the inside of the trailer is closed off and dark. Consider these trailer features when loading:[7]
    • Step up -- These are the most traditional trailers and may work well with loading because they are so straightforward to use. This requires the horse to simply step up and into the trailer. However, this may present challenges when unloading as it may cause the horse’s hind legs to slip when backing out.
    • Loading ramps -- Using a ramp on a step up trailer may solve some of the problems of an uneasy unload. However, they can be slick and steep. When looking to purchase or use a loading ramp, consider one that is a low and gradual slope. Pick one with a non-slick surface and easy to lift and use.
    • At a slant -- Slant-load trailers allow the horse to turn around inside to be led out. This may make it an easier and calmer experience when unloading the horse head first. These trailers are often designed to load multiple horses. This may be problematic if the first horse to be loaded has a problem, as all the horses must be unloaded in order to get to the first horse.
    • Straight shot -- This type of trailer is generally used for two horses and a single horse can be unloaded without removing or bothering the other. These trailers usually include longer stalls to give horses more room. Some believe this type of trailer is the most comfortable for horses, especially for larger breeds.
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    Consider size. When choosing a trailer, it is important to consider not only the type but also the size. Modern trailers are generally larger than more classic trailers. The interiors are usually 6 ft wide and more than 7ft tall, compared to the older 5ft wide by 6ft tall.[8]
    • Depending on how many horses you intend to board or what comforts you are looking for, there are number of different designs out there. For example, you can buy trailers that have small apartments attached.
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    Learn to secure the trailer properly. You must learn to use the trailer properly for the safety of you, your horse, and your tack.[9]Look for safety features in a trailer when purchasing or borrowing. Consider:
    • The suspension
    • Load balance
    • General condition of the trailer (cracks, rust, damage, etc)
    • Indicator and hazard lights
    • Closing and securing mechanisms
    • Structural integrity of the flooring


  • If you have an extra horse that trailers well, try having the more experienced one enter first.
  • Having the rear of the trailer as low to the ground as possible always helps. Smaller steps aren't as scary.
  • Try to stay calm yourself so that your horse has nothing to fear, and try not to have a huge group of people watching as this may make the horse more scared.
  • There are many reputable trainers who have their own style of training a horse to load in a relaxed and controlled manner. John Lyons, Monty Roberts and Pat Parelli are only a few of the better known names in the business. Take time to review some of their techniques before you begin.
  • Have 3-4 other people around, in case you need help.


  • Make sure you won't get trapped in the van with the horse. It could panic and start kicking. Never enter a trailer in front of a horse without the side door open for you to exit.
  • Make sure that as soon as the horse is on the trailer, someone closes the door behind it so that the horse can't get out anymore. And, don't forget the butt bar, the barrier between the horse and the door/ramp.
  • Sometimes if the horse still refuses to go on the float, you may need to use 2 lunge ropes that should cross over and just apply that little bit of pressure from behind. Be extremely careful with this technique as it can quickly turn dangerous to both horse and humans.

Things You'll Need

  • A safe and warrantied trailer
  • Gear to keep your horse safe in the trailer (for example, trucking boots, cover and horse helmet if horse is prone to rearing, etc.)
  • A tail bandage to prevent rubbing on the back of the float.

Article Info

Categories: Horse Care