You’ve been training at home for a while now you’re feeling confident, and you want to take your horse to a new place to try your new skills somewhere else. You’ve gotten your trailer inspected you’ve had your truck checked out and you’re ready to rock ‘n’ roll. The problem is to get to a new place you have to put your horse on a trailer and you’ve either had a bad experience before or you’ve never tried trailering your horse yet. The problem often becomes that we wait until the last minute when we’re going to go somewhere to decide to do something about trailering our horse. The anxiety and stress that you have about getting to your lesson, or your schooling appointment is generally not a good equation for success. So, to set yourself up for traveling places and taking lessons elsewhere I’m going to give you some of my tips that I have learned in the years of starting to trailer horses.
The first and most obvious is: start well in advance. If you have signed up for something like your first event don’t fret most horses are very easy to convince to get on the trailer especially with a buddy. The things you will need are a bucket of grain, a friend (human and horse preferably), and a lot of patience.
Depending on what kind of trailer you have you can do this a few ways. If you have a head-to-head and you have two ramps - walk your horse that is comfortable with trailering up the ramp and out the other side. This way the horse that is less comfortable with trailer can follow his/her friend. If you have a straight load or a slant load that loads from behind - it depends on your horse. Perhaps putting the buddy on first would make them more comfortable to get on with their friend in the slant load. On the other hand, if having a friend on the straight load at the same time makes them claustrophobic then perhaps having the partition opened wide so they have lots of space to get on without their friend is better.
The next step is actually putting them on the trailer - bring a bucket of grain or lots of cookies. Always reward forward progress even if it’s just one step. You also need to know when to put on pressure and when to take it off. If your horse has a history of trailering anxiety, you should make sure you take more time and put less pressure on them to make sure they learn that it’s a safe environment. If you’re trying to teach your stubborn two-year-old how to trailer, you may need a friend to have a hand or a whip there - but to just nudge them and annoy them until they get on. Remember this is a battle of wills in this case and it does not behoove you to get mad at them and make them get on because that will create an anxiety about trailering. You Will Win by being more annoying to them than they are to you. Remember, even if you’ve been there for four hours three days a week always praise them when they make even the slightest progress towards the goal.
Once they’re comfortable getting on and off the trailer at home practice just driving up and down the driveway or going for a short ride around the block where they immediately come home. This way your horse can get comfortable with the motion of starting, stopping, turning, and keeping their balance in the trailer. It is a lot for them to get on a trailer – even more so to have their first trip be over an hour. Keep their first few trips short and sweet: teaching your horse that it is a pleasant experience from the beginning can make a huge difference for the rest of his/her life. If your horse is older and had bad shipping experiences from a previous owner or from a previous environment, you want to teach them that your trailer is safe and that the places you will go will not have horse-eating-tigers. Unfortunately, retraining is always harder than properly training to begin with.
I hope everyone has fun training and competing this year (and the next). Having anxiety over trailering or shipping your horse should never be a barrier to achieving any of your goals. Don’t be afraid to sign up for that clinic with that instructor that you really like or signing up for an event for the first time. You’ll find once you start that starting was the hardest thing. Get out there and enjoy your summer!