Trailering a two-year-old

I was wondering if you had any suggestions on teaching my colt to get into my new trailer. We just bought a gooseneck slant load, step up, 3 horse trailer. He has been trained to load into a two horse trailer with a ramp (straight load) and apparently he has been in a stock trailer before (apparently "cowboy'd" into it). The trailer has black mats and has a black spray ...I was wondering if you had any suggestions on teaching my colt to get into my new trailer. We just bought a gooseneck slant load, step up, 3 horse trailer. He has been trained to load into a two horse trailer with a ramp (straight load) and apparently he has been in a stock trailer before (apparently "cowboy'd" into it). The trailer has black mats and has a black spray ...

Story originally posted by: Maggie FlowersHorseCity.com Training Director

Hello,

I was wondering if you had any suggestions on teaching my colt to get into my new trailer. We just bought a gooseneck slant load, step up, 3 horse trailer. He has been trained to load into a two horse trailer with a ramp (straight load) and apparently he has been in a stock trailer before (apparently "cowboy’d" into it). The trailer has black mats and has a black spray in liner on the sides of the interior. Prince has a fear of black mats. He has always thought that they would eat him. Now after being on them everyday I think he is over that but I fore see some trouble with the the black interior of the trailer and that it is a different type than he has been in before.

Do you have any loading suggestions that could help get us off on the right foot? His stablemate Smokey (a calm 13 yo gelding) will also be along for the ride and should have no problems loading. Should the largest horse be loaded in first? The first horse in has the escape door that I can go out or should I put Prince (the colt) in first?

I appreciate any suggestions. I plan on practicing with Smokey first (since I havn’t had a slant trailer before) but Smokey doesn’t need to be lead and I think that Prince would do better following me although eventually I want him to just load in on his own.

Prince is a newer horse to me and I haven’t had a 2 year old before. The only time I saw him in a trailer was when the trainer taught him to get into the two horse.

Thanks,
Kate Jackson

Hello Kate,

You are correct in placing the larger of the horses in first and closest to the tongue of the trailer. By loading Smokey in first Prince will have a little more confidence to getting in, especially if he can see Smokey load. As to the blackness or the mat, try spreading straw hay or shavings on top of the mats, not only will this cover and disguise the color, but having shavings in a trailer will make it easier to clean and will keep the urine from seeping down and settling on the under bracing. Over time the urine will help oxidize the metal and lead to them weakening. Another thing you can do is start training your Prince to step forward onto a dark tarp during you round pen workouts. This will help him get over the initial fear he has of dark colors and fearing it will eat him up. However, I haven’t any good suggestions about the dark walls, except maybe making sure that all the lights of interior of the trailer are ‘on’ and all the windows are open.

Be sure to use the "tap, tap, tap" cue on his hip that tells him to move forward, this will come in handy when trying to load. When he steps forward and you stop tapping, he learns that moving forward is what you want. Repeat the lesson until everytime you tap his left hip with a dressage whip or your hand (I prefer the whip), he steps forward.

When your horse has moved, in stages, closer and closer to the trailer and allow him to stand relaxed at each step taken and he is praised each time, then he is ready to begin the phase where most people get into difficulty. Keep in mind that your horse will likely try to do something other than step into the trailer. He’s not being stubborn–he’s just trying to figure out what to do. Stay calm and keep him calm, and you’ll be able to guide him to the preferred option.

Position yourself facing your horse’s left shoulder. Stand with your left hand just below the snap on the lead rope and your right hand holding the dressage whip. Point his nose toward the inside of the trailer. Allow your horse to relax, while looking into the trailer, use the go-forward cue to encourage him to go in further. If your horse tries to move to the left between you and the trailer, step back out of the way and let him pass. As he walks past you, tap his front legs below the knees with the dressage whip. Continue this tapping the whole time he’s moving forward. Cease, the moment he steps back. Let him stop and pet him. Approach the trailer again.

If your horse looks to the right when you give the go-forward cue and begins to pull away from you, put light tension on the lead rope and bring his nose toward you. If he shows to much energy into pulling away, you need to go back to the basics and teach him to "give" to pressure. Practice his leading lessons and ask him to "give" each time you stop. If when you give the go-forward cue in front of the trailer and your horse backs up instead, walk with him, and continue the go-forward cue as you follow him through his movement. Don’t try to pull him forward. Tap him until he takes a step forward. Then stop and pet him. One step forward is all you need, re-approach the trailer as in the beginning.

Having both doors open, give the go-forward cue, ask your horse to step one foot onto the trailer floor. Don’t get in the trailer or try to pull him into it. Forget about using food as an incentive–you want him to respond to you cue not to a bribe. Continue the cue until he performs any move onto the trailer, stands with foot just resting on the floor or even if he paws the floor. Any movement deserves a reward. Pet him and allow him to keep it rested there. Before he decided to pull back on his own, put pressure on the lead rope, you ask him to backup and place his foot back on the ground. Pet him again.

After you have done what seems monotonous, one foot loading and unloading, several times and you have built your horse’s confidence and allowed him to get his bearings by being partially in the trailer and you have been consistent in your cues and rewards, he will eventually step his other front foot and then with one of his back foot into the trailer. These are all steps and when you’ve practiced the three footed loading and unloading numerous times, the last and forth foot can’t help but follow. Once his is in the trailer, let him stand there and relax. Don’t rush to close the butt bar or to get him the final few inches forward. Once in and before he decides to back out, you ask him to back out. That way, he’ll learn to wait for your signal, and he’ll back out with confidence. If he trys to back out on his own, don’t pull forward on the lead rope. Allow him to back out and immediately begin the go-forward cue.

Give him the opportunity to become comfortable standing in the trailer for longer periods of time until seems unconcerned with being inside. Familiarize him to all the noises associated and may occur around the trailer. Don’t be too aggressive with the commotion at first. You want to build his confidence about the normal sounds of the trailer, but you don’t want to scare or increase his fear. Once you feel your horse has been in and out of the trailer enough and he seems to have a comfortable feeling about being closed in, then secure the butt bar and close the door/s. However, do not tie your horse’s head until you have closed the door(s). Never, ever tie your horse unless he’s been specifically taught to "give" to pressure on the lead rope and has had lots of practice standing tied outside the trailer.

Maggie Flowers