How to Trailer Train a Horse

Trailer Trained Horse

Trailers can be scary to a horse that has not become accustomed to loading. Anything that horses perceive as potentially harmful activates their flight mechanism. It’s the nature of a horse to not only run from predators but also avoid being cornered – and an enclosed trailer certainly does not provide escape options. Add the trailer’s dark interior, stepping on an unnatural surface, bouncing of the trailer from the weight of the animal, and you have a potentially scary situation for a horse.

Horses that respect and trust their handler will have fewer issues with loading; however, training will still be a gradual process. The respect and trust from the horse is built from the all-important basic ground work and leading skills. Just as some horses learn ground skills faster than others, the same happens with trailer loading.

Do not expect the horse to load the first time or even the first day. Go as far as the horse is comfortable and release the pressure once the horse settles a bit. Do this again and again, and the horse should come closer and closer to the loading goal. Kindness and patience are the keys! Your goal is for the horse to feel safe, secure and confident in the trailer.

Tips for Trailer Training a Horse

  1. Park the trailer in an area that the horse frequents, or at least within close view, to acclimate the horse to being around the trailer.
  2. Although some trainers do not recommend leaving feed in the trailer, placing hay behind the trailer and later moving it inside is a technique that works well for many.
  3. Stabilize the trailer with wheel chocks and additional support for the ramp (if equipped) to reduce movement.
  4. Add familiar smells into the trailer such as bedding from the stall.
  5. Allow the horse to watch as you load and unload a trained horse buddy. If the trailer is large enough, load the buddy prior to working with the untrained horse.
  6. When initially working with the horse, bring as much light into the trailer as is practical through trailer positioning, opening the windows and bringing artificial light if necessary.
  7. Pick times to train when you are not rushed. If you feel yourself becoming agitated, stop and take a deep breath! Fighting or forcing the horse will extend the time required to trailer train. 

Despite our best efforts, patience, and willingness to train for extended periods of time, some horses remain refractory. Using a non-sedating calming supplement to take the edge off can help ease the training. Just make sure to pick a safe and non- sedating calming supplement that contains tryptophan, thiamine, and magnesium – these nutrients can help calm horses while keeping them alert and responsive.

Recommended Calming Supplement: Compose® 2x

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Calming supplements are safer for the horse and the handler than using certain herbal remedies or tranquilizers. A tranquilized horse should be considered potentially dangerous. A horse that has been sedated with drugs can suddenly explode and injure itself, the handler, or by-standers. Sedated horses are also more likely to lose their balance and fall.

Although not a substitute for proper training, feeding Compose® 2x can help the horse relax enough to accept training with a calmer state of mind.

H. Scott Gravlee, DVM, CNS 
Equine Nutrition Consultant
Life Data Labs, Inc.