You may be able to lead a horse to water, but leading one into a trailer is a different conversation altogether. Many horses (unsurprisingly) don’t like the idea of being cooped up in a dark metal cage. And they’ll show their displeasure by acting scared, upset, and downright stubborn. But you have a job to do. And your horse has places to go and people to see. Here are 5 helpful tips to trailer a scared or stubborn horse.
1. Practice Makes Perfect
As a horse owner, you understand the importance of patience. This virtue has no better application than when teaching a horse to trailer. Instead of waiting until the last minute to see whether your horse will cooperate, take some time to practice. Introduce the trailer slowly in a relaxed way and a calm environment. Surprising your horse and forcing it into a trailer is a good way to reinforce fears and bad behaviors.
2. Make the Trailer Familiar
Especially if your horse has had a bad experience with a trailer before, it’s important to re-introduce it in a way that is comforting. That means treating it like a brand-new piece of equipment and doing calming things (like heeding your horse in circles) next to the trailer. Also, try taking some bedding from your horse’s stall and putting it on the ramp and trailer floor. This may prevent your horse from slipping and make the trailer feel more familiar.
3. Avoid Getting Frustrated
It’s easy to get frustrated when your horse won’t do what you want. But you have to remember that your horse is a fight-or-flight animal. And when you’re emotionally charged, tensions heighten and your horse fights harder. Always reinforce your friendship with your horse. Allow your horse to work through the fear with you as a calming influence. You can even let your horse escape the situation for a while. If needed, practice away from the trailer and let your horse investigate it later.
4. Reinforce the Positive
Help your horse through the stressful process of trailering by praising them when they’re successful. “Release” can be an effective way to communicate. In other words, when the horse yields to pressure, take the pressure away. Use this technique to reinforce forward motion into the trailer and for standing once inside the trailer.
5. Prep and Recovery
Always pick your horse’s hooves before trailering. If rocks and other debris are left inside the hoof during a trailer trip, they can vibrate and become painful and uncomfortable. Also, once inside the trailer, tie your horse to prevent falls and injury during the ride. But don’t tie your horse too tight. Give your horse enough room to lower its head and keep balance. After the trip, walk your horse around for a while to relax and release nervous energy.
To extend the metaphor, you can lead a horse to your trailer, but you can’t actually make it get in the trailer. Exercise patience. Take time to practice. And give your horse the comforts and positive reinforcement it needs in a stressful situation. In time, your horse will follow your cues into the trailer without you or your horse getting frustrated.