Often a horse that starts refusing to load into a trailer can be very difficult to deal with. If you have your own trailer or access to one for a long period of time, here are some ideas for "retraining" the horse to load. I am going to get pretty basic on some things. It's impossible to know the experience level of the person reading this, so it's easier to start from square one. The first thing when dealing with a difficult loader is to remember to stay very quiet and calm (even if your patience is gone--don't let it show!! stay calm externally). Bring your horse as close to the open doorway of the trailer as you can get him...then just stand there...relax, maybe give him some scratches around his ears, a little treat, but just hang around there for a while..10-15 minutes or so--but the one thing important here: keep his head turned towards the open trailer door. Then after hanging around there for a while, get him to move a step or two toward the trailer. If all he moves is one step, Great! If he's real difficult and just leans toward the trailer, then praise him! Then stand there for a few minutes again. Continue doing this. As he gets closer to the open doorway of the trailer, he may become more resistant (or stubborn)...Don't get upset with him. You are trying to convince him going back into this trailer is no big deal! The closer he gets, the steps may get smaller, in fact, you may find at some point he won't budge...here, try to just get him to lean towards the trailer--the instant he leans toward the trailer, tell him what a wonderful and smart horse he is in the nicest tone of voice you have--pat his neck and give him a little treat--anything so he knows this is a good thing!! The idea with all this is to really encourage him to move forward toward the trailer. I know this sounds tedious and long and boring, but with a horse who was a good loader and all of a sudden stopped and is now fighting, you really need to make this more pleasant and less scarey, or less of a fight for your horse. I would probably plan on spending a good hour working on this the first time with him. AND, There is a real good chance you won't get him in the trailer during the first, second or even third session of using this. But he will eventually go in for you again!!
When he gets close to the trailer and tries to turn away and walk away from the trailer...DON'T let him--often I see people just sort of "give in" to the horse and circle it away from the trailer and then try loading again. What is the most important thing is FORWARD movement toward the trailer doorway! O.K., Once you have had a few sessions of this and you finally have him where he is almost putting a foot in the trailer..or even has put a foot in the trailer--praise him big time and stop, take him away from the trailer and either put him in his stall or out to pasture..whatever. Then, same thing when you get two feet into the trailer, don't push him to go all the way in unless he wants to. Just let him stand with two feet in the trailer! then back him out and do something else.
When you finally succeed in getting him all the way in, praise him, give him treats, let him stand a few minutes,(DON'T TIE HIM IN THE TRAILER YET!!) then take him out! Then reload a few more times and you may learn a lot more about why he started giving you problems..or you may not--but be patient! I know this sounds like a lot of time and work, and it is, however, when you work with your horse in this way, you should end up with a horse who will walk through fire for you, because you will understand more about what makes him tick and he will develop a great trust in you! Fighting with them to load is very often a self defeating battle of brain and brawn...this is more quiet and more brain!!
It is important that when the horse is in the trailer, he is not tied until the back door is closed. I have seen more disasters, even with good loaders, involving a horse that's tied in the trailer and the door is left open. For some reason, the combination of the trapped feeling of the trailer and the feeling of having the head restrained by tieing will send most horses flying out of the trailer often involving some bumps and bruises to the head and neck from fighting and breaking the tieing mechanism. And of course, this often means another long retraining session to load.
A few tips here for problem haulers: If you have a two horse, straight load trailer (in other words, two horses standing side by side) it's important to understand that the center partition between the two horses should not reach all the way to the floor. If this does reach to the floor ('full partition') it often does not allow the horse room to spread his legs out and balance on the turns and stops while being hauled. Many trailer repair facilities will be able to cut this partition in half so the horse will have the room needed to provide balance. I have seen horses suddenly develop "claustrophobia" about trailering. These horses may or may not load well, but will scramble and move around a lot during the actual ride. My experience with these horses is that they will often haul very well in an open "stock type" trailer. However, this is not often a reality as most of us can't just buy a new trailer to suit our horses! Sometimes the solution is as simple as making sure the center partition only reaches halfway to the floor, or with some horses unhook the center partition and swing it over and attach it to the opposite side of the trailer. This gives the claustrophobic horse the room it feels it needs to be able to stand and balance while the trailer is moving. However, it also means you can only haul one horse at a time!
It is also extremely important to remember to be kind to your horse while hauling. Make your turns as gentle as possible, and prepare for all possible scenarios so you don't have to slam on the brakes causing the horse to lose his balance.
I will address some more of teaching to load in another article soon!
Please always remember SAFETY FIRST around horses. Since loading a horse in a trailer can be dangerous, remember to NEVER wrap any part of the leadrope around your hand or any part of your body! Since the horse may rear it may be a good idea to wear a helmet during this type of training. If the techniques mentioned here prove too stressful for you or your horse, please contact an equine professional for assistance.