Monday, February 22, 2016

Trailer Loading Issues

The first horse I raised and trained was Tanner (above).  As a teenager, back in the early '80's, I purchased him for $500 when he was a weanling.  Actually, it was before he was weaned, so he was a foal at his mama's side.  I didn't know a darn thing about training, but the seller told me to walk him around a lot and spend a lot of time grooming and tying him, until he was old enough to be ridden.  

We did a lot of walking.

Back then, there was no internet.  Really...NO internet.  I actually had to go to the library and check out books on training horses!  There wasn't much of a selection either.  I remember checking out a couple of books from the 50's. 

When Tanner was 18 months--or close to 2, I threw a light weight saddle on him and would have him stand tied with it on for hours.  (Above, my little brother feeding Tanner.)  

And, I'd ride this surly appy below (7 year old Scooter) with Tanner running free in the pasture beside or behind us. 

When Tanner was 3 and ready to be saddle trained, an old cowboy put one ride on him--which was more like him just getting on, turning/bending a couple of times, then walking him out, and handing him over to me. 

We hit the trails and never looked back. It was simple.

I attribute the ease of his training to having him stand tied so often.


As you know, I've been working with Leah lately and she has developed a sourness to being trailered away from home. 

The problem: When Leah is loaded, she starts to paw the floor of the trailer and rock back on her haunches.  She gets worse when she can't see me.

She developed a mysterious lameness last week that has since gone away, but I figured it was a good opportunity to concentrate on trailer issues.

To start out, I asked myself, what is the one thing....the foundation, perhaps, of a horse being okay in a trailer?

My answer: Standing tied calmly.

Oh yeah, that thing...the building block of it all...the foundation....the basics.  She used to stand tied calmly, but has she been doing it recently?  Not that I can remember.  We're always busy doing something.

On my days off, Saturday & Sunday, we had our grand kids over, which means lots of horse time.  I took that opportunity to tie Leah to the trailer.

  (Penny was a bit grumpy and needed some ground work before riding.)
(Old Red, coming 36 this year, can still give the grand kids a ride.  The worst thing he does is go slow!)

After I put the sorrels away, I spent another thirty minutes, each day of the weekend, trailer loading and unloading Leah.

I was looking for relaxation.  Licking her lips.  Cocking a leg.  Eating from her hay bag.

I got mixed results.

Today, the third day of trailer training, I decided against closing the divider on her after having made a mental list of what I need to accomplish first.

1. Stand tied calmly for long periods of time outside of the trailer. (Blocker Tie Ring)
2. Be relaxed in the trailer untied.
3. Be relaxed in the trailer tied.
4. Be relaxed unloading from the trailer.

Once I have all 4 things done, I can think about closing that divider.

Today, she stood in the trailer for about 30 minutes alone.  When I saw her relaxing a little bit, I went in and stood with her for about another 15 minutes.  We unloaded slowly, and let her relax at each step. (Part of her anxiety has to do with backing off the trailer while unloading.)

When she was standing in the trailer for her 30 minutes, I stood outside near the other horses and Googled "Trailer Training 3 Horse Slant".  I found an excellent article written by some local horse people I know, Jedi Horsemanship, Trailer Loading Troubles.  I wish I'd read it earlier because it seems I'm reinventing the wheel.  They, too, stress standing tied calmly as a precursor to trailer training.  I HIGHLY recommend their article.

After trailer loading, I tied Leah to the outside of the trailer, (Blocker Tie Ring), with her hay bag, and I went into the house to get ready for work.  All of our rooms have windows that overlook the turnout, so I could keep an eye on her the whole time.  Below is a picture from the house.

My hope is that, by the end of this training, she is fear-free and relaxed in a trailer  We do have a lesson tomorrow, so we'll be putting all this to the test.

I read several other suggestions for dealing with pawing and rocking the trailer.  One suggestion was to tap on the brakes LIGHTLY when they start so they have to balance their body.  There was also a suggestion to sit in your truck and wait for the prancing around--when you feel it--move the truck and trailer forward until it stops.  Lastly, there was a suggestion, from a prominent trainer, to not let them sit very long waiting to move out, but instead, load right before you're ready to pull out and then get going.

What suggestions do you have for dealing with trailer issues?


The issue is SOLVED.  I'll write about how it was solved tomorrow.


  1. I find that if they paw, it stops once you get going. I don't worry about it too much, it's usually at the beginning and not after they have been hauled, worked, and then loaded for the ride home; they are usually happy to get in the trailer and do nothing once they have been worked. If you do what you are doing with the stand tied, the pawing may go away on it's own.

    1. The pawing doesn't bother me much either, but the rocking back does. I worry that she'll hurt herself. What's odd is that she loads in pretty well. She has moments where she does really good, and then she'll suddenly work herself up and rock back. She doesn't do much of it while we're moving though.

  2. Sorry to say I haven't got much input on this. All my horses were/are good in the trailer. But I once heard from a trainer that once you get moving tap the brakes and they will need to rebalance themselves and stop doing whatever they're doing.

    By the way I've found the book you were looking for : True Horsemanship Through Feel by Bill Dorrance. I'd be happy to send it to you if you let me know how to get in touch with you to get your address. ( That is if you would still like to add it yo your collection.)

    1. Yes, I also heard tapping the brakes. She's good when we're moving. It usually only happens right before we pull out, both going and coming home....even though she's tired at that point.

      I would love that book, but I'd need to pay you for it. :)

    2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Interesting. I have only been using my trailer for storage lately, but I know I spent a lot of time just having the horses stand in the trailer and be calm. Sometimes I had to load an older, experienced buddy horse as a role model and security blanket. Other times I rewarded calm behavior with treats. But I found that all the training I did went out the window as soon as we started moving. Braking just caused panic and mayhem.

    1. Was it all the horses or only one that worked the others up? Was there ever an accident in their history? Bad trailer experience? All I can figure with Leah is that trailering to lessons has created the sourness. I should probably trailer her to places that are fun and stress free every once and a while.

    2. All of my horses were nervous in the trailer, but Bombay got himself so worked up on two different occasions that when we reached our destination I found that he had torn the padding right off the walls and was covered in blood from the screws sticking out of the walls. Of course, both incidents happened on Sundays when I had to pay for emergency off-hours vet calls to get him sewed back up. I trailered them to rodeos, trail rides, lessons, and the vet.

  4. Oh yeah, I forgot to say that I find your story about training Tanner to be fascinating.

    1. I also worked with him on a lunge line...walk, trot, lope and whoa. The cowboy, before he got on, tied one side of the bit to a stirrup and stood back. Tanner did one circle on each side and then stood quietly. So, he gave to the bit. Then he got on. When I took over, I rode on a loose rein and gave him his head almost all the time. I only took up the bit to whoa or bring down his speed. The partnership we'd formed was strong.

    2. I also plow reined until he learned to move off my leg pressure.

  5. Boy, weren't those horses of our childhood's something else!
    I love the pic of the grandbabies riding!

    1. Yeah, I found a bunch of old pictures of them last week. Good memories. Of course, I don't have any of the time I tied Scooter to the fence rail and he pulled back and ripped it off, running and dragging behind him...which could have broke his legs. Or, the time I free lunged Tanner with his saddle and it rolled under his belly causing him to run around bucking. Or the time Scooter spooked on the roadside and nearly ran me into oncoming traffic. Nope, no pictures of those times. Only the pics in my head. ;)

  6. The issue is solved! I'll write all about it tomorrow, but I will say, it wasn't the tying practice that did it.


Please feel welcome to join our discussion by telling us about your own thoughts and experiences.