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March 2007

  2007 Cherry Hill   Copyright Information


Trailering Pain Relief

Trailering Your Horse by Cherry Hill

Dear Cherry,

I just recently got a additional horse. She is a sweet 6 year old Arab, but she is a pain to trailer! When we first tried to trailer her in a 2 slant horse trailer she would half way go in to get the treats we were persuading her with to get her in and then she would back out. Than when her previous owner came to help we used a butt rope and she just ended up hurting herself. Than the second time we tried a larger trailer and bought some antidote to make her drowsy and she still didn't load. But than the third time we payed a professional to load her and she just got in, no problem. Do you have any tips on how to load her in the future?

Thanks, Kristina

Hi Kristina,

Yes, I do have one major tip.

I suggest you read "Trailering Your Horse" from cover to cover.

To get you started, I am printing an excerpt from the book here and some other resources on our website. But realize that this excerpt covers just one portion of the training your horse needs. You will need to cover the entire ground training program outlined in the book to make your horse a trailering trooper !

Best of luck,Cherry Hill

From   Trailering Your Horse   by Cherry Hill

Training a horse to load in a trailer is no different than any other aspect of horse training. You need to start with the basics and build using a training progression. It helps if you have a clear picture of your end goal in mind, but to get there you must develop a group of smaller sub-goals. Each sub-goal should be treated as a separate lesson. If you and your horse master the ground training lessons that follow, your horse WILL load in a horse trailer.

As you go through the lessons, you need to show the horse what you want him to do as well as what he must not do. Horses are much more content when they know absolutely what is expected of them. Remember, horses are basically followers and will do almost anything for you if your requests are clear, consistent and fair.

For consistency, you must let your horse know each time he has made a mistake. If you don't, it will be confusing for him and it will take him longer to learn the correct response. For example, each time he puts pressure on the halter, whether he is just lightly leaning on it or trying to blast past you, you need to give a tug on the halter to let him know he should not do that. Your goal is to have him lead lightly - like a butterfly on a string, not a runaway freight train.

The doling out of praise is a little bit different. At first, you should praise your horse each time he responds correctly. You can lavish the praise on him with a good rub on the withers or stroke down his neck as you say "Good Boy" or "Good Girl". In later lessons, eliminate the scratch or stroke but continue with the verbal praise. Finally, when the horse knows the lesson thoroughly, you can eliminate the verbal praise. Then you can use the verbal praise and/or the scratch or stoke occasionally to reinforce his good habits. Once the lesson has been learned, praise is most effective when it is used sporadically. If you lavish praise continually, it will be hard for the horse to distinguish what he is being praised for. The reward will lose its effectiveness.

Whether you are correcting your horse or praising him, your action should follow the behavior immediately. If you are slow to respond, you may be punishing or rewarding the next behavior instead!

Once your horse has learned a particular lesson, you must repeat the exercise regularly over a period of days and in different locations to establish it firmly in his mind. Repetition is the key to developing a conditioned response, which is a requisite for solid horse training. Don't think that since you can load your horse on a warm, quiet day when his buddy is already in the trailer, that he knows the lesson definitively. Can you load him when the wind is blowing, his buddy is in the barn calling to him, and a dog is barking nearby and so on? The more thorough you are with the entire ground training program, the more assured you will be of being able to load your horse during exciting times such as during a storm, along a busy highway, or when your horse is injured or ill.

If you establish a solid base of in-hand work and work over obstacles, leading or sending your horse into a horse trailer will be easy. Trailer loading should not be a traumatic fight between human and horse. In order for the human to win it is not necessary for the horse to lose. Both can be winners. A horse should not be mechanically or physically forced into a trailer. He should enter willingly of his own accord.

As with other horse training lessons, your mind is a powerful aid in guiding the horse. But you also need physical aids to tell the horse what you want. The physical aids are your body language, a halter and lead rope, your hands, an in-hand whip, and in some cases, a chain for the halter. As the horse learns what you want him to do, you start coupling verbal commands or signals with the physical cues so the horse doesn't depend on the physical cues.

For example, in one of the simplest lessons, "walk on", when you are leading the horse, you want the horse to walk forward when you walk forward. At first you might need to use a tap with the whip or a pop with the end of the lead rope on the horse's hindquarters to cause him to step forward promptly. Or you might need a sharp tug or two on the halter or chain to keep him from charging forward or crossing in front of you as you walk. Or you might need to poke him in the neck or shoulder with your elbow or the butt of the whip to keep him from crowding you.

But once he has learned to respect your personal space and walk forward promptly with you, you can use subtle voice commands, sounds or gestures to confirm the guidelines for the horse. Then later, your horse will just operate from your body language or any specific cues you want to use.

Remember as you progress through this battery of lessons, it is better to perform the simple lessons well than to rush ahead to the end goal ill-prepared. Take your time, be patient, do your homework.

In Chapter 6, you'll learn important in-hand lessons that are the basis of all horse training and handling, whether trailer loading, longeing, riding or just grooming and health care procedures.

Chapter 7 provides you with ideas for obstacle training. Obstacles are objects that you negotiate in a particular fashion to build your horse's confidence and to develop skills that will be useful during trailer loading.

In Chapter 8, I'll demonstrate loading and unloading in a variety of ways using horses at different stages of training and using various style trailers.

Because of the progressive nature of the program, you won't see too much misbehaving but in Chapter 9, I'll point out common trouble spots and how to avoid or correct them.


Both you and your horse must be comfortable working with each other during in-hand work. Before you even think about attempting to load your horse in a trailer, be sure you have established thorough in-hand manners and responses in your horse. This chapter outlines the in-hand work that every horse should know.


You should be able to perform all of the following with your horse relaxed, in willing cooperation, and with no resistance or avoidance. All exercises should be performed from both the near and off side.

  • Catch in stall, pen, paddock and pasture
  • Halter without fussing
  • Unhalter without pulling away
  • Turn loose without galloping away
  • Walk forward promptly and in proper position
  • Turn left from light cues
  • Turn right from light cues
  • Stop without requiring strong cues
  • Back without requiring strong cues
  • Stand on a long line without moving while trainer moves around
  • Move sideways from light cues
  • Turn on the forehand from each side
  • Turn on the hindquarters from each side

    [ For more info see In-Hand Checklist ]


Whoa on a long line is the equine equivalent of putting a horse on the "honor system". You are teaching and testing a horse's ground training to be sure that when you tell him whoa and leave him, he stands perfectly still until you release him. It is like the command "stay" for a dog and it is prelude to "ground tie" which you might want to use when riding. When you first teach a horse this lesson, you will only step away from him about 1 or 2 extra feet and for only a few moments at a time. Gradually increase the distance and time until you can leave your horse and step to the end of your 12-foot lead rope for several minutes.

To most effectively conduct in-hand work, work at your horse's shoulder with about 2 feet of slack lead rope between the horse's halter and your hand. This position is safe - you won't get stepped on or left behind. And it is an effective position to get the horse started, control his forward movement, and effect turns.

When you take the first step forward, do so energetically. Your body language will encourage the horse to respond in kind with a prompt, energetic forward step.

If your horse needs some "waking up", you can trot from the halt instead. Give your horse a little more headroom - up to about 3 feet on the lead rope and use the voice command "trot on" or whatever you use for trot if you longe your horse. You want to develop an instant, energetic reaction from your horse. Practice these walk and trot departs regularly so it becomes second nature to your horse. Then, when a horse might have a question, such as when asked to step into a trailer for the first time, the practice will pay off. The horse's forward response to your cues will be so deeply ingrained that he will automatically step forward. Be sure to do your homework in these basic lessons.

When your horse knows whoa on the long line and the walk on command, you should teach your horse to walk forward on the end of a long line. This is a similar lesson to the one you would use to start your horse longeing. However, here you just want the horse to walk straight forward a few steps, not in a circle. Once your horse starts moving, you will either walk along with her or ask her to whoa. The object of this lesson is to know that you can start and stop your horse from 8-10 feet away.


If a horse is not paying attention, he is not likely to be in tune with your body language and commands. To get a horse to start promptly from a standstill, be sure to stay in position at his shoulder. Carry a 18-inch dressage whip in your left hand and at the instant you say "walk on" and start walking yourself, tap the horse on the hindquarters with the whip. You'll have to swing your arm around behind you to do this so be sure to give yourself enough slack in the lead rope so you can do this. It should be a controlled, subtle maneuver, not a wild gesticulation. Do this every time you walk off with the lazy horse and soon he will start waking up and forming a new habit.

In your in-hand work, picture that leading your horse is like taking a butterfly for a walk on a string. Hopefully this will make you less dependant on controlling the horse with tack and make you focus more on body language, voice commands, and consistency. Test the thoroughness of your communication using invisible tack. Start in the normal in-hand position, then remove the halter and hold it in your left hand.

When YOU are ready, step forward as you do when your horse is haltered. Use your normal voice command. You might wish to hold your right hand as you would if holding a lead rope as a visual cue to your horse.

[ for more info see: Personal Space and Turn On The Forehand ]

The ideal attitude in a horse is responsive and cooperative yet confident. I like a horse that respects my personal space whether we are working or standing. This is the type of relationship you want to develop with your horse.

Some horses, when given the opportunity, will crowd their handlers. This can stem from a variety of reasons. The most common are insecurity, pushiness, or excessive sociability. While this might seem darling, it can be a nuisance and even a hazard.

One way to encourage a horse to stay in his own space and keep out of yours is to use the butt end of your in-hand whip as a cueing device. I prefer to use a 30" dressage whip with a cap on the end to push on the horse's shoulder or neck. If a horse is particularly stubborn, you can use a whip without a cap to deliver more of a poke.

At first it might take quite a forceful press on the horse's shoulder to get his attention and to get him thinking about moving a step away from you.

After just a few deliberate cues, all that is required is a light cue and the horse steps wide to the right. This personal space lesson will come in handy when you teach your horse in-hand turning and sidepassing.

If the horse is just crowding you with his head, you can pitch a wave in the lead rope that pushes his head away from you.

If you need to move the horse's body away, another technique is to use your right elbow to poke him over.

For more info on trailering your horse see:

Horsekeeping Newsletter, June 2002, TRAILERING ISSUE


  2007 Cherry Hill 

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