Preventing Stress In Horse Trailers

Kay Rice
by Kay Rice
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QuestionMy 14 year old thoroughbred will not calm down in the trailer. Whenever we try to load him it takes a long time and we have to use a butt rope. Inside the trailer he paws with both legs at the same time with a lot of force and doesn't settle down. Even for short 5 to 10 minute rides in the trailer he is completely soaked. (Kay Morey - Michigan)


Its sounds like your horse is definitely scared of being in and near your trailer - not an uncommon attribute. The important thing here is going to be patience and understanding. This means that when you practice with your horse you must be relaxed, calm and authoritative. There is absolutely no point in trying to train him to be relaxed near or in the trailer if you are becoming tired or frustrated. This enforces your role as your horse's leader. With horses that are just nervous around trailers it is fairly easy to tempt them to accept it by using comforting words and distractions. However in this case it sounds like your horse is going to take quite some persuading.

Do not expect overnight success by any method. The first thing to do is to position your trailer in your horse's field for at least some of the time. This will allow your horse to become comfortable in its presence. At this stage do not force your horse to go to the trailer, and instead wait until he can go past it or next to it without barely noticing it. The next step is to try and feed your horse next to the trailer and then on the ramp and eventually inside it. At all times your horse must be allowed to leave the trailer area whenever her wishes. The important lesson here is to allow your horse into the trailer for something enjoyable and let him leave whenever he chooses - this will instill confidence.

Once your horse is prepared to spend time in the trailer in a relaxed fashion, attempt to shut the trailer behind him. If he becomes stressed then open it again. Continue trying this until he can spend time in the trailer when it is shut (but not moving). Once your horse is comfortable with this step, you can begin to slowly move the trailer while your horse is in it. During all steps, treat the horse calmly but firmly and try not to become nervous even if your horse becomes flighty, since your horse will sense this and will suspect danger. When approaching the trailer always remain at your horse's side, giving encouragement. It will take some time, but eventually your horse should be able to relax while traveling normally in the trailer.

Disclaimer: This service is meant to provide advice only and is not meant to replace an appointment with a registered veterinarian. Users should always seek a second opinion. Unfortunately we are only able to answer several questions per week so not everyone gets a published answer. And, unfortunately we can't answer by email.
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Junior Member
Added on Dec 31st, 2010
I had the horse with the same problem. She would become really stressed loading to come home though. I am in 4-H and we took her to fairgrounds, which was a really short drive she got in fine with food on the way to the fairgrounds. Loading her on the way home was a different story, maybe it was because it was getting dark but with daylight savings time it was still light out, but she just wouldn't load, she had treats to get her in there. Maybe it was me, I don't know. But I think putting the trailer around her more will make her more comfor table, I wish I had the advice sooner:)
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Bronze Member
Added on Nov 16th, 2010
if a horse has had a bad experiance in a trailer or loading they wont forget and some horses never get over the fear of getting on or riding in trailers,im speaking about my horse,i have worked with him with trailing and loading for 8 years,even before i owned him,he even lived in a stock trailer for a month one summer,if i were to go and try to load him today he would not get on without a small amount of drugs to take the anxiety promised him when i bought him that he would never have to go anywhere UNLESS he needed to go to the animal hospital,he is genunely afraid and did have a bad experiance some time in his life where he flipped over while someone was loading him and that fear has stayed with him i believe
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Junior Member
Added on July 15th, 2010
I have always found that feeding the horse in the trailer is the best way to get used to it. Unfortunitly, this gelding has learned to be frightened of the trailer, and the training will take longer.
When I'm teaching them to load, I don't ever let them have pasture, I want them hungry enough to go nosing around and checking out where the food is coming from. Start near the trailer and each time put the food farther in the trailer. It wont take long of a few missed meals and he will climb in to get a nibble. he may go in and out several times to eat it all, but in time he will learn to stay put and enjoy his food. Once he's all the way in and not showing signs of stress, tie him while he eats. Then after a few times, shut the door. unless absolutely nessisary, don't let him out until you're ready. If you do, he will learn to throw fits to get out. Up the time in the trailer, feed him his hay in there too. Take him for rides only after he is relaxed in the trailer. A buddy on the rides may be helpful.
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Junior Member
Added on Jan 4th, 2009
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Added on July 31st, 2008
This seems like great advice. Horses are such sensitive beasts - and its easy to forget this when their behavior is frustrating.