Trailer Unloading Woes
- January 9, 2019
- Savanna Simmons
We were asked, following this blog about building confidence in a horse to step down out of a trailer, what to do if a horse comes out like a rocket. Now that’s a little tricky, because more often than not, horses that speed through backing-or jumping-out of a trailer do so because of a prior bad experience, a fear, or a lack of confidence. It’s also fairly likely that the horse’s fear and anxiety is overshadowing any command you may have, putting you both in a bad position.
Please read the linked post above, because, quite frankly, that’s where I would suggest starting. Make sure your horse is sufficient at backing anywhere and everywhere. Create obstacles, back him from your barn to your gate and through (or part of the way if it’s quite a distance), back him into the barn to be saddled. Just be sure you can back, and stop backing, at whatever speed you choose—within reason of the horse’s ability—before even going near the trailer.
Then start stepping down and over things while going backward. Back your horse over pool noodles or pvc poles, down through little ditches, or off a small step or incline. I would suggest using a verbal cue, such as “step” or “down” to build trust in your horse, since part of the fear probably stems from not being able to see well behind himself.
Once that’s established and you feel in control, reintroduce the trailer. I find a light, open trailer works a little better to build confidence and gives the handler a little more room than a trailer with a tack room at the rear.
Start off by backing your horse near the trailer gates. Go slow, and establish your control, stopping when you’d like. Then let your horse take one step in and stop him. If you can’t stop your horse with both fronts in and both backs on the ground, then you’ve lost control. (Horses who load easily will try to load all four feet in right away because that is what is usually asked of them, so be patient and keep asking for only the fronts.) If you haven’t been able to accomplish this, then you’ve got some work to do getting back control.
Once you are able to load your horse’s fronts, without the hinds coming along as well, back your horse’s front feet out of the trailer using your verbal cue, and go for a quiet, calm walk or pause where you are. Let your horse soak, if you feel it will be beneficial. Then load the fronts again from within the trailer. Stay in the trailer if you can. It’s a fairly safe spot there by the open door, and it’s better if your horse will wait for you to get in before getting in or out.
Once you are comfortable and confident that you are in control of the fronts, ask your horse to load his hind feet as well, but not rush to the front of the trailer. Don’t let your horse pile drive you out of the way once he’s loaded. Stand near the rear of the trailer with your horse, and when you feel he is calm and listening, back him out quietly and softly, using your verbal cue. The hope is that he will think a little more about backing, but if he rushes, keep at it. Stop him as soon as you are able, and walk him back to the trailer, and repeat fronts only, or all four, working through his confidence issues.
Be particularly mindful of your horse’s facial expressions, fear, and speed. The original problem is probably linked to fear, resulting in excess speed, so be sure to move slowly, and give your horse a good chance to soak every now and again, and just slow the whole process down so your horse can absorb it. Take your time with this, and if your horse is still rushing, back up a step, literally and figuratively.
About Savanna Simmons
I'm Savanna Simmons and I live north of Lusk, Wyoming, on the Four Three Ranch with my husband Boe and our sons, Brindle and Roan. I grew up evolving my horsemanship with clinicians like Ray Hunt, Joe Wolter, and Jack Brainard, but not within a...