Horse won’t load: draft edition

I’ve of course dealt with bad loaders in the past, but I’ve found 99% of the time it’s a ground manners issue, not a trailer issue.
However, in this case, I don’t think so.

Horse is a 1800 lb draft. He’s a big dude, and I’ve only had him for about 6 months. He’s still not great with farrier stuff but he’s getting better. On the ground he’s lovely. Backs up, stands still, leads wonderfully. One of those horses you would trust a small child to lead around. Under saddle he’s lovely. Lazy, but a good boy.

But holy crap did we have a fight today with getting on the trailer. My property is finally fenced and I’m slowly bringing my horses over to the new place. I needed to get him and one of my mares on the trailer. They are best friends. I loaded her first and then tried him. No dice. We tried about 100 different methods. He just plants his feet and doesn’t move.
So I took her to the new place, came back with the center divider removed, and tried again. Still no luck. We tried coaxing. We tried backing up. We tried backing him into the trailer. We tried just standing there until he got bored. Whips, lip chain, the belly rope, blindfolding, putting him in the chute for the cows and chasing him in, putting food in there, nothing. No dice. He is the type that once he decides he’s not doing something, it’s a hopeless battle.

Does anyone have a secret trick for loading a massive and very stubborn horse? I understand it’s going to be a groundwork situation but the problem is that he’s only saying ‘no’ when the trailer is in play.

My current idea is to feed him in the trailer. I left it at the barn and he’s going to get his grain on the ramp, then move it progressively closer to back. I’ll try again in a week.

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when i was trailer training my mustang i put his alfalfa alllll the way up in the front and left the door open. There was no other food for him to eat anywhere around. Next day …alfalfa all gone and i carried another flake up in the trailer and he followed me in. i left him there closed the door…he pooped on his food. I put more food at the door end and he turned around and ate it and occasionally looked out the window. I opened the door back up and he came out, got a drink of water and finished the bit by the door and walked on to the front and ate was was unpooped upon. It was an adjunct to my halter training with him, and because he wasn’t solid on lead i just didn’t think it would be a good idea to try to expose him to both things together. It was something i could do at night while training him other stuff during the day.

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Still a groundwork issue, no matter how you want to try to make an excuse for it. And sounds like there ARE indeed holes in his groundwork. Obvious improvements made in the time frame, but still holes nonetheless.

What other things does he decide he doesn’t want to do? Since you state that is his personality, there must be other things.

You need to figure out a way to make the trailer not matter. It’s an object. Don’t pay attention to it. Instead, pay attention to the fact that you’ve just asked the horse to take one step forward (just so happens it is one step forward toward the direction of the trailer … but again, that little nugget of information isn’t supposed to matter). He should be following your instructions because you asked him. And it’s the easier road.

You could substitute any other obstacle for the time being (blue tarp on the ground, large piece of plywood, etc etc) and how you approach the horse to ask him to move forward should be the exact same as when you ask him to move forward onto the trailer.

And you need to be more stubborn than him. When you “give up” because he didn’t give you a correct response, you’ve now reinforced that behavior that he doesn’t have to do anything. Even if it is not quite the response you want, get him to do something. Maybe settle for him moving a 1 inch step forward instead of a full normal step. It’s something. If you just spent 5 minutes asking him for that, and that’s all you got, well, it’s something. Take a break, and try for the full step later. You don’t need to beat him and you don’t need to hit him, but you do need to KEEP ASKING. Do not let up until he gives you something of a correct response. Then release and reward. And keep making progress.

Also, I understand there’s a timeline and you are going to have to move him. There can be less than desirable ways to get the job done that you will have to fix later. Once, I used corral panels. And over the course of an hour or two, SLOWLY inched them closer to the trailer. So eventually, the horse was so crowded and had no where to go but on the trailer. Again, not ideal and not teaching the horse anything, but sometimes you do have a situation where you NEED to move a horse but your groundwork is not there yet.

I get that he’s bigger than your average horse. But that’s probably even more reason for his ground manners to be pristine. You aren’t going to force 1800 pounds to do anything. So need to outsmart them and OUTLAST them. (again, be more stubborn than him)

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Yeah, that’s kind of what I was thinking of doing. I think I need to make sure that he associates good things with the trailer.

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Not making excuses for anything; I’ve had him 6 months. He’s not a finished product. He is however, good enough in his ground manners that this shouldn’t be an issue.

His personality is the type that if he doesn’t want to, he doesn’t do it. However, that’s not how I let him operate. In the past, people let him get away with things because of his size. He didn’t want to tie when he came. He didn’t want to bathe. His reaction was to just leave. That is something we have worked through. I’ve been having to retrain the mistakes others have made in the past with him for the past 6months.

He walks over boards and tarps, walks through pool noodles, walks through water if I ask (he hates water but knows to walk into it when asked). He backs, goes forward on a loose lead, moves sideways, etc.

But he’s smart and stubborn and knows the trailer = going away.

I tried for 3 hours today. That was all the energy I had in me. It wasn’t like I tried once and went ‘I give up! I’m going inside’.

I’m not sure if I’m just exhausted, or if you mean to, but your response comes across as a bit rude to me. Im looking for ideas on how to train this horse to load onto a trailer, not find all the failings I had today.

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Feeding him in the trailer requires you to solidly block the trailer. Both sides of the wheels, under all corners, so nothing moves when horse finally decides to try getting the food inside. This I presuming you can’t leave trailer hitched to truck while leaving it in the gateway or paddock for him to self-load.

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But without the weight of the tow vehicle, isn’t there a chance the trailer could rock back? :astonished:

I’m assuming this isn’t a huge trailer - 4H or more, where putting feed in the rear, nearer the axle(s) could prevent the front lifting.

A friend (whose horsekeeping practices sometimes make me cringe) used her 6H Head-to-Head w/all partitions removed, as a temporary “barn” for 3 of her 8* when weather threatened & she had just a 2-stall barn.

*2 ponies & mini in 1 stall, gelding & “his” large pony mare in the other.

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I have one with a trailer issue. Not a loading issue but a trailer issue likely due to an accident with a previous owner. The whole tap-tap-tap and then release when he goes forward caused more trauma. Any “helpers” caused more trauma, and he is a super anxious type anyway, so the damage spilled over to every part of his life. Common forms of groundwork were not helpful- circling out of the trailer to let him rest inside kind of thing just made him more nuts.

I finally had a horseman well versed with horses with trauma who basically followed the more current Warwick Schiller method where you walk towards the scary object until you notice any stress signals at all- head comes up a millimeter or ears prick or mouth gets tight. Stop right there and wait until horse takes a breath. Then go BACK to where the horse is more comfortable (usually taking some steps back to the barn). Stop, wait until breath/lick/chew. Turn around head back to the trailer until stress signal noted. Stop, wait for breath/lick/chew. Head BACK to the safe place again. Rinse and repeat. Each time you usually end up getting a little closer to the trailer and eventually on. In my case we went from rearing and spinning away from it to walking calmly on. He self loads now.

Closing the doors and going somewhere is another issue for us but we’re making progress there too.

Warwick Schiller method: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCPjXgJP6sM

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Classically… make it “uncomfortable” to not load into the trailer, and “comfortable” to make an effort to get into the trailer, to take a step forward. A lip chain and a rump rope, used together, by a skilled and patient handler can be helpful.

But the other issue is the trailer itself. If the horse is claustrophobic, and he is both BIG and TALL, his claustrophobia may be more powerful than his desire to do the right thing. Finding an open top trailer or truck may help. No roof. Hard to find these days, of course. An “extra tall” trailer may help, if you can’t find an open one. When I was a kid, like 50 years ago, there was a local guy who had a one ton truck, with an open box on the back, and a big ramp. He shipped all the local horses who refused to load into the regular trailers of the day (some of those were 6’6" high). He’d drive down the road with 3 or 4 horses in that box, together, loose in there, heading down the highway with the wind in their hair. All horses who refused to load into a regular horse trailer, loaded right up for him without hesitation with this truck. No roof, no partitions.

And yes, I’ve owned a horse about the same size as yours (mine was estimated at 2000 lbs), and I understand about how they can be. Mine did agree to go into a two horse trailer, I don’t know how he managed to fit in there, but he did. It was a tight fit. He didn’t like it much though. You aren’t going to “force” a horse like this to do ANYTHING for you. You are going to ASK him to do something for you, and he’s going to have to try to do the right thing, and do as asked. There have to be consequences for incorrect decisions, and rewards for correct decisions, and his comfort in making the right decisions is paramount. This, of course, is similar to working with horses of a normal size too, but more so with the big ones.

Good luck!

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Tell him about the new place he is going to go to. Think in pictures.

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Is the trailer tall enough for him? Some of those 19H drafts just don’t fit in regular trailers. Maybe he thinks he is not going to fit?

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2Dogs, blocking the wheels on both sides, blocks up under each corner, front and back, trailer cannot rise with weight on the rear step or ramp. Should not move at all as horse enters or leaves, if they can’t leave the truck hitched to trailer. He may take a long time to decide to try getting the food, truck may be needed elsewhere. But trailer MUST be reliably stationary, not movable while parked.

This is an argument (loading) you can’t take on without allowing enough time to “win” with horse actually entering without coercion by humans. Food reward is a plus for horse making the correct choice.

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I was wondering if the trailer was big enough for him.

The trailer is just another ground work obstacle. If he won’t go in, he has a ground work issue (provided the trailer is big enough for him).

I had a little WB mare that was the claustrophobic sort that would do anything on the ground except get and stay on the trailer. It took two years of hooking up the trailer once or twice a week to get her be comfortable and obedient. That was in addition to further ground work.

Some of them just aren’t comfortable being stuffed in a little box and shut in and extensive work is needed.

Good luck with your guy.

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i wonder, is he not conditioned to ramps? They can be tricky for horses who have only learned to stepUp. A ramp feels odd and unstable to horses because it bounces.

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@clanter as far as I know every time this horse has gotten on a trailer he never returns to where he came from. He has never been shown or anything. I would bet I could could count on one hand how many times he has had to be in one. I definitely will be working on being happy with the trailer with him. He is expected to be a show horse, so eventually he will learn. All my other horses get excited to go on a trip, he will too. If I can get him in.

@goodhors it can’t stay hooked up, but it’s very solid in its location. All the wheels are blocked. It’s a 2h straight load with tack, so not a huge trailer where it could tip if someone went in there.

@Pezanos this was actually my first thing I tried after he didn’t load; the problem was that he is calm, relaxed, but absolutely will not get on that trailer, he’s not breathing hard or nervous. Just says no.

@NancyM @x he has actually been trailered in this trailer before, when I picked him up. He is a thick guy, but at 18h he isn’t the biggest horse I’ve hauled. He fits in there just fine length and height wise. I was considering seeing if I could borrow a stock type trailer though, just to see if it would seem less ‘tunnel’ like. Maybe the open sides would make it seem less claustrophobic

@eightpondfarm I will try thinking of all the lush grass he would be going to :slightly_smiling_face:

So when I got him, he was in a bad situation. He loaded right up to leave on this exact trailer. If I close the upper doors so he can’t see in, he will step onto the ramp for me. I took the divider out, so it’s basically just a big box stall now.

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I think you’re onto something here!

Let him see plenty of daylight and a way out. Can you have a couple of people at each door to close quickly and can you walk him in so you can have side-door-person not actually lock, but just close the opening and allow you to Quick as a rabbit slip out? I wouldn’t bother tieing him. Just unclip the lead rope and let him ride free…?

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No, not intending to be rude. Blunt perhaps, but not rude. I gave you lots of ideas (find a positive response, don’t give up, practice on other object, etc etc) and even a last-resort idea (the panels). There is no such thing as a secret trick to have him jump right up onto the trailer. Obviously he’s still got some baggage since you’ve only had him 6 months but that’s why I asked questions, to get a better understanding of the things he still has problems with.

We are not there in person. We can’t see your timing, your body language, his responses, etc. Those are the crucial pieces that we cannot see over the internet that are very important. Do you have any trainers around you that are very good with groundwork that can come help? Of course, the value there is that someone in person can see all those things.

On your first post, you mentioned “fight” and talked about “Whips, lip chain, belly rope, blindfolding, chasing, etc” . Yes, likely he does have an aversion to the trailer and yes likely these recent events did not help matters. [Been there - done that, let me tell you.]

Personally, I don’t like the method of feeding them on the trailer. Because it doesn’t seem to change a thing when you put the halter on and ask them to load up. JMO. If you do want to try to make a positive association with the trailer, I would do things like tie him up to the trailer with a hay bag after you are done riding for the day or making him work in some way (of course, with trailer properly blocked and secure to do that). Make the trailer his happy place after he’s worked hard elsewhere. This is different than just arbitrarily leaving food in it and having him in the vicinity. (Phil Haugen talks a lot about this and how it can relate to getting a horse to stand tied quietly, be happy at the trailer, etc - he’s got a lot of podcasts where he talks about things like that).

More details are needed. Tell us more about what you did in that 3 hours and what happened. Be specific.

Now, in my opinion, 3 hours is much too long. Most any person or any horse will be mentally exhausted after that long of period. If you want to make as much progress as possible (knowing you need to move him), try working on it for 20 minutes, end on a good note (whatever you can get). Put him away for an hour, then catch him again and do it again for 20 minutes. Rinse and repeat all day. That usually is more productive to break it up than to have the long solid block. Plus, he might also start to make the connection that “Hey, I did what she asked and then she put me away.” which could possibly make him response better to you, in order to get that reward of being put away. Or like I mentioned above, tie him up at the trailer or near the trailer with a hay bag AFTER he did something correct you asked or after a working ride. Give him something to think “Oh good! I get to go stand at the trailer now and rest.”

Yes, you could rent/borrow a bigger trailer to make the move if you honestly think he is uncomfortable with the size of your trailer. It could be a factor. But maybe not since he jumped right on when you brought him.

I think @Pezanos has great thoughts. If your horse is stressed to the point that he decides to shut down his mind and plant his feet and not move, you’ve already gone too far. He needs to keep the THINKING side of his brain going.

Once again, I get that you are on a timeline of sorts. But normally, for a hard loader, they might not even get all the way on the trailer for a good month or more. It’s building the baby steps and the positive reinforcements, like how I mentioned above there might be days you might have to settle for a correct response of 1 inch forward motion when you had wanted to accomplish 2 steps forward, because that’s just how the day went. Or you are only able to get one foot on the ramp, instead of 2 front feet that you wanted for the goal for the day. But the key thing is that the horse did something positive that he was rewarded for.

There are some methods out there that tell you to increase the pressure, as in starting with a light tap and going harder and harder until the horse moves. I have done that for some horses but others do not response well to it. And sometime, it can “teach” them they don’t have to do anything until you really start whacking. So here’s where the patience comes into play. Whatever normal cue you use to have the horse move forward (like when you go across those tarps, pool noodles etc.that you say you do), do your normal cue. But say he stands there and doesn’t move. DON’T STOP YOUR CUE. You don’t need to increase it, you just need to hold it There should be a point where you are annoying him enough that he wants you to stop cueing him. And he’s going to look for an answer to get you to stop bothering him. That’s where you will be johny-on-the-spot and release him the instant you get something that is remotely correct. Will you possibly have to stand there for 3 full minutes? Maybe. That’s what I mean about being more stubborn than him. You aren’t hurting him, you around fighting with him, you’re just hanging out waiting for him to make the decision that he would rather you stop cueing him.

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Believe me, I 100% get the frustration of a bad loader. I spent months with a trainer to help us and we’re only halfway there. For emergency timelines, there is medication. I had to get mine home from the vet hospital before we were done with the retraining process and they gave him a dorm/ace cocktail and it was very effective. I am continuing on my journey with more ground and trailer training but it is very comforting to know that in a dire emergency he will load and travel easily with medication. And, of course, now that I am not as worried, he’s even better about loading. Ah… horses.

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Something that worked for me with my old horse after he whacked his head in a doorway was to lead him to the ram, with a lunge line. Then I walked up the ramp through the stall and out the escape door, letting out the lunge line the whole time. Then I was able to be next to him and urge him into the trailer and he would go.

It got to the point where I would be heading out the door and he’d be stepping into the trailer.

I think he did feel claustrophobic if the two of us were both in the trailer stall at the same time.

After he whacked his head (which he ended up doing a few times, with and without a head bumper, and never on the trailer) he was a weird one with doorways. I always had to either have >8’ doors or send him through first. Always surprised the folks riding in the indoor when he would come in on his own and then wait for me.

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I feel for you. After practicing with the trailer loading my new mare decided not to load on the day I was taking her to the vet! Missed that appt.:frowning:

The tap tap tap release method has worked well for me in the past, very well actually, and yes timing is critical and at first acknowledging leaning is important.

However, I have found with horses that do seem to have anxiety a bit different approach works better. What I do is approach and as soon as the horse flicks and ear or eye and shows apprehension I stop, wait here, don’t leave until the horse breathes and relaxes just even a bit, the first few times this could take some time/20-30 minutes, no jigging or looking around, then circle away. Don’t spend the time waiting for him to breath petting…for some horses that is more irritating, just stand there quietly, sounds odd but make sure you are breathing evenly and calm, don’t stare at the horse either. If you can get 2 steps closer without anxiety that could be enough for the day esp if this much has taken an hour. Ideally you would be able to repeat daily.
Personally when teaching to load I will load one or two feet depending on the horse and back off, load one or two feet back off, load two feet, back off, load two feet one step more back off…I stop when ever I feel it is a good place.

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