Loading my horse by myself

So I finally took the plunge and got my own truck and trailer (yay!!). It’s a safe safe rig. Trailer is gooseneck airy straightload with ramp. The straightload can be taken apart to create a larger box.
One of my horses is a self loader. Easy peasy. Other one is reasonably good about trailering but she does require someone encouraging her from behind, typically a single tap with the lunge whip.
She trailers a lot and is very used to going places in both straights and slants, step ups and ramps. She was an active race filly before I got her. She’s not stupid nor explosive but she can be stubborn and dubious.

What tips and tricks do you have to get the mare on if I don’t have help to load her? One thought I had was to take my lunge line and loop it through front hook, but apply steady pressure on line while encouraging with whip in other hand. Is this safe? I usually am with other people when loading and unloading but I want to be able to safely get my horses loaded in a pinch by myself.

And of course I can open up the divider to make it visually more inviting but I really hate fenagling moving parts around a horse in a trailer unless absolutely needed.

I’m sure others will come along and be horrified, but I’ve successfully used this method with several horses that loaded just like you describe. Make sure it’s a new “slippery” nylon lunge so it won’t get caught up if they go backwards. Be patient. 2 of mine became self loaders. One became a pretty good loader, but I always kept a lunge line in the tack room just in case.

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I have one who prefers the lunge line method. He doesn’t want you in the trailer with him. He wants you outside the trailer and not in his space. Then he loads beautifully. He doesn’t self load yet but he will now hop on if you run the lead rope out the trailer window. That’s just how he prefers to load.

Another horse I have always gets a bit testy. Usually just showing her the lunge whip and encouraging her to move forward - walk or trot up to the trailer and it’s enough to get her in. She needs momentum. Don’t allow sticky feet. If you do allow her to get away with something, she will never forget. She can self load just fine, but it’s a matter of whether she wants to or not. She doesn’t like loading when she is hot and tired. She would much prefer to go take a nap under a shade tree. She gets a case of sticky feet if you even try to lead her towards the trailer. Not that she is super difficult to load. She just is telling you, I want a nap right now… Do I have too?


Take the time to train her to become a self loader. I’ve used John Lyons’ method very successfully on several horses. It’s easy to do and will save you a ton of time in the long run, not having to mess with running a lunge line.


William Tell loads great --but is a bit of a jokester. One of his favorite loading methods is to leap into the trailer with all four feet and make a loud “boom” as the floor is aluminum under the rubber mats. He will also load very slowly, front, one foot at a time, back one foot at a time, then unload, dragging the shavings out with him, only to stop and reload half way out.

I use your lunge line method --but I have also learned never to rush Will — he prefers a minute to contemplate the trailer, poop before he goes in, consider the time of day, and sigh --then he will load. With the lunge line method, I can stand by his head in the open door, and tell him where we are going as I gently apply pressure by pulling the lunge rope toward me (I thread over the breast bar). He’s highly respectful of pressure, so won’t pull back, but does elongate his neck as much as possible before stepping into the trailer.

I also put a bucket with a bit of grain into his manger to give him a slight reward for standing still while I do up the but bar.

For me and Will --patience is the key --he can be rushed, if I am in a hurry, but he prefers to take his time.


Take the time before you have to go anywhere and teach her to self load also. Time well spent! It rarely takes very long. Leave yourself the whole day to work on it. The longer you allow yourself, the less time it seems to take!


I have used various methods. The lunge line method would only bother me if the horse was in the habit of going to the side and you have a ramp on the trailer.

We had one horse that would load in the stock trailer only and not well. You had to put the rope halter on him (he would break a regular one and he was a big horse) and tie it inside the trailer. The driver would then hit him with the plastic rake or pitchfork (tines up, away from horse) until he loaded. It should be noted that when the trailer was not hitched (putting aside safety on that - this was in the 80’s) or in the field (hitched or not) he would practically self load.

Treats can obviously work with some hesitate horses, though we had one that got her rider’s number and would eat all the treats prior to loading and refuse to load until more treats were found. This was a teenaged former gaming horse that had been all over. When our trainer (longtime friend of the owner) got involved, the horse gave up her games and loaded.

My former mare was always very skeptical of the trailer and did not react well to aggression. I ended up buying a stock trailer and would keep the rope taught (even if she flew back, which she did often at first from 10ft away) and released pressure only when she moved (even the slightest increment at first) forward. Eventually she became a decent loader but you couldn’t tie her or she would fly back so she travelled loose in the trailer.

My current mare I’ve had since she was a baby and we did a lot of work in her younger years on the general concept that if she didn’t go forward, she got a tap on the butt with the whip. I would also just load her and stand her in the trailer and give her a treat at times. She is not a self loader but will go up mostly well. Sometimes she has to stop and assess the situation first. This method may be helpful for you down the line - I used to just carry a dressage or lunge whip and if she stopped, she got a tug if a tug didn’t work, a tap on the butt and she figured it out.


Timely thread, as I’ve been working on the same thing with one of my horses and have been using the method you describe as I often have to load alone. I used to be able to lead her on, then duck under the breast bar on the open side of the divider (straight load w/ ramp) and do the butt bar, but she’s gotten wise to it and now backs off if she sees me coming to do the butt bar. With the lunge line, I can stay by the back of the trailer and encourage her forward with the whip and then I’m right there to do the butt bar as soon as she’s in all the way.

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I’ve used the lunge line before in a slant load where I couldn’t walk in with the horse. It worked but it can be hard to time the release.

I recently re-taught one to self-load in several sessions over multiple days of pressure and release with a rope halter. Literally all he had to do is take one step forward, then the release was immediate and he could back up as much as he wanted. You have to be 100% present and never get greedy for another step if they already took one. We went in and out of the trailer A LOT. But now he clomps in there by himself with the rope thrown over his back.

Self-loading (and staying loaded) is a requirement for me, I rarely have a second person along and generally do not want help from random strangers.


I’ve used the lunge line method several times on hard to load horses. Usually it only took a few times before they became self loaders. I’ve tried the John Lyons method and it didn’t work at all - and that was working on it over several days. I want my horses to be trained that when I say get in the trailer, they say yes ma’am.

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The John Lyons method takes more than “several” days. I’m not sure what your definition is of several, but I’ve found it very effective, though it did take consistent attempts over a few weeks. I worked with a friend of mine who had an older horse who was “yanking her chain” as far a being difficult to load, and after a couple of weeks all she had to do was show him her whip and he’d walk right on the trailer. Pretty much all I taught her was that she wanted was the yes ma’am response.


My new lease horse loads well but isn’t consistently self loading yet. He is easily distracted so I use a chain on him. I also feel like he is concerned about walking past the handler to go on the trailer.
I have manager bags in my trailer. I put some really nice alfalfa in the bag. He does not normally get alfalfa.

The first time I worked with him I swung the center divider over and walked on with him and stood next to the breast bar. Let him eat alfalfa. He was not allowed to back up until I asked him too. Each time I loaded him I would not go as far in the trailer. Finally the light dawned that he was supposed to go in the trailer and eat alfalfa.

Next time I would send him on and he would get half way on and come off. I was patient and on the third time he self loaded. At the trailhead to come come I had to lead him on and my friend put of the butt bar so he isn’t confirmed yet.

This past weekend third time he self loaded. On the trip home from the paperchase I had to walk halfway up the opposite side to get him to load but he stayed on while I went back to do the butt bar. It is a work in progress. When he isn’t home he still needs a little more help.

Every one gets taught a little differently. A friends horse she or I would lead him on for the first few weeks and the other person would put up the butt bar. One day she was still in the barn and decided he was loading well enough I just sent him forward and asked him to self load. He has been doing it every since.

Some horses I stand next to the and send them forward and if they don’t go forward or step back I tap the hip with a Parelli stick. Depending on the horse I will use a rope halter, leather halter or chain shank. The headgear all depends on he horse.

I also go with the attitude I being very low key and I have all the time in the world. I am never in a hurry. I make sure the escape doors are open so it is brighter inside to make it inviting.

I generally don’t use grain but am willing to use alfalfa. I like to haul with alfalfa anyway as an added buffer against ulcers. I like to encourage them to eat on the trailer.

A flake of alfalfa and a handful of Mrs. Pasture’s horse cookies are in the feed bag at the front of my trailer. My guy became a self loader as soon as he realized that the trailer is full of goodies. If the trailer is parked in front of the barn, he tries to escape his stall so he can self load and eat.


I have used it too to train a horse to load. I always put snacks in the front so he got a reward. After a while he would self load with me standing next to the trailer. It just took time and patience.

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I have done this in a pinch before, and it does work, but I would suggest just very simply taking the time to TRAIN your mare to load. Period. Then it’s not even a concern.

We train our horses to do so many other things under saddle — why not train them just as well for their ground manners? (Yes, trailer loading is a ground manners problem because the horse is not moving their feet to the location you have asked them to.)

I know a lot of people do not like him, but I bought Clinton Anderson’s trailer loading DVD. Excellent! Since then, I’ve never had a single problem loading any horse, because we just go through that method. However, let me add that I “tone it down”. I feel CA is too aggressive a lot of the time. But, you can back off on the aggressiveness, spread out your training (take it slower) and still achieve great results. One thing I do like about him is that he explains things well, so you understand what the horse’s body language is saying and what you need to do as a result. You will use a lunge whip but it is only to “make your arm longer” so you can tap on the horse’s hip when you want them to go foward. Or their ribcage to move that away. Or their shoulders to move that away. Really, it is all about creating total control of where your horse puts their feet.

Again, we focus so much on our riding and making sure the horse’s body parts are all where we want them; why should on the ground be any different??? Control the shoulders. Control the ribcage. Control the hindquarters. And then you can ask your horse to “go” wherever you want; including onto a trailer.

Work on ground manners or trailer loading 5 to 15 minutes every day. If your horse responds perfectly to your goal that day, then quit and move on to something else. Maybe your goal that day was to load and unload the right front foot. Maybe you have trouble one day and adjust your goal to just get your horse to take a step closer to the trailer. Just like with riding, you start with a goal in mind but always adjust to the horse so that you still end on a positive training note. Then try again the next day.

Do not spend hours trying to force your horse into a trailer. That will not work. That’s like spending hours sending your horse over jumps until they get it right. No one does that. So it’s always puzzling to me some of the strange things people do on the ground, that we do not do in the saddle.


If your horse will stay in place once in the trailer and the only issue is getting them to come in, the option to the lunge line method is a “rump rope”. It’s use will allow you to lead from the front, while at the same time putting pressure on from behind. And there is no problem with the lunge line method of the horse running backwards and the lunge line giving you rope burn. The rump rope is the same method as teaching a foal to lead, just a tied loop encircling the hind end, and you hold the tail of the rope, and apply pressure on it as required as you lead from the front. But the horse must stay in the trailer as you run around to do up the back (because of course you would NEVER tie before the back is secure), which can be an issue with a straight load trailer. That’s why I don’t own a straight load trailer LOL. It is also one of the reasons why slant stall trailers are popular. For loading and shipping alone, a side load 2 + 1 is nice, where you lead the horse up the ramp, turn them around, and back them into the stall, and do up a chest bar- this only requires one human. It’s also nice that the horse walks out forwards. I had one of these for many years, and loved it. Now, I have a trailer with box stalls, and it is also easy to operate alone and without human help- I just lead in, turn the horse around, and close the slam gate between us . I would not own a straight load trailer. I am always shipping alone, and often ship horses who may not have had adequate training to self load. If you are going to be shipping alone, buy a suitable trailer for loading alone.

For the very hard to load horse (mine was at one time) I’ve had to use a body rope. I encircle his body right behind the withers with a lunge line, clip between the front legs, run the tail end through the halter and then through the tie ring of the trailer. You pull on that a time or two and he will get in the trailer. Took my husband 5 minutes to get my horse in the trailer after I had tried all the stupid human tricks for 3 hours to get him to load. Now, my horse self loads, I open the door, throw the lead rope over his neck, and in he goes. No stress, no excitement; calm and quiet.

As an aside: Why do people use “on the trailer” as opposed to “in the trailer?” It’s not like the horse is getting on top of the trailer, he’s getting in the trailer. You wouldn’t say “get on the car” you would say “get in the car.”

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Practice, practice, practice. Never when you’re in a time crunch. My mare is an okay/not great loader. She’s always going to get on… eventually. At her best, she reliably loaded on the second try, and always loaded up to go home. Now she’s a retired pasture puff, and I don’t have routine access to a trailer, so it’s not tuned up. She doesn’t travel super well – probably related to her physical issues – so I can’t blame her for not being thrilled about the prospect.

As it is, she’ll walk on with me. Sometimes I need to be carrying a dressage whip. Her exit maneuver is to swing off the side of the ramp, so a slightly angled approach helps, but sometimes she needs a reminder that the hips stay behind the shoulders and not out in left field. Once she’s all the way on, I can duck under the chest bar, out the escape door, and put up the butt bar. She won’t stand there forever without the back secured, but she stays put a reasonable amount of time for me to go around and do it up.

You might start by seeing if you can become your own whip person and go from there. You’re right to be thinking about this – being able to load with a single handler is an important emergency skill for horses. Good luck!

I’m going to get her out and practice. She’s not bad by any means , just hesitant. And I need her to not need another horse as bait, I don’t take both horses every place every time. Luckily I own the rig so I can practice on my own time woot woot!

@NancyM You are the first/only person I’ve met who has hated straight loads from a safety aspect. Both my coaches recommend a straight bc if a horse is getting stupid you don’t have to get in with them to lock them in, and the butt bar used correctly won’t let them fly out. They can’t turn around, you don’t get squished in the divider, etc. You are beyond welcome to your opinion (which I originally shared) but after logistics were explained and then shown to me by multiple people the straight when well maintained is actually quite safe.

My guy was easy (although he’s a willing-to-please gelding)… I used to walk him on myself, duck under the chest bar, give him a cookie, then dash around to do the butt bar. One day I just looped the lead rope over his neck, stepped aside and tapped him on the butt with the dressage whip. Self-loaded ever since. :lol: #geldingsvsmares (but I love a good mare ;))