My bad loader has me at my wits end...

I’m turning here because I have no where else to go at this point. When I tell you my horse is a bad loader it’s the understatement of the century. I have a 7 year old Oldenburg gelding that does not get in the trailer.

He is not overly fearful, he does not try to run away or freak out when he sees the trailer, he just plants his feet at the edge of the trailer and won’t move no matter what we do he will not take the plunge and just get in.

We have tried, treats, forehead rubs, grain, hay, grass, sweet talking and all other manner of coaxing imaginable. I will often sit down in the trailer holding him with grain out of nose reach and eventually he gives up on the grain.

We have tried smacking his butt with a broom, dressage whip, rope and peoples hands.

We have tried pushing him in with a lunge line and hands locked behind his butt.

When he gets overwhelmed and he has no where to go he swings his head left to release pressure on the chain and then rears. Any pressure on his head from a regular halter, chain over his nose or chain in his mouth will cause him to back away from it or rear.

We’ve tried spooking him into the trailer but he’s not overly fearful of anything. We’ve tried making him work outside the trailer and give him a rest when he steps on the ramp but he has one hell of a work ethic and he can’t get over the hump of actually stepping into the box.

He is my show horse with the potential to be a high amatuer owner jumper and eventual big eq horse. Therefore traveling is a part of his life.

We have resorted to sedating him and pushing him up the ramp backward but we’ve done this several times and he has yet to learn from it.

He has also never has a traumatic experience in the trailer that would make him not get back in and once he’s in he rides like a peach, never makes a fuss even when you stop and he doesn’t bother his neighbors unless the hay runs out.

I am at a loss, this is not the first tough loader I’ve dealt with but he is definitely the worst and after two years he shows no true signs of improvement. (I will also mention on fluke days he hops in within five minutes and other days we can be at it for three hours or more)

If anyone has the slightest insight or advice for me I would appreciate it greatly. I’m thinking of calling a few local trainers who specialize in troubles horses but I know him inside and out and I’m afraid that won’t solve the problem because of his tendency to shut down when the pressure gets to be too much.

This is what I would do - I would back the trailer up to the doors of the barn. Everyday that horse would get on the trailer. Breakfast and dinner. He would stall in the trailer during the day - go for a ride every day.

Let him self load. I have chased horses onto the trailer with it backed into the door as well.

My sympathies - nothing worse than a bad loader. All ours are taught to treat the trailer as a stall. At shows they go off and on several times, eat, drink and even sleep on the trailer.

Clinton Anderson halter- stiff rope halt with 4 nose knots. Ditch the chain for now- they have their place but swap it out for now. Work on “sending him ahead of you” into a stall and then gently “pull” him out and past you. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Do this a gates, the doorway to an indoor arena, send him in, pull him out. Sometimes make him halt during the “in or out”.

Also, teaching him to give to pressure on his shoulder, ribs and haunches is very helpful. Have him walk lightly beside you. You halt, he halts. You back up, he backs up, you turn, he turns; ideally by reading your body language and you not having to haul on him. Use a dressage whip to make him move if needed.

Once he is soft and will go and come through a door then walk him up to the trailer but YOU halt him the nanno second before he decides to stop. Repeat, repeat. Once he gets his head in the trailer you halt, praise and back him out. Repeat. Once you get his front feet in the trailer, halt, praise and back him out. Repeat, repeat. Once you get his whole body in the trailer, halt, praise and exit.

Also, make sure that when you lead him into the trailer- if you can send him in that would better- but if you lead him in DO not turn around and face him. Stand off to the side so he has plenty of room for his entire body. Years ago on one bitter cold February day I could.not.get. a big young gelding of mine to load. I’d been at it for an hour- longing, chain, swearing, doing cartwheels, ugh. My totally non-horsey husband came out from the house and said “I"m a process guy and for what it’s worth this is what I see- you lead him up to the trailer, you walk in then turn and face him and he shuts down. You are blocking his space in the slant load.” I said “okay, let’s give it a try.” I led the gelding up, walked in and kept facing forward but off to the side and presto, the gelding hopped right in. :slight_smile: Once I corrected my error that horse never had a problem loading again.

Good luck, it is sooo frustrating!!

I am by myself so with two people my horse isn’t so bad, but I have a tough loader with tons of fight in him and unlimited energy…like seriously, this horse never. runs. out. of. gas. Tiring him out or making the right thing easy/wrong thing hard doesn’t work. What does work for me to load him alone is the lunge line method. I string it through the trainer out the escape door and then I can pull him in while manning (or woman-ing) the whip behind the horse…

But why I really think this works for a horse like mine, is that he doesn’t have a human in front of him trying to pull him in. He gets a lot of satisfaction from the fight (stopping and pulling back) and the walking to the trailer/failing/circling back around for another attempt routine… Mostly I think he likes the fight. With nobody in front to fight with, just a lunge line guiding him in and encouragement from behind, he doesn’t get the satisfaction of the fight, and he loads relatively easily.

I would highly recommend looking into the John Lyons books/DVDs on trailer loading.

Your horse needs to be trained to load like they need to be trained to do anything else. Trying to trick him/bribe him/force him in will not get you very far, as soon as he decides he doesn’t want to go.

Make sure he is really listening to you on the ground all of the time. Otherwise I would be tempted to put the trailer in a dry lot with him. First start feeding him where he can stand out of the trailer with his head in it. Then slowly move it to where he has to be in the trailer to get food. Only feed him out of the trailer. He will get hungry enough to get in it. Make the trailer his happy place. This method could take a while, but it is no stress for either of you.

I have to say the PNH trailer loading is really very good. Rope halter and 12’ lead, sturdy stick and string rather than lunge whip or dressage whip, start by sending the horse behind the trailer (if it is a ramp, have him walk across the trailer ramp, turn towards you and walk back across, again and again) If he goes to run over you, stick to his nose to push him off. Then move to send him into the trailer, don’t push as long as he is making an effort, if he stops back up and try again. Push his head away with stick and keep him from trying to go between you and trailer (the pushy ones do this) and be aware that he does not turn head and neck away to leave town, stick on shoulder and tug head towards you. If he quits trying go back to sending him across behind trailer. just google trailer loading NH and lots of views. Approach and retreat is the method. I had a mare terrified to shaking about trailer loading and this is the method I used, worked a charm. That and trailering every single day once she got to going in the trailer.

I appreciate everyone’s input on this.

He does have great ground manners and we have a great partnership forged over the last 4 1/2 years, he turns to me for training direction and he’s a sponge for information when it comes to doing his job. And as far as the ground work goes he’s happy to step over the ramp or onto the ramp and off it again the block comes when we transition to trying to enter. (I have tried positioning my body every which way, facing him, facing away, close, far, off to the side, sitting in the trailer on the floor. He will retreat if he can’t see me)

I have no access to allow him to self load or eat meals out of the trailer as I don’t own a trailer. Also the farm where he lives has no viable way to back a trailer up to a door or put one in the pasture (all of our turn-outs have grass) I also only see him in the evening after work and I’m often by myself at the farm.

Another odd thing that someone else might have insight into is that every time we try to load him he ends up falling down. As soon as he steps on the ramp he forgets how to walk. He doesn’t move fast or scramble he just can’t put his feet down in the right sequence and he falls. He has slipped and slid down the ramp as many times as he has gotten into the trailer, even when we have our trusty roll of carpet that lends traction to all the other normal horses who get in the box.

I might also mention that he rides in a four horse head to head that loads from the belly. So the ramp slides out from underneath the middle of the trailer, they step in then back into their slots. He does prefer to step up on the side with no ramp then put his front feet on the ramp (as though he’s unloading) and then back into his slot. But somedays he doesn’t like to do it that way…

We wonder about his vision, the way he walks and acts sometimes leads us to believe he doesn’t see the same way the other horses do. And if stepping into the dark trailer where he’s unsure if he’ll fit (he’s fairly massive) is the actual root of the problem.

I’m going to work on it some more saturday but this past weekend he loaded like a champ on saturday, followed me right in after spending some time investigating and playing with the trailer and then sunday (at the horse show), he would not budge and after three hours we sedated him and shoved him in. The one step forward and two steps back is whats killing me.

A animal communicator might have some insights

I just watched a set of videos on YouTube by Stacy Westfall. I found them very helpful. They might give you an idea you can put into use. Here is the initial video. I found navigation in YT a bit challenging but eventually watched all of the episodes in order!

Falling on the ramp every time sure sounds like a bad trailering experience to me. The horse has learned that trailer ramps are scary. So, see if you can make the trailer entrance less scary. Or at least, different. Try parking on a hill so the ramp doesn’t really go up. Try step up or stock trailers. Does it look dark in there? If so try lighting the inside more.

Or maybe, this trailer is not the right one for him to learn on? It does sound a little intimidating for a reluctant loader. Find a friend who will lend you a nice open trailer with a big inviting entrance for a week or two. Like an open stock, or two horse straight load where you can swing the divider open, or something along those lines. Put an ad in Craigslist to rent one if you have to. Just change it up. You know the definition of insanity, right? :slight_smile:

Have a neuro exam done, and check his eyesight. I would think there is something physical going on.

Otherwise try borrowing a stock trailer. Load a buddy on then try him.

Is it possible your trailer is too low (ceiling)? Too dark?

I don’t know what to tell you about the falling on the ramp thing. I will say, though, that I recently bought the John Lyons CD on trailer loading and it was great. I taught my reluctant loader to self load in an hour and a half. No whipping, no upset horse ( well, one tantrum when he couldn’t get away), and I now have a consistent self loader.

Hmmmmmm… you mention him being good about stepping up without a ramp.
Can you delay putting the ramp down & let him load first (before any other horses who are okay with the ramp)?

Slipping so often on the ramp is not good & probably a contributing factor to his bad loading behavior.

I had one with similar behavior.
90% of the time he’d walk right on, the rest of the time it took a looooooooong time to get him loaded.
As I was often doing it solo I would allow tons of time so I never felt rushed.
Better arrive early to wherever - vet, show, trails - than start sweating about being late & get impatient.

Another trick that worked for me was standing him on the ramp or just at the step-up point, standing back myself & “pinging” him on the but with small stones.
Eventually the annoyance would make him decide it was better to walk on than have those “flies” keep biting.

If I could, I’d pull the trailer close to a fence or other barrier so loading was from a chute, taking away at least one escape option.

Is this the only trailer/setup you’ve tried? I know it sounds like a PITA, but trying other types of trailers sounds like a great idea. Good luck.

I watched a professional hauler load a horse like yours once. He looped a rope around one front foot and then ran the rope through the halter. (He also had a lead rope snaped on the halter.) He then used that rope to lift and pull forward the foot onto the ramp. (He held the lead rope also.) His comment; “Where the foot goes the rest of the horse will follow”. He just quietly moved that foot forward one step and waited until the rest of the feet followed one step. Then moved the roped foot forward again and waited on the rest of the feet. He repeted until the horse was in the trailer. The horse only one time thought about throwing his head up in order to back away from the trailer. Throwing up his head resulted in the horse pulling up his own foot so that he had to put his head back down and think about the ramp on which he had his front feet. The loader just held with a steady pressure (not pulling) on the foot rope when the horse tried to throw up his head. The horse then quietly followed his feet into the trailer.
You might practice the foot rope/lead rope just walking forward away from the trailer until you are comfortable using this method to lead your horse and then lead him into the trailer.

We have resorted to sedating him and pushing him up the ramp backward but we’ve done this several times and he has yet to learn from it.

Others have given great advice. I wanted to mention that sedating isn’t teaching him anything because their brain can’t function in a “learning” capacity while drugged. So that is why the sedation hasn’t helped any, other than short term to get him on the trailer.

You need:

  1. a determined person at the head
  2. a patient person at the hocks.
  3. Someone to operate ramps/ butt bar/ doors
  4. Snap on longe line
  5. additionally a shank lead for emergency control if horse escalates to leaving the country
  6. two long whips

Person at hocks has a driving whip (6’ plus a short lash) in each hand (or two longe whips if that person has excellent whip dexterity) The idea is to stay out of kicking range.

Put horse’s head in the trailer. Head person is responsible only for keeping that head there at all costs. Whip person patiently snaps first one hock or haunch and then the other (to try to keep the butt in line with the head) until the horse get’s sick and F-ing tired of having his hocks snapped and gets on the trailer. He then gets to eat dinner.

This can take an hour. Or more. I’ve never had it fail.

ETA: make sure the trailer is facing the barn. So much easier

Another odd thing that someone else might have insight into is that every time we try to load him he ends up falling down. As soon as he steps on the ramp he forgets how to walk. He doesn’t move fast or scramble he just can’t put his feet down in the right sequence and he falls. He has slipped and slid down the ramp as many times as he has gotten into the trailer, even when we have our trusty roll of carpet that lends traction to all the other normal horses who get in the box.

If this were my horse, I’d try loading him into a step-up/stock trailer and see if it makes a difference. The fact that he’s fallen numerous times on the ramp makes it clear to me that he’s not comfortable on a ramp, and continuing to allow him to fall while using a ramp is likely making your problem even worse. I would stop forcing him up the ramp before you have a horse that refuses to even go near the trailer.

At this point, I would either send him to a professional for some time to have this sorted out or, at least, have him/her come in for daily sessions.

I would highly recommend the former (send him away), mostly, because you don’t have a trailer to practise with daily.

I would make this a priority, or, if you cannot not due to showing, then wait after the season and get on it.

If you truly think, traveling will be his life-style, he needs to learn to be comfortable with it.

By professional, I mean someone with a good reputation about teaching horses to load (needs to have a lot of tools in the repertoire to accommodate different personalities or even different moods in an individual horse).

Most of them will start with a step-up stock trailer- roomy, bright, and fewer opportunities to get hung up on something.

The way it seems to be going now (from your writing)- it is cementing his dislike.

You need to get to his mind, then you will have his feet. I know, you say, you have a great relationship with him, but this issue shows that there is something left that needs to be taken care of.

I had a bad loader (still paws during the travel- so we are still working on trailering, btw.). Ours never liked to travel, plus had an accident.

I did it all by myself, but I had the advantage of having a step-up, slant/stock combo trailer (I removed the divider for stock option). I got good advice at COTH, when I hit the wall (of not being able to shut the door). I used some of the advice and, in the end, I did end up using 30ft rope to guide him in via the ring and hold him in, while shutting door. I work alone, so I have to always come up with one-person solutions.

It was a looong process- every day for a couple of months. I played it safe and I am not a professional, so I was extra careful and, perhaps, went slower than needed.

Some principles (especially for a sensitive horse like ours):

  • one step at a time (if one “quality” step is all you get in one day, that’s ok)
    “quality” step= calm, thinking, smooth, relaxed, willing, balanced
  • always stay calm, do not allow a horse to get a “raise” out of you/throw you off balance

Good Luck in finding someone knowledgeable, who can help you with this! In my experience, western trainers, at least here in NoVA, tend to have “better” toolbox for this particular issue than the English ones (I consulted some also).