Let’s face it: horse trailers are unlike the open pastures that horses enjoy so much. So it’s no wonder most horses aren’t too eager to hop into them. Successful trailering of your horse requires patience, preparation, and understanding from your side. You will also need to perform safety checks on your trailer and train your horse for the trailering experience.
Trailering your horse includes ensuring your trailer and vehicle are compatible, safe, and strong enough for the job. You will need to train your horse in advance to enter, ride in, and exit the trailer and know how to keep their stress levels to a minimum.
It is always helpful to have a person helping you when it comes to trailering your horse. This is only sometimes practical, though, so it is wise to prepare yourself to do the job single-handedly. You would also benefit from having an emergency backup and plan should things not go as planned. Below are some excellent tips on the different aspects of trailering your horse.
Check Your Horse Trailer And Towing Vehicle
As a responsible horse keeper, your horse trailer should be inspected regularly to ensure it is safe for your horse. It is better to perform these checks when you aren’t hurrying to get your horse somewhere. By doing so, you can fix any problems, identify potential problems, and avoid unnecessary issues.
1. Make Sure Your Trailer Is Tall Enough For Your Horse
When you transport your horse, you want it to stand comfortably without its head being forced down. You get different-sized trailers to transport horses. Some examples include stock trailers, average-size horse trailers, or warm-blood trailers.
2. The Floor Of The Trailer Must Be Sturdy
The floor of your horse trailer should be sturdy enough to support your horse’s weight. You should check the floor for splitting and rotting if the floor is wooden. If it is metal, you should check it for rust or any holes.
Covering the floor with a fitted rubber mat will help to protect the floor and reduce the chances of your horse kicking a hole in the bottom. In addition, a rubber mat is non-slip and easier to hose down and clean.
3. The Configuration Of Your Trailer
Your horse trailer might have a step-up or a ramp, and it might have a divide. Depending on your trailer’s configuration, you will need to train your horse to be comfortable climbing in and out. Also, remember that getting your horse used to a new trailer will take time.
4. No Sharp Objects Inside The Trailer
Part of your trailer check should be checking the walls, ceiling, and floor for sharp objects or protrusions. Your horse will move around in the trailer, and a sharp object can cause injury and unnecessary stress.
5. Ventilation For Your Horse
A metal trailer can get very hot or very cold quickly. On a warm day, your horse can overheat without ventilation, so it is vital to ensure enough airflow in the trailer. Your trailer should be warm and dry for your horse on a cold and rainy day.
If your trailer has windows, you should open them before loading your horse in the trailer to make it seem less claustrophobic for your horse. Windows or openings with screens are great for preventing debris and rocks from being flung into the trailer when driving. The gaps in the windows should not be big enough for your horse to stick out its head and sustain an injury.
If you have vents or fans in your trailer, they should be out of reach of curious horses. If you don’t have screens, consider putting a fly mask on your horse to minimize dust and debris from reaching their eyes.
6. Know The Outside Parts Of Your Trailer
It is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the various parts of your trailer. For instance, how to hook it up and what type of tow hitch it uses. I.e., a bumper pull hitch or a gooseneck hitch.
Part of your trailer check should include checking the following:
- The lights work correctly.
- The spare tire is inflated properly.
- The tires are not worn and are inflated according to the loading specifications.
- Make sure your safety cables and chains are solid and intact.
- The trailer’s license is up to date.
- The latches and locks close securely.
7. Practice Driving And Backing Up With Your Trailer
Driving with a heavy trailer can be quite an adjustment, so it’s a good idea to practice doing so without your horse. For example, you can practice backing up your trailer and going around corners to see what works for you.
Another helpful tip is to let someone else tow your trailer for a short distance while you stand in it. This way, you can get an idea of what it would be like for your horse when you drive. For instance, you can check the noise levels and the amount of dust and ventilation. You can also feel how the trailer moves around corners, during braking, and over-speed bumps.
8. Your Truck And Trailer Should Be Suitably Matched
Pulling a trailer will affect your gas consumption and braking distance. It is wise to ensure your towing vehicle is strong enough to pull a heavy horse trailer. Otherwise, it can adversely affect your brakes and transmission. You can check your vehicle’s load and towing ability in the owner’s manual.
9. Prepare For A Breakdown
The last thing you want is a breakdown when towing a loaded horse trailer, but it is still wise to prepare for every eventuality.
Preparing for an unwanted breakdown or emergency stop requires having the correct emergency equipment on standby and a plan of action. Emergency equipment should include a reflective safety vest, a jack, an inflated spare tire, a first aid kit, and emergency triangles, at the very least.
Loading And Offloading Your Horse From a Trailer
Some horses are okay with trailers, but generally, it’s not a natural instinct. You will need to train your horse to trust you and create an environment with as little stress and as much reward as possible.
1. Train Your Horse To Enter A Trailer
It’s wise to get your horse accustomed to its trailer ahead of time. Once you have established how long it will take to load your horse on average, it can help you plan your schedule in the future.
Below are some tips on how to train your horse to get in or out of a trailer:
- Keep the horse trailer around during training, so it’s not a foreign object to the horse.
- Practice entering and exiting the trailer on a quiet day.
- Start training them as young as possible.
- Keep your expectations low when training – work on one step at a time.
- Train your horse to follow voice commands or pressure prompts for stepping forward or backward.
- Practice stepping over or onto objects or steps going forward or backward.
- Train your horse to step on different materials – like a plank of wood on the grass.
- Practice walking through narrow spaces.
- Use your lunge whip as an extension of your arm. You can gently pat your horse’s back and hindquarters with it to desensitize them.
- Load a calm, trained horse onto the trailer to be a comfort and example for a horse in training.
- Avoid hitting your horse or losing your temper during loading – you’re trying to coerce a big animal into a small space, and someone could get hurt.
2. Know Where And How You Are Going To Tether Your Horse
Depending on the configuration of your trailer, you should plan where you will tether your horse. For example, it could be on a support bar or a tethering ring. If you are transporting more than one horse, setting up the divider and loading the calmer horse first is better.
3. Encourage Your Horse With Food
The trailer experience should be made as pleasant as possible for your horse, including giving it some food as a reward for entering the trailer. You can use a hay bag or net with their favorite food or place a bumper bar between the horse and its food. A hay bad or net should be hung high enough to prevent your horse from becoming entangled .
4. Tie With A Quick-Release Knot
During transit, you should ensure that your horse is tethered with a quick-release knot, a breakaway halter, or a snap mechanism. Your horse should have access to its food and have some head movement, but it should also be able to break away and escape in an emergency.
5. Use Shipping Boots To Minimize Lower Leg Injuries
Shipping boots protect your horse’s lower legs from nicks and cuts during transit. If you use shipping boots on your horse, it is best to get your horse used to them on a relaxed day.
If someone else is transporting your horse, it might be wise to avoid putting shipping boots on it. These boots can get very hot and also unwind if not checked regularly. Also, your horse could tangle in the boots if they come loose.
6. Make Sure All Latches Are Properly Secured
Once your horse is securely tethered in the trailer, ensure the external latches are correctly secured. The last thing you want is a door flinging open in transit.
During the training process, you can take your horse for a short ride in the trailer to help it get used to the experience.
7. Backing Your Horse Out Of A Trailer
Most trailers aren’t wide enough to turn your horse around to exit, so train your horse to reverse down a step or ramp.
If you transport foals in a trailer, get them used to backing up instead of turning around. Otherwise, they might try to turn around when they are bigger and become stressed.
8. Tips For Getting An Unwilling Horse Into A Trailer
Some horses really don’t like trailers at all, so you need to find or create a method to get them to climb in willingly. The following tips might be helpful to encourage an unwilling horse into a trailer:
- Make them work just outside the trailer. Then, inside the trailer, have some of their food on display. They might associate the trailer with rest and eating grass.
- Get them used to shipping boots ahead of time so they don’t have to learn too many new things at once.
- Take a calm buddy horse along but load them first. Horses are herd animals, so it might help to have some “moral support” from another horse.
- Give your horse lots of praise and rewards when it takes a step in the right direction. It’s best to not force the issue or lose your temper.
Get Your Paperwork Ready In Advance
Lastly, if you are crossing state lines or borders with your horse, you should ensure your horse’s papers are in order. The documents might include a health certificate from a veterinarian and blood tests necessary for the state you are entering. Speak to your vet in advance to keep up to date with the latest requirements.
Safe trailering of your horse isn’t a quick hop-in-and-go experience. You need to ensure your vehicle and trailer are in top shape before loading your horse. This horse-keeping skill also requires you to sweet-talk and train your horse to climb into a confined space. Trailering your horse takes planning and preparation, but it can go well if you don’t leave things to the last minute.