How To Load a Horse in a Trailer

Courtnee Morton, DVM
By Courtnee Morton, DVM on Jan. 30, 2024
Horse trailer loading

Being able to load your horse in a trailer is important for many reasons. This makes it easy to:

  • Transport your horse to a veterinary facility if they become sick or injured

  • Travel with your horse to competitions, lessons, and trail rides

  • Move your horse to a new boarding facility

While initial training for trailer loading may take some patience and practice, this skill will benefit both you and your horse in the long run. Here’s how to do it.

Training to Load a Horse Into a Trailer

Horses have a strong flight or fight response, so any traumatic or scary event can stick with them and affect future behavior. If a horse has a bad experience with a trailer, this can make future attempts at loading much more difficult. Confinement can often be scary for horses, so helping them to get comfortable and familiar with the trailer early on is beneficial.

Once your horse has proper ground manners and they are confident with the leading, stopping, and backing basics, slowly introduce them to the trailer. If you’re starting with a young green-broke horse, remember to take this process step by step and not rush them. By the time they’re used to this routine, the horse should be able to walk straight onto the trailer with you and back straight off the trailer when unloading.

1. Walk Your Horse

Walk your horse near the trailer, gradually circling closer, without allowing them to stop to inspect or smell it. Sometimes doing a bit of groundwork practices or lunging can get your horse to focus on the “important” task and stop being nervous about the large metal object nearby.

Eventually, if your horse seems calm but curious, stop near the back of the trailer and allow them to sniff the ramp or back.

2. Make Sure the Trailer Is Secure

Before allowing your horse to take a step on to the trailer, make sure it’s hitched to a vehicle (even if you’re just practicing). The horse’s weight can cause the trailer to see-saw if it’s not connected to a vehicle. This can be dangerous and cause unnecessary fright and anxiety for your pony.

3. Step Onto the Trailer

Once your trailer is prepared, slowly encourage your horse to step onto the trailer ramp or take a step inside. Calmly lead them up to the back of the trailer and ask them to step up by gently pulling on the lead rope, while you stay on their left side.

After they get a foot or two in, pause and have them back off the trailer or ramp. This helps ingrain the unloading process early on by having them step backward off the trailer or down the ramp. Learning to get off the trailer for the first time after the horse has been contained in a small space can be dangerous for them.

Always stay on the horse’s left. And if there’s an escape hatch at the front of the trailer and you have someone assisting, you can walk into the trailer first and have your horse follow you.

4. Reward Your Horse

If your horse is a bit unsure, some positive reinforcement, like having a hay net already hung on the inside or a treat in your hand, can teach them that getting into the trailer means they will get food and comfort. 

Make sure there’s enough room between your horse and the wall where you can stand, or that there’s an easily accessible escape route for your safety. Some horses, being timid about slowly walking into the trailer, might leap in the rest of the way, so it’s important to be prepared.

Once your horse is comfortable walking into the trailer with you, allow them to munch on some hay or a bite of grain and get used to standing in the trailer, then let them back off. It’s best to get your horse used to the loading and unloading process before working on locking them inside the trailer.

5. Close the Trailer

As your horse becomes more confident with the trailer basics, close them in, using the appropriate safety measures for your trailer.

Ensure all trailer doors are closed properly and allow your horse to stand and become accustomed to the “trailering” environment without going anywhere. Doing this in short practice sessions will build your horse’s confidence and encourage them to stand quietly during an actual trailer ride.

Once your horse is comfortable being in the trailer standing still, begin taking them on short trailer rides (slow and easy at first!) to get them accustomed to bumpy roads and being in a moving vehicle. Over time, your trailer rides can become longer.

Tips for Loading a Horse Into a Trailer

Horses should stand facing forward in the trailer, typically clipped to the trailer’s tie-ring with a snap-release short lead. This allows the horse to move their head a bit, stand comfortably, and eat out of a hay net while discouraging them from trying to reach their neck around or trying to turn into an unsafe position. These snaps typically break in an emergency situation, like a wreck, for safety.

Horses have a strong flight or fight response, so any traumatic or scary event can stick with them and affect future behavior.

If you are trailering one horse, load them on the left (driver’s side) of the trailer or in the first space of a slant-load trailer. If you have two horses, the heavier horse goes on the left, and the lighter on the right. These practices will help with balance of both the horses and the trailer.

If you have multiple horses going into one trailer, a good practice is to load the calmer horse first. That way, the less experienced horse has a buddy when they get on the trailer. Always be sure that the first horse is entirely secured before loading the next horse.

Horse Trailering FAQs

Which way should a horse face in a trailer?

A horse should always face forward in a trailer to give them the best sense of balance.

How do you get a stubborn horse to load in a trailer?

It’s important to remember that a “stubborn” horse could be scared of the trailer, so take your time when training and practicing. If the horse is still being difficult, have a helper so the horse is encouraged from both the front and hind end. This sometimes requires a flag or butt rope at the hind end.

On which side do you load a horse?

If a horse is being trailered alone in a straight load trailer, they should be loaded on the left side of the trailer.

Why do you load horses on the left?

Solo horses or heavier horses are loaded on the left side of the trailer to help balance the truck/trailer. Modern roads are built with a slight crown at the center so rainwater can more easily drain off in either direction. Loading the greater weight on the “high” side of the trailer reduces the risk that it will tip over.

Featured Image: rhyman007/iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

Courtnee Morton, DVM


Courtnee Morton, DVM


Dr. Courtnee Morton is a 2017 Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine graduate. Since graduation, she completed an equine internship...

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