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Uneasy Loader

Advice for a horse owner whose horse had a bad trailer experience.

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America's Horse Daily received this question from a visitor. The answer, from AQHA Professional Horsewoman and Certified Horsemanship Association Master Instructor Julie Goodnight, will help many horse owners get their horses safely and easily into a horse trailer.


Can you tell me your ideas of re-training a horse that reared up and flipped over two partitions in a three-horse, slant-load trailer?

-- Bonnie Rae Wright


The slant-load trailer is not always the best thing for horses. While it is convenient for us humans, for many horses it is too confining, with their face pressed against the window at the same time their rear is against the wall. On the slant, they have to work to maintain balance on both turns and stop/go, so they never get a rest.

Conversely, with the straight-load trailer, the horse usually has plenty of room around his face and head, and he is set up for good balance on deceleration and acceleration, which happens more often than turning.

Horses are naturally claustrophobic. Confined spaces are not reassuring to flight animals. It's quite possible that your horse is having a panic attack because of the tight confinement. Each time he has a panic attack and then ends up hurting/frightening himself, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, so the problem gets worse.

Here are some considerations in trying to find a resolution for this horse:

    • First, does he stand tied (away from the trailer) or does he fight the restraint? If he has panic attacks when tied in the open, this is probably part of the problem. Although I prefer to have my horses tied in the trailer, if this was the root cause of your horse's problem, he might haul better untied and in a bigger trailer.
    • Secondly, will he walk calmly through a confined area, like between two close trees or a narrow gate? If he rushes off when you try to lead him through a narrow opening, it is another sign of claustrophobia and you would probably benefit from working on this issue outside the trailer first by teaching him to stand calmly in a confined area.

I'd try hauling your horse in an open stock trailer, where he has more room, and see if he will tolerate that better. I know getting a new horse trailer is not the answer you were hoping for, but that might have the highest likelihood of success.

Good luck!

-- Julie Goodnight
AQHA Professional Horsewoman and CHA Master Instructor

*AQHA and the provider of this information are not liable for the inherent risks of equine activities. We always recommend consulting a qualified veterinarian and/or an AQHA Professional Horseman.