November 20, 2020

Safety Shorts: Loading and Unloading horses

Stay safe while loading and unloading your horse.

It seems that horses either load easily or they don’t. I’ve had horses that climb the walls, paw, kick or pull back in the trailer. I usually try and find out ahead of time if a horse hauls well before loading them into my trailer. Another thing to be aware of is your insurance coverage when hauling someone else’s horse. Be sure you know ahead of time what your insurance policies covers. I make it a habit to just haul my own horses. Eliminates hard feelings and liability issues. Some things that contribute to horses that don’t load are:

  1. Bad driving: Always beware of the precious cargo that is standing up trying to balance as you’re cruising around corners, braking or accelerating. At horsemanship school our instructor loaded us students in the back of a horse trailer and asked us to balance without hanging on to anything while she drove down the road. (Keep in mind this was many years ago and not very legal, but very effective in proving the a point).
  2. Forgetting to untie or unsnap the horse before letting them out of the trailer. (Many accidents have happened when the horse hits the end of the lead as they’re backing out of the trailer. Horses tend to be in a hurry when you’re unloading them and if you forget to untie them it could cause them to leap forward, injuring themselves, you and even pulling back in an effort to free themselves.
  3. Lack of time spent training and then trying to load in a hurry when going somewhere. Don’t wait until there’s an emergency or you need to go somewhere to hope your horse loads. Take the time to practice when there’s no pressure.
  4. Poor horse trailer maintenance. Horses can easily go through the floor if the boards have not been maintained and are rotten. All I can say is clean the trailer after every use and pull the mats out once in a while to be sure the boards haven’t rotted.
  5. Horse gets hung up if they have blankets on or are saddled. Again, horses either loading or unloading are committed once they’ve started moving their feet. If they have a blanket on and it gets caught on a latch you can be almost guaranteed there’s going to be a wreck.
April and Justice on their way to Yellowstone. ©NWHS Photo

It takes far more time to undo a horse’s bad experience in the horse trailer then it is to take the time to train them to load and unload.  You also want to keep yourself safe when loading or unloading your horse.

Loading your horse into a straight load.

Train your horse to self-load. There are several good videos out there on loading horses. Drive them into the trailer, rather than leading them in. Even if there’s an escape door it’s just safer to teach them to load themselves.

Unloading from a straight haul: Always undo the snap or untie the lead rope before going to the back of the trailer to open. After opening the door, ask the horse to back quietly out of the trailer. If they don’t want to back out, go back to the front window and push them back using the lead rope. You can also run a lead line between their front legs and gently ask them to back.

Loading your horse into an angle haul:

I always am sure I’m well to their left side allowing them room to jump in if necessary. I secure the tie quickly, close the divider, shut the rear door, and exit the trailer. If they’re hesitant to load, give them a minute to look at the floor, assess the situation. If they still refuse, try and drive them in by lunging.

Unloading from a Slant Load Trailer: You can do it one of two ways, but I don’t recommend leading them out. I always ask them to back out after untying them. Horses can try and turn too quickly when leading them out causing injury to the person leading them out.

Above all, keep your truck and trailer maintained. Being broke down at the side of the road with horses is not fun, nor safe. Good luck, have fun,  and enjoy the ride!

Trailer Loading a Young Horse

Karen Pickering
Owner/Publisher Karen’s lifelong love of horses began at a very early age when she wore out a couple of rocking horses before convincing her parents to get her the real thing. That ill-tempered bay gelding, Brandy, was a challenge for the young horsewoman, but it drove her ambition to become a horse trainer. After attending Canyonview Equestrian College’s Horsemanship Program, Karen realized she needed work that was a little more lucrative than training, so she took a job with Customs Brokerage to pay the bills. There, she discovered an affinity for computers and a talent for creating informative, entertaining newsletters. The Northwest Horse Source began as such a letter in December 1995, with a distribution of 1000 copies for its 12 black and white pages. Since then, it has grown into beautiful, all-gloss magazine with the largest coverage of any free equine publication in the Northwest – a distribution of over 16,000 copies and over 600 locations monthly. Not bad for the results of one woman’s dream to work with horses! Today, Karen remains involved with every aspect of the magazine and treasures the community of thousands who share a common passion. Somewhere in the wee hours of the early mornings and late evenings, she still finds time to care for April, her gorgeous and sweet-tempered Quarter Horse.

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