Troubleshooting Guide for Trailer Loading

Trainer John Lyons gives do's and don'ts for five common trailer-loading problems.

Trainer John Lyons shares his step-by-step methodology for training a horse to load and unload from a trailer. But what should you do—and not do—when you encounter a particular problem with your horse as you’re working on his trailer-loading training? Here are more of John’s expert tips for dealing with five common trailer-loading problems.

1. If your horse starts to walk backward, away from the trailer, apply the go-forward cue. Lourie Zipf

Problem: Your horse moves backward instead of forward.

Do: Apply the go-forward cue that consists of tapping the point of his hip with a dressage whip. Apply it until he takes a step forward.

Don’t: Pull on his head or quit tapping if he backs up.

John says: “The mistake most people make is they stop tapping as the horse begins to back up. If they do that, the horse learns that the tap means to back up.”

Problem: Your horse kicks out in protest as you’re tapping the top of his hip to say “go forward.”

Do: Ignore it to see if the behavior goes away; usually, it does.

Don’t: Make a big deal out of it, unless the horse becomes preoccupied with kicking out at the whip. In that situation, hit him once, fairly hard, below his hocks every time he kicks out.

John says: “Several times like that, and a horse usually stops kicking.”

Problem: Your horse stops before you get to the trailer.

Do: Let him stand at his desired stopping point, and pet him until he relaxes. Then ask him to take one more step forward, rewarding with petting when he does so.

3. If your horse stops as you approach the trailer, let him stand for a moment; then ask him to take one more step forward and praise him when he does. Lourie Zipf

Don’t: Lose your temper and get upset because he’s stopped. He’s telling you where his comfort zone ends, and you won’t get him past it by punishing him.

John says: “Remind yourself that you’re not interested in getting your horse into the trailer yet. You’re interested in getting control of his movements and in having him feel secure.”

Problem: Your horse rears.

Do: Use the whip to hit his legs below the knees the whole time he’s in the air; stop hitting him the moment one front leg touches the ground.

4. If your horse rears and you need to correct him, make sure you assume a safe position from him, as I am here, to avoid injury. Lourie Zipf

Don’t: Hit him above the knees, as that will actually encourage him to rear.

John says: “Take care to be in a safe position, so the horse doesn’t strike you with one of his feet.”

Problem: Your horse tries to put his head over yours, invading your space.

Do: Control his nose by raising your whip in front of his face; that will make him pull his head backward. Then, step toward his nose, asking him to back up a step and out of your space.

Don’t: Try to fight the “whole” horse. By getting his head out of your space, the rest of his body will do likewise.

John says: “When this happens, it is usually at the trailer. That’s where you need to be prepared.”

5. If your horse invades your space by putting his head up and over yours, gain control of his nose by pulling his head slightly to the side; then ask him to back up a few steps. Lourie Zipf

John Lyons is one of the world’s leading clinicians and most well-respected trainers, with 29 years dedicated to educating horse owners and working with them and their horses. Over the past 13 years, about 300 trainers have graduated from his certified trainer program. His son, Josh Lyons, and daughter, Brandi Lyons, also teach and train in Colorado and Arizona, respectively. John, who will be competing in Road to the Horse in March 2009 in Franklin, Tenn., lives and works with his wife, Jody, in Parachute, Colo. For more information, go to

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