Trailer Self Loading: How to Teach It

By Jimbo Humphreys with Abigail Boatwright

On the ranch, horses may self-load in a stock trailer three or four times a day to do a job, moving from one area to another. If the horse loads willingly and without having to be led in first, it’s much more convenient and doesn’t kill as much time, especially when daylight is a precious commodity not to be wasted.

Guitar Ranch manager Jimbo Humphreys lends his advice on how to teach your horse to load into a trailer on its own.

  • Start the teaching process as soon as the horse is halter broke. Often, this is one of the first things a young horse will learn, even before ever seeing a saddle.
  • Use a nylon rope halter. Jimbo says his horses tend to learn to respect pressure better with a rope halter versus a flat leather halter. Pair this with a lead shank 12-15 feet long, snapped directly to the halter.
  • Establish the proper ground work. Practice sending the horse forward and gaining control of his feet and the direction of his body movement. Use swinging motions with the end of the rope and pointing with your lead hand to encourage the horse forward and away from you. Do this on both sides. Once the horse is comfortable moving away from the rope, encourage him just by pointing your lead hand in the desired direction.
  • Practice sending the horse through a tight space, such as a gate.
  • Use a bridge to mimic the new surface the horse will tread. Start with just the front feet, then let him walk all the way on and off the front of the bridge. Backing off the bridge can scare a horse if its not ready for it.
  • Start slow and easy with an actual trailer. Practice for 10-15 minutes a day when training. If you see a little progress, then that’s a good time to quit.
  • When teaching to unload, always back out, with a cue. Backing a horse out is not only safer for the horse, but safer for you. Just as important, it is essential to determine a cue for your horse to begin backing out when you’re ready.


If you have a horse that is hard to load, Jimbo recommends going back and starting over – just like you would with a brand-new horse that needs to be halter-broke. Repetition is the deal. Something probably happened with that horse to make him not want to load well, and if something didn’t happen, he may never have actually been trained to load properly.