I have a 4 yr. old gelding who I can get into a stock trailer but I can’t get him to back out. When I put just his front feet in I can get him to back out very nicely but when I get him all the way in he won’t back up even if he is at the front of the trailer and backing up won’t get him anywhere near
the edge. He hasn’t been trailered ever as he was born at my place and I’ve never had a trailer. Am I expecting to much of him or not?
I don’t think that you are expecting too much from this horse at all. Even weanlings can learn to trailer, load and unload quietly. This is not really a trailering issue at all, this is really a trust issue. While your horse may trust you in most areas, in this unfamiliar situation this horse does not trust the ground to be there under him when YOU say that it will be. If you look at it from his point of view, you can understand his fear. If you KNEW that there was a drop-off behind you, and someone, even someone you know, told you that it was okay to step off, yet you could not check to see for yourself but must step backwards blindly and hope that you can make it, would you not be hesitant to proceed? I suggest taking time to teach this horse that he can, in fact, trust you in this sort of situation. You do not need a trailer for this, either. You will need to come up with two distinct cues. One for “follow” and one for “back up.”
First, teach the horse to follow you everywhere you go while leading him forward. Make it a game, give treats (this is a great clicker-training exercise) and lots of praise and teach him to follow with his head at your shoulder through all sorts of obstacles and situations. Over tarps, over ditches, through water, build a bridge and clump up and over it, through hanging strips of plastic garbage bags, past or through any sort of scary object and uneven ground you can think of and/or make.
Next practice a bit making sure that he will back easily on cue. Start on level ground with good footing, and ask that he back a few steps with you. Stand at his head facing his tail and move with him as he backs up. Practice this until he is comfortably and quietly and easily backing on cue for a good distance. Then ask him to back between two poles on the ground. Ask him to back between two barrels. Ask him to back through a pattern of poles so that he has to turn and maneuver. Again, work at this until he can do it easily and quietly. Now, you are ready to put the two skills together.
Start out as you have been and go forwards past or over a scary obstacle or uneven ground. Then stop, and, staying at his head, you begin walking backwards as you use your “back up” cue to ask him to do the same obstacle in reverse. Work up to him backing into shallow ditches and creeks and off small banks. I used to have a house where the back steps from the porch to the driveway were concrete slabs of about 12 feet square. Something like that would be perfect. Stand the horse on a slab and ask him to back so that he steps down to the next one. When he will confidently follow you forwards or backwards over, across, or past anything you ask, then you can use the same technique with the stock railer. Have the same matter-of-fact attitude and use the same cues in the same consistent manner as you have been. Ask him to follow you onto the trailer, then ask him to back off of the trailer. If you want, or feel it may help, back the trailer to a smallish bank or hump in the ground so that the distance he must step up or down is less. If you’ve taken your time and built his trust in you so that he knows if you ask him to back up somewhere, he CAN do it, even if it seems weird or scary, then the trailer will become a non-issue.