Equine Behaviour Specialist, Emma Tarrant says,
Loading problems are something that most of us have had an experience with at some point in our lives as horse owners. We can all relate to that person sat on the bottom of the ramp who has missed her class because the horse wouldn’t go in the trailer. I know I have certainly been there myself in the past!
Once I started looking into the psychology behind loading and travelling horses I realised that actually there is no ‘magic trick’ it is all about good basic foundation training, understanding and leadership – and anyone can do it with a little knowledge!
Most horses don’t load because they don’t LEAD, sounds simple? It is!
If your horse leads really well he will lead anywhere, including into the trailer!
So this is where we always start, forget the trailer and get your horse’s basic ground training really solid. Ask yourself where the weak spots are, does he come off a light pressure of the lead rein to walk forwards, does he stop when you do without pushing past you or running you over, does he back up softly and yield his hindquarters and forequarters easily? If the answer to any of these questions is no then that’s the place you need to start.
In 90% of the horses I work with once these few basic things are in place the horse loads easily.
The very action of leading a horse into a trailer seems to evoke all kinds of negative emotions in us humans such as frustration, impatience and anger, why is that?
It is no wonder then that the trailer becomes a place for the horse to avoid at all costs, the trailer is not the issue, it is the experiences that surround it which the horse wants to avoid. Similarly if every time we load the horse he has to go somewhere and work hard he will develop a negative association with the trailer.
Time – ‘if you have all the time in the world it will take five minutes, if you have five minutes it will take all the time in the world!’
This is very true; time is one of the most important factors in teaching horses to load.
Loading is a lesson which should be incorporated into the horse’s early training – I include loading in the five foundation skills my young horses learn at an early age along with catching, leading, tying up and picking up feet. You may never want to take your horse to a show but a situation may arise where you have to get him to the vet quickly and that early teaching really could be the difference between life and death.
The morning of a show is not the time to teach your horse to load! (You may laugh but you would be surprised how many people do this!).
We must not become emotionally involved with our horses behaviour around the trailer, we must remain calm and business like at all times. The horse is never wrong, or ‘naughty’ he is just giving us an inappropriate answer, i.e. don’t tell him off for rearing – you may want to teach him to rear tomorrow and he may be reluctant to offer it to you again.
We simply ignore the behaviour we don’t want and reward the behaviour we are looking for.
REWARD, this is very important, there must be something in this for the horse, if you get a good moment lead him away from the trailer straight away and give him some time out, the primary and most effective reward for horses is to take the pressure off and that applies throughout our horsemanship not just with loading.
Don’t get into a battle with the horse – you will not win.
Don’t fall into the ‘I’ve started so I have to finish’ trap.
You want to keep sessions short and fun, especially with young horses; the trailer is just another training tool, look for a good point to finish on, with very difficult loaders initially that could just be that he looks into the trailer or takes one step towards it.
A big mistake is starting the session thinking ‘I will get this horse into the trailer’ brake the task and each training session down into small pieces and set yourself up to win (don’t forget you have all the time in the world).
Let him explore the trailer, sniff, bite and paw the ramp. He needs to satisfy his curiosity and make sure its safe.
If the horse becomes too active during loading and you feel you are not confident enough to deal with this situation you may need to get a professional trainer out to get you started, don’t forget the darkest hour is always before the dawn!
Once the horse is happily loading in and out and standing quietly whilst the trailer doors are closed we can start to travel short distances. Initially that could be just a few feet before unloading and then building up the journey time as the horse is comfortable. If you find your taking one step forwards and two steps back slow down, your moving to fast just go back to a point where the horse is comfortable and build on it more slowly.
Load lots – it needs to become an everyday normality, the more you do it the more confident your horse will become in and around the trailer until you drop the ramp and he loads himself!
Have fun – isn’t that why we have horses? Take the pressure off and use trailer loading as a way to spend some quality time with your horse on the ground, you’ll soon start to look forward to the sessions and if your feeling good about it guess what; so will he!
You can also visit Emma’s website