Updated: May 30, 2020
When being in a hurry to reach a competition or clinic, it can be very frustrating to experience our horse not wanting to load. This type of scenario often ends with several people trying to force the horse into the trailer. This might get said horse inside the trailer, but not in a good way as the pressure will happen on the way into the trailer. Horses seek towards the least amount of pressure. Forcing horses to load, or trying to do so, will make them associate the trailer with pressure. Trailer loading is then something the horse will be even more reluctant to do.
How to trailer load a horse without using force
The first advice is: Do not trailer load when in a hurry, practice when there`s plenty of time. It`s important to give the horse time to find relaxation on the ramp and inside the trailer. It`s also beneficial to not teach the horse new stuff when trailer loading. Use cues and patterns of movement (both physical and mental) the horse already knows.
Another thing that helps is to break the trailer loading down into separate parts and practice each part beforehand. There are a couple of things horses benefit from knowing before trailer loading:
1. How to respond to pressure on the lead rope. The horse needs to be able to move forward off pressure in the lead rope as well as backwards.
2. Get rid of claustrophobia! If a horse becomes anxious when walking through narrow doorways or when being close to walls, he or she is definitely going to be anxious when inside a trailer. By sending the horse between ourselves and a wall, until the horse is confident, the horse will better cope with the circumstances inside the trailer. Finding relaxation and confidence in narrow doorways can also help.
3. How to handle unfamiliar ground layer. The ramp of the trailer is different from solid ground. Teaching horses to be comfortable when walking over and standing on a tarp, is a great way to help them handle unfamiliar ground layer. The article, Why horses spook and what to do about it, has some great tips on how to go about this.
It is also advisable to:
Be prepared for shit hitting the fan!
My program is about being able to help a horse calm down when being anxious, it is not about keeping horses calm at all times.
Keeping a horse calm at all times is unrealistic. Life in general, both for horses and humans, is not something you walk through being calm at all times. Being able to find relaxation after being up is, on the other hand, a good thing that I practice a lot. In other words: “being prepared for when the shit hits the fan.”
In the video below, the shit hit the fan, so to say. When trailer loading, the horse spooked and bolted off. However, since the groundwork I have taught him involves being able to stop by turning the hind end over, that was something I could ask him to do in the exited situation. In this manner, he kind of stopped himself. Afterwards, I allowed him to rest on the ramp of the trailer and find relaxation there.
From there on, the whole thing was easy going as the horse had put himself to work away from the trailer which contrasted to finding relaxation on the ramp.
Think of the loading process as making pressure and work happen outside the trailer, while rest and relaxation happen inside the trailer. Horse seek and move towards the least amount of pressure and will be drawn by the trailer when the least amount of pressure happens there.
Celebrate and reward any progress!
The easiest path to success with trailer loading is to reward and acknowledge any improvement, even though the horse doesn`t go all the way into the trailer. If a horse scared of the ramp becomes confident on the ramp, you can end the session when the horse is relaxing on the ramp. Just as progress is made when a horse scared of the trailer 50 meters away, finds relaxation close to the trailer.
By building on progress and improvement, rather than trying to force a horse into the trailer, both you and your horse will gain confidence and eventually succeed.
Welcome to watch the video below showing how I trailer load a young horse that hasn`t been trailer loaded before:
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