As an introduction to this article I would like to mention that it of utmost importance to stay safe while loading horses. Teaching them the proper way to load and understanding how to do this safely and effectively is what this article is all about. Clinton Anderson's lifelong experience as a horseman and clinician will give you great tools for teaching your horse (and yourself). Karen Pickering, Horse Safety Tips….
To help your horse overcome his trailering fears, you have to look at trailering from his perspective. As prey animals, with a flight or fight response, horses prefer to be in big, open spaces where they can easily see predators approaching them and then be able to make a quick getaway. You’ll never see a prey animal having a rest in a tight, narrow space because if a predator came along, he’d be trapped. That’s why, as a general rule, horses don’t like trailers – they make them feel trapped and claustrophobic.
Not only do trailers make horses feel trapped and claustrophobic, but they’re also a scary object. Horses hate objects. What is an object? An object is anything that doesn’t live in your horse’s stall or pasture. Why is it no longer an object if it lives in your horse’s stall or pasture? Because if it lives in your horse’s stall or pasture, your horse sees it every day and gets desensitized to it. Horses especially hate objects that move and make a noise. A trailer does a little bit of everything. It’s an object, it moves, and it makes a noise when the horse walks up on it and as it’s traveling down the road.
If you put yourself in your horse’s position, trailering can be a traumatic experience, especially when the horse doesn’t understand that the trailer isn’t going to hurt him.
When you teach your horse to load onto the trailer, the first rule is to completely forget about the trailer. Act like loading the horse onto the trailer is the furthest thing from your mind. The more you think about getting the horse on the trailer, the more you’ll start to act like a predator and scare the horse.
Your first goal is to make sure your horse is comfortable around the trailer. If he’s not comfortable around the trailer, he’s not going to want to get inside of it. Start by asking him to move his feet with energy around all three sides of the trailer. I use the Sending Exercise from the Fundamentals Series (making the horse move from one side o my body to the other), but as long as you make your horse hustle his feet, you’ll be in good shape.
When the horse is comfortable moving around the trailer (he’s not spooking at it), lower the trailer’s ramp and send him back and forth across it. Sending the horse across the ramp will help him get used to the noise the trailer will make when he steps up onto it. Anytime he wants to stop and smell the trailer or paw at the ramp, let him. That’s his way of doing his own safety inspection and proving to himself that the trailer isn’t going to harm him.
When he’s calmly walking back and forth across the ramp of the trailer, ask him to take one step inside the trailer. And just before he gets nervous or plants his feet and refuses to move, back him out. You’ll play a little bit of a cat-and-mouse game with the horse so that anytime he gets scared, you’ll back him out of the trailer. That’s the complete opposite of what he expects you to do; he thinks you’re going to try to force him on the trailer. Each time he steps inside of it and you back him out and he doesn’t get hurt, he’ll gain more confidence.
When he’s comfortable taking one step inside the trailer, ask him to take two steps, and then back him out again. Keep working on that until his whole body is in the trailer. Then let him rest and relax in the trailer a few minutes as a reward.
If you’re thorough and consistent about following these steps, you’ll find that your horse will confidently load on the trailer.
Watch Clinton build a horse’s confidence about getting in the trailer at the Kalispell, MT Walkabout Tour
AUGUST 27 & 28
Majestic Valley Arena
No Worries Club members get 5 free tickets to tours each year.
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