Dead or Alive?

Let me ask you two questions…Does your horse load into a trailer in two minutes? Can just anyone else get your horse on a trailer?

Those two questions can literally determine whether your horse ends up dead or alive.

Two minutes to load...
Two minutes to load…

Several years back, in researching an article I was writing for America’s Horse Magazine, I learned that during that wildfires that year, they gave people two minutes to load their horse. Two minutes or the police would make you leave your horse to fend for itself.

 

 

This week I saw some of the stories of horses that were stranded in the floods of Louisiana and Texas. In the video below, they’re having to load three horses in knee-deep water. The first two went on without any effort, but the last one went on and came right back off. The video ends before we find out if they got the horse on the trailer.

Video link –

https://www.facebook.com/groups/368919936614181/

No one ever thinks a disaster will happen to them. The truth of the matter is that unexpected things happen that can require your horse to load quickly and easily, and if they don’t there can be some dire consequences.

For instance, depending on where you’re at, having a flat tire on your truck or trailer, or having an accident can require that you load your horses on the side of an interstate or busy road.  The longer it takes your horse to load, the more at risk you are with traffic.

Clinic
Clinic

So what can you do if your horse doesn’t load well?

There’s a million different methods out there on trailer loading  – some safe, some not so safe. Really, in the end, how you get a horse to load easily is making the trailer a place the horse wants to be and is comfortable in.

How do you do that? Short of only feeding you horse at or on the trailer and nowhere else every single day, when a horse wants to leave a trailer let them but put them to work. You can lunge, you make them do side pass work or any other manner of getting their feet to move. Then come back to the trailer to rest.

As long as they’re looking or checking out the trailer, they’re trying. Leave them be. When they’re not, ask them to move forward on to it — it is important that they know how to move forward by pointing or tapping at the hip!

Once they get on, don’t shut them in. Let them come out if they feel the need to come out. If you’re claustrophobic, locking you in a tiny box doesn’t make you like cramped spaces! Horses are the same way. They get comfortable by knowing they can leave.

The next important piece is consistency and repetition. The more a horse does something, the more he learns and the better he gets at it.

If I have a horse that doesn’t want to load, I will set my trailer up where I can expose them to the trailer every time I turn them in and out of the pasture. Ideally, I’ll take them to the trailer twice a day if I have the time. I don’t spend an hour-long marathon session there. I spend just a minute or two there at the trailer asking them to move forward closer or on the trailer. If they do what I ask in thirty seconds, we’re done and they get to be turned out as a reward.

My retired race horse, Dynamic Host, is my latest big trailering project. When I went to pick him up, he had no clue that tapping on the hip meant go forward. (If he’d been in those California wildfires, he’d been dead!)  His heart rate and respiration was so elevated that you would have thought he’d just won a race. It was obvious he was not comfortable being on a trailer, and I wondered if we would be able to bring him home!

The thing about high-strung and nervous horses is that you can’t whip them on to a trailer or make them go. For one, they’re usually too big to make them go anywhere, and someone will most definitely get hurt trying. Additionally, when they get scared they don’t think at all – they panic and blow up. The lessons of giving to pressure go right out their little window.

The answer for those type horses is teaching them to relax and think, and gradually let them get accustomed to being on the trailer. Repetition and time.

Don’t wait until you’re in a bad situation to work on getting your horse to load better. Do it now so that you and your horse won’t be caught off guard.

How well does your horse load? If he doesn’t load easily and quickly, what is something you can do today to remedy that?

 

 

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Trailer Basics For Loading

We all know someone who’s been there, or we’ve been there ourselves. We’ve got a horse that doesn’t load but we usually manage to get them on the trailer somehow. It’s not exactly pretty but we manage to get the job done.

We spend weeks, maybe even months getting ready for an event. The day of the show arrives and the horse won’t load regardless of what we try.

It’s at that moment that most owners start searching for answers and looking for what they and their horse might be missing. That’s when the quest for knowledge begins. However the problem isn’t a trailer issue, it’s a foundation issue.

It’s true that the horse isn’t comfortable being on the trailer. But the root cause is also a lack of the necessary cues to get the horse on the trailer as well. It’s a combination of trust and conditioned response.

There are few things that can ensure safe trailer loading success. The first is consistency. Trailer loading is not something that will be fixed overnight or in just a few training sessions. The top clinicians will tell you that while your horse may improve quickly, at some point they will regress. This is why it’s so important to be consistent in your training. Just five to ten minutes a day will result in progress.         The next important thing is recognizing the try your horse gives you. At first your horse’s attempt may be as subtle as a weight change. Be looking for those subtle tries and be ready to reward them when they occur with a release of what you’re asking.

Another important component of good trailer training is patience. When problems occur it’s usually because we ask too soon. Don’t ask for the next step until they’re definitely comfortable with giving you the current step.

Horses are a conditioned response animal. If you make the trailer a place to rest and away from the trailer a place of work, it doesn’t take too long for the horse to figure out that when he’s at or in the trailer he works a lot less. This is one of the simplest things you can do to help improve your trailer loading issues.

Next, remember your basics. If you can’t control your horse’s feet away from the trailer how are you going to guide them to get on the trailer? You won’t. So go back to the basics of getting control of your horse’s feet. Fine tune the cues for making your horse go forwards, backwards and sideways so that your horse is light in asking for these three things. Don’t forget to work on your whoa as well.

One last trailer training safety tip is to teach your horse to go forward on the trailer by themselves. The last thing you want to do is be trapped in the trailer with a scared thousand pound horse looking for any way out, which by the way might be right over the top of you.

Have you got a horse that won’t load? Why do you think you horse doesn’t load and what do you think you can do to change that?

 

Trailer demo at clinic
Trailer demo at clinic