Trailer loading is always a good subject for debate. Should
you tie a horse or leave their head free? Straight or slant load? Face
forward or backward? Step up or ramp? Etc., etc.. and the debates go on
Lately I have been asked to help trailer
load several different horses for varying reasons. Usually it has been because
the owner was moving the horse to a training facility.
First, trailer loading is NOT about the
techniques used to load the horse. Nor is it about the trailer itself. At
least, not primarily. First and foremost, if a horse will not load into
a trailer, it is due to the horse’s innate quality of Self Preservation.
Remember that all horse ‘problems’ fall into one of, or a combination
of, four categories:
Trust - Respect - Communication
Horses having been created and born as a
prey animal have this very important Self - Preservation hard wired into
their DNA. This serves to ensure that they survive not only as individuals,
but as a species as well. Being prey means that they are naturally wary
of small confined areas which will limit their means of survival –
flight. Some smaller trailers, mainly the small straight loading “shotgun”
style trailer create a feeling o being claustrophobic.
If a horse refuses to load into a trailer
it is because that everything in his being is warning of him if danger.
So how do we change this claustrophobic animal and get them to load willingly?
Well, the first step is to go back to our
Trust – Respect – Communication
First we must get the horse to trust us.
This doesn’t happen over night but we can do little things to ease
the tension and make working with them a little easier. One of the best
ways is to do some contact bonding to help the horse relax. Take some time,
away from the trailer, and just spend it touching, rubbing, and relaxing
your horse. Let your touch be a comfort to the horse. This will come in
handy later during the loading process.
Second, do some preliminary groundwork.
I AM NOT talking about lunging your horse in a round pen aimlessly in mindless
circles to ‘knock the edge off of them’ before trailer loading.
Rather, some groundwork in hand on a lead line. For those of you familiar
with Parelli Natural Horsemanship, perhaps quietly playing the 7 Games.
For others, make sure your horse will yield to forward pressure form the
lead rope, disengage hindquarters, back smoothly, and move off to circle
you while on line. By getting the horse to move willingly you are in effect
being the dominate herd leader asking for, and expecting compliance and
Regardless of which techniques we will be
using to trailer load our horse, we must be clear in our communication and
intention of what we are asking. We should break down everything into the
smallest steps so that the horse can successfully progress and eventually
load right into the trailer with minimal confusion or stress. One of the
main reasons that horses won’t load in a trailer is due to human error.
So we must be sure to communicate clearly when asking the horse to load.
Last, (this is the common sense stuff) we
should be sure that the trailer is set up adequately for our horse’s
size and that it is in good physical and mechanical condition. The flooring
should be well braced, slip free and there should be no sharp protruding
objects which could injure the horse or catch the halter and put the horse
into a bind which will eventually lead to a wreck.
Besides Self Preservation, the next major
obstacle in trailer loading is lack of forward movement or impulsion. This
usually stems from Self Preservation taking over as discussed previously.
It is imperative that during trailer loading, regardless of technique used,
that you have forward movement. Without forward movement, your horse is
where he is at and you will never succeed in trailer loading.