Friday, January 6, 2012

Trailer loading

Why is trailer loading such an issue? Many people are in such a hurry to get their horses under saddle and winning at shows that they forget to take the necessary time, first to allow horses to be horses, and second to train them correctly.

Letting horses be horses is a whole conversation in it self. And we are here to talk about trailer loading today.


Why do most handlers, trainers and owners wait for an emergency to train their horses to load? When the horse needs to get to the vet, or the farrier, or out of the barn for any reason, is no time to give a loading lesson.

Worst Yet!!!

The horse gets forced into the trailer with multiple people beating him on the ass with a whip or butt rope, and even literally carrying him and shoving him into the trailer. Sure at times we must use the whip or a rope, to discipline and/or encourage the horse to go forward but if at any point the horse pulls back and throws himself over, it is not his fault but the fault of the rider, handlers, or trainers.

The horse if possible should learn to load with it's mother, or when halter broke. Some times, we must load a horse that has never loaded before and these cases, we are all prone to make mistakes and let our frustration and emotions get in the way of loading the horse with patience. In terms of working with horses, nothing can be rushed. We must give the horse what ever amount of time he needs to feel safe and comfortable enough to load.

The horse by nature is scared, and cluster phobic, when we take the whip to his hind end with great force, the situation gets worse. Now, not only is the horse afraid of the small enclosure that we ask him to get into, but also, he will associate the trailer with the punishment. So, we just made it worse, until forced, not trained the horse is cornered into getting into the trailer where he is finally left alone. Is this training? NO.

Now, there are times when using the whip is necessary but if and when this time comes we must be diligent enough to use it in a way that the horse understands why it is being used. If we do not have the ability to know when is and when it is not the right time or the right reason to use the whip, then we must not proceed, but stop instead and seek the help of some one else with perhaps more experience, better judgement and more self control and patience to help. A word of caution however is that just because a person has more years amongst horses than we do, does not mean they have better experience, knowledge, judgment, or skills.

If we teach our young horses when they are at their mother's side to load into the trailer, and we constantly load them in and out after they are weaned, there will be little or no trouble loading later in the horses adulthood. In the case when the horse did not have the privilege of learning to load as a youngster for any reason, or in the case of one who forgot all about loading for any reason, we must proceed in the easiest way we can.

 One of these being to place the horse in a round pen or something similar with the trailer backed into the doors of the pen, the trailer doors opened and the feed and water of the horse being placed by the opening of the trailer and moving further inside as the days and even weeks go by. The day will come when the horse will be indifferent about going in and out of the trailer. And so we can begin practising loading and unloading and taking the horse for short trips even if it is just around the property. Time consuming yes but worth the effort.

Another easy way to do things when a round pen or corral is not available, or we have a less suitable situation, is to teach the horse to move forward with a cluck of the tongue and/or  lite tap with the lead rope or hand on the barrel or belly. Most horses learn to load in a matter of days with this method and an assistant is not necessary.

I do not like to use the famous war bridles, or the famous "be nice halters" which are nothing more than a modified war bridle, because it stresses the horse unnecessarily, and if we are going to use something like that instead of a halter it may as well be serrata, cavesson, or even a hackamore.

Time is key, just like anything else. If we wait for the training of trailer loading, until the day we have to, things may get real ugly and we may end up using very bad judgement. At Watchman Farms, we train our P.R.E. babies to load at their mothers side, and we do many trips with them together, so when the time comes for them to do it alone, it never comes a a surprise.

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