3-year old having trailering problems-I'm out of ideas!
HELP!!! I have a 3-year old QH/Paint/Morgan who has trailering problems! He will step all the way into the trailer, but he will only stay there a few seconds before backing out again. It's a little 2-horse step-up straight load, we load him by leading him into it and going out the side escape door. He fits in the trailer just fine, and has his very calm stablemate loaded next to him. I have figured that he is scared of the butt bar being put up, and have been told that the best way to cure that is to get the horse in, get the bar up and doors closed, and leave him to figure it out. But what if you don't have time to get the bar up before the horse backs out?!? He has food in the trailer that he gets if he comes in all the way. Is this just solved through experience? He has had no bad experiences in the past (I've owned him all his life) and was getting in just fine up to about 1 month ago when we started trying to get him in again after a 6-7 month period of no loading practice. He trusts me as I am his main rider and feeder, but especially if he sees someone behind him trying to put the bar up, he usually won't stay in longer then 4 seconds. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!
Ahhhh....trailer loading. Every horse owners dream! Well, its nice to know that he hasnt had any bad experiences, so he wont have any reason to really fear the butt bar other then not liking it behind him. Since you have a small two horse straight load, have you ever tried self loading him? Meaning, do you let him load himself? Some horses dont like doing it, while others love it more then being led up. That might help you. What you do is send the horse up with the lead rope draped around its neck, and have the lunge whip in hand as a "extention of your arm" only. Encourage the horse into circles at a nice easy fast walk that has some energy in it, or a jog. Make sure that he has your attention. Then, circle him until he gets closer and closer to the trailer and then get his attention and send him into the trailer. Dont hesitate!If he shoves into you with his shoulder/hindquarters, pop him off with the crop/whip to let him know what you mean. If he takes a step into the trailer, stop him and make him stand and then YOU back him out. He gets to rest when he gets into the trailer. Its your idea to make him back out, not his own. That way, he learns that the trailer is a good place to be and comfortable for him, without food. I wouldnt use food, even as a reward. that makes him look forward to it and could cause problems in the long run. Just keep working with the horse until he goes a little further each time. If he hesitates, tap him with the whip on the butt, not hard but in a "meaning" way. If he shoots out, make him work with "sending him out", or away in circles around you and then ask him in when you are ready then send him in again. He doesnt back out till you ask him. You can have another horse in there if you want to, but I dont think you need to really. If you just want to try with you leading him on yourself, have someone behind you that stands with the whip and taps him when he backs up. The minute he comes back into the trailer, let him stand there until you ask him back. Consistancy is the key here! It wont happen in one day, of course, but if you have patience then you will do well. Two of my horses load with just me leading them in but my one mare perfers being sent in. That is just how they like it I guess. Good luck! Keep us posted on your progress.....
I agree with Curly's good advice, except for the food/reward thing.
Food & other rewards(not just backhanded compliments like removal of unpleasantness/pressure) are powerful training 'tools'. They have the power to help create a truely willing partnership and attitude towards you & the 'work' you want the horse to do. However, they will just as powerfully teach bad behaviour if you aren't conscious of exactly what you're teaching, or you're bad with timing, so the reward comes too late to reinforce the right behaviour.
I disagree totally about locking a scared horse in a float to let him work it out. If you've seen horses injured or having to have the float cut up to get them out, you'd agree. :shock: Even if the horse isn't injured, what's this doing for his attitude towards allowing himself in there, or his trust & respect for you?? :(
IME the best way to go, for your relationship/trust/respect, not just the outcome of this specific exercise, is to desensitise the horse gradually, using approach & retreat and well timed positive reinforcement(reward) along with the negative reinforcement(removal of pressure).
I would do it the same way that Curly suggests myself. In addition, I would carefully manage it so that each step along the way is easy. not too hard for the horse to 'get right'. It's less likely that the horse will barge into you, shoot back out again, etc too. But if he does, then I would again do as Curly suggests - don't allow it! Then I would work at a little easier level, so he's less worried & gets more practice getting things right :wink:
I too would be making it my idea rather than his to back out. However, remember he's frightened &/or confused about what you want, so don't overface him with more than he can handle. Eg. he will walk in & stand a few seconds, so ask him to walk in & walk out a load of times until he's confident before asking him to stay there for a couple of seconds..... I actually teach them to stand & back at a number of stages along the way before the whole horse is in the trailer. Work gradually to build confidence at each step before asking for more.
If you train your horse properly the first time - at anything - you will make it more comfortable for him for the rest of his life rather then having to do remedial training latter.
Let him back out...and then put him right back in. Teach him he's not getting anywhere. Take a day you have time to do this.
Show him he can back out all he likes but he's getting right back in so he may just as well get over it.
I just dont feel that giving a horse a treat after loading is a good reward......they shouldn't learn that they get a treat after they get in the trailer and oh, we are done now. A pat is just as good as a treat, even better. Some people say that they feed their horses in the trailers to show them that there is nothing to fear. Well, consistancy of loading in the trailer will overcome fear only if it is done the right way and little baby steps at a time. No offense to anyone I hope. :)
Re: trailer loading
Of course there is nothing that every animal is motivated by all the time - if you've just devoured a 3 course dinner, then a food treat probably won't entice you... If you're really frightened of something, food is also not high on your list of most desireables at that time....
They are also not the only good positive reinforcement by a long shot. If the animal truely loves a good scratch or 'pat' or anything else desireable *enough to motivate it to work for that*, you can use that instead or as well. But while some animals - particularly dogs - will work for this, horses often don't give a toss, or actively dislike it, especially if it's just lightly smacking the horse like many people like to 'pat'. In that case, a treat is almost definitely a more powerful reinforcement.
I can't think why you believe horses shouldn't get a treat for going in the trailer(or whatever other 'right' behaviour they give you). I am guessing it's just the commonly held aversion to using food treats as reinforcement generally, not just about the trailer? The horse *should* work for you just because you're it's owner? Or negative reinforcement(removal of something undesirable) is enough of a 'reward'? Each to their own, but I believe it's important to really examine beliefs such as this to see how & why they came about & whether they're up to date so to speak.
I think people often mistakenly think of a pat as a positive reinforcement(something desireable) but they can't read the horse well enough to understand how little they care.(Never say never - some like it). My horse loves a scratch on the belly button area & will happily work for that, but he doesn't really care for any other grooming. It's a bit difficult to give a well timed reinforcement in this manner if I'm riding, or if he's in the trailer & I'm either out behind him or in front of him, for eg.
I agree that food treats used to sort of bribe the horse out of it's fears is not effective or desirable. Horses, being prey animals, are primarily concerned with safety and if they perceive something as dangerous, then food is the last thing on their mind. In this manner, I don't think it's the best reinforcement. I think you need to work with approach & retreat to get to a point that there is no - or very little - fear present before breaking out the +R. That way you're also reinforcing his blase attitude about it, not just the surface behaviour.
Loosie: my horses dont work for me, they work with me. I dont make them obey me, I ask them. We work as a team, not as a boss and a employee, so to speak. The way I look at it: when my horses load in the trailer, I use positive reinforment such as a kind word, patting and then we end the session on a good note. I just dont do the "giving" of the treat thing. Our horses have gotten nippy when too many treats were given, so they get grain at the end of a work session. I guess we can just agree to disagree lol :D
Remember, its not about getting on the trailer. It is about taking a step in the direction you asked, at the speed you asked and not moving until you ask again. Ground work away from the trailer will fix this.
With halter, lead and a dressage whip, kindly ask your horse to take a few steps.. .use a word like "step up". In your mind, know exactly how many steps you want him to take. Lets say two steps. At the second step, tell him to Whoa. If he doesn't immediately whoa, back him up ten steps. Do this again. Ask for two steps, whoa, if he doesn't respond, back him up ten. Once he gets the whoa down pat, then work on the back up.
Ask for two steps forward, whoa. give him a nice rub. then ask him to back two steps. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Varry the amount of steps you want him to take... 2, 4 6, 2. Do this every day for a week until he is not moving unless you ask him to. He is whoa-ing, standing still until asked and backing on command.
Take him to the trailer and do the same exact thing. Ask him to take two steps up (and onlyl two steps), whoa, then back up four steps. Do it again, Four steps up. Whoa. Wait. Pet, Then back up.
Its not about the trailer, its about him listening to you and obeying. It works every time.
I currently use hand of grain to praise my horse when she walks in, stands, and we close the door. As a matter of fact that was suggested to me by 3 trainers out of 4 who deal with her (only the 4th one was able to load her and he suggested it as well). She doesn't look for food there. It's just that little exra that trailer is not a bad place to be in.
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