Trailer unloading issues :(
Hello! I am new to this forum but it seems like there are a lot of great draft people here. 6 months ago I purchased my first draft, a Belgian rescue mare who is approx 12 years old. She had been horribly treated and was several hundred pounds underweight when I got her. Her feet had not been trimmed in years. She was wary of people, particularly men. Aside from all of this she was still unbelievably willing to learn and trust, but it's taken a lot of work and time.
I trailered her the first time when I first brought her home. She loaded a bit frantically but didn't hesitate too much to get in. I tied her, then went to step out and she immediately tried to turn around. She isn't huge, but still a draft and nearly got stuck! This was with a 4 horse stock trailer. At the time she weighed about 1600 pounds (she is 16.1). Quickly I went back and retied her, more tight this time. She still tried to turn around but couldn't. The rest of the ride was fine but you could tell she was very uncomfortable.
I always back my horses out of the trailer...when we arrived, I tried to do this with her. She wouldn't budge. She definitely wanted out, but everything in her wanted to turn around and go out front ways. I spent and hour trying to coax her out backwards but it was like her feet were stuck in cement. I HATE giving up but it truly seemed impossible, so I let her turn around to get out. This made me so nervous I can't even tell you! The entire trailer rocked back and forth and she made the loudest noise...I thought either she was going to break the trailer somehow (which isn't mine to begin with) or hurt herself (or me).
I borrowed a trailer after a couple of months to practice with her. I still couldn't get her to back out. I felt like I had made progress, she had gotten one foot down...but only to hop right back inside again. We were both exhausted after hours of trying, and I am sick to say I gave up again, only to let her turn around and nearly kill the trailer, herself, and me in the process.
Unfortunately since I don't own my own trailer, I cannot practice with her very often which makes things much worse. I had to take her to the vet last month and it was hell again (even worse as she is now nearly 2000 pounds) trying to get her out of the trailer safely. I am moving my horses to another location tomorrow and am just dreading it as I am going to be using a friends trailer and would feel so terrible if something happened to it when she turns around to get out (it is a 3 horse slant).
The method that I have been trying to use is just not working and I am making it worse everytime I let her get away with turning around. Usually I will open the door, untie her, she will immediately try to turn around and I will stop her, calm her down, ask her to wait patiently. She will do this. I'll ask her to back up. She will back all the way to the edge of the trailer. I give lots of praise. But this is when the progress stops. A few times she has dropped her back foot to the ground (this took a lot of lead rope smacking on her chest and pressure with the halter). I have a very good release and really praised her when this happend, and really let her think about it. As soon as I think she is ready, I'll ask her to drop her other foot down by asking her to back up...and she immediately hops right back in! There is no stopping her by force of course. We could do this over and over and over and she would not drop her other foot down let alone back out.
I have a lot of patience and have trained all of my other horses myself, and they are all easy loaders/unloaders. This is my first draft and rescue and I am just at a loss of what to do. I keep thinking to myself as much as I hate it that I may have to get more forceful with her (although I don't know what that would involve...it is impossible to push her around). I have been working extensively on her ground manners and yeilding to me, but she is still pushy and quite stubborn. Ideally I'd like to do trailer work with her every day but can't. Plus if I can't get a positive result one time, how is she ever going to figure out what to do?!
I know this was long, I'm so sorry for that but felt it necessary to explain in detail the issue I'm having. Any help would be greatly appreciated! Thanks for listening!
Try going to Sylvia's website. She's an NHS trainer, will usually answer your questions with 24 hours, no charge. She's helped me many times. Training Tips
Is there anyone at the barn that you can borrow their trailer , or can your friend leave their trailer for a number of weeks here and there for you to use to train with.
Also do you practice backing her in ground work on a lead? I'd suggest that once she is doing good with backing up on a lead line in a ring or paddock then I'd then try smaller areas like the barn run or even backing her out of/in her stall and even create area's that require her to back out with you leading her (ofcourse make sure you are able to have room to move out of her way incase she freaks out). It sounds like she isn't trusting that you know that she won't run into anything or fall off of anything. So maybe while working with her talk to her and give her treats and lots of love. Do it in area's where she has to step down and give her a comand so she knows there is a step involved. And if you can borrow your friend's trailer and just load and unload her multiple times a day.
At this point she know's that you will give up and allow her to do it her way. you can't do that anymore, because the more you do it the more she will feel like it isn't required that she trust you to back out.
Maybe if you can borrow a trailer have her step in the trailer and then step out back wards, then step in two steps and back out, then half way in and back out, and so on. Do it as much as possible, daily.
When I got my arab/POA cross (I know a much smaller horse than a draft) we had to push her into the trialer (with leads crossing her butt and two people on either side and me pulling her lead) and then we had the same issue with getting her out, she didn't want to back out. But with lots of treats and taking it slow she figured it out. We found it became 10 times easier to do when we had a trailer that had a door that folded down so it wasn't a step down out of the trailer, but more of a slanted walkway down. With in months she was able to be trailered almost anywhere with little to no problem loading and unloading.
It takes a build up of trust between owner and horse. I backed her up when ever possible while leading her. Backed her into her stall, out of her stall, out of the pasture/paddock, etc. Then when riding her I even backed her up in to area's she wasn't sure about, like running water and such.
hope that helps.
First teach her to back on the ground. One step at a time,pressure and release/reward. Once you have her backing freely on the ground back her everywhere. Into the stall, out of the stall, the more the better. You don't need a trailer to teach her to back off of one. You can get creative and find some heavy duty pallets, then screw some plywood onto them and create your own bridge that you can walk her onto then back her off of. I know it isn't as high as a trailer but she will learn to trust you as you guide her backwards. It may take time and a lot of patience but I think she will learn. Good luck with her.
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