Teaching to load/trailer
How exactly does one go about teaching a horse to load and trailer willingly? I’ve never really gone places with my horses... places that I’d have to trailer them to, at any rate... but lately my friends and I have been thinking about loading them up and taking them to a ranch to ride a few miles away...
But neither of my horses trailer.
My family owns a trailer, but my horses aren’t gonna step foot in it... it’s just a feeling I get, but it makes me uneasy and makes me feel like my horses would get hurt in it... even just teaching them to load.
My friends 3 miles away have recently bought a two horse trailer that they’ve offered to let me use to teach my two how to load... but I have to take my two those three miles to their house to use their trailer...
Not that it bothers me... I don’t mind the ride...
So... how does one go about teaching a horse to load?
My gelding I really don’t think will be much of a problem to teach... He trusts me, and will walk right up to a trailer, but hesitates to move into it... which I can understand, as it’s new to him... but I want to make his learning experiences positive.
My mare, on the other hand... to get her in a trailer, I have to have someone behind her to smack her on the rear with a switch because she’ll put her front legs up, then completely freak and roll her eyes with her head raised up really high and will fly backwards to get as far away from the trailer as she can... She’s had some sort of bad experience with a trailer before I got her, I think...when we finally get her on a trailer and start to drive somewhere, she’s ok, and unloads easily... but she does show the whites of her eyes for a few minutes after unloading and, depending on how long the ride is, she works herself into a sweat in the trailer.
How can I make teaching/reteaching them more positive?
We had trailer loading lesson day today. We use the Clinton Anderson technique.
I lightly lunge my horse at the back of the trailer - nice and quiet, no big deal. Instead of stopping and resting with me, we stop and rest at the trailer in loading position.
From there depends on the horse. The C.A. method moves on to "drive" the horse into the trailer with an open door body position on the handler's part. 3 today did well with this positioning with encouragement at the rear with a carrot stick. 1 did better with me facing forward at the stall of the trailer and bumping her rump with carrot stick coming around my back from my left hand.
When the horse stops and refuses to continue, we go back to lunging at a trot behind the trailer. Good behavior is rewarded with resting. Refusals are rewarded with moving the feet (lunging).
The yearling filly loaded in 30 minutes- she had never seen a trailer before. She loaded and unloaded 10 times with no trouble at all after the first loading. No brides involved.
My colt had only loaded once before and he went right on in.
My filly developed and issue yesterday and we reschooled and corrected today. took 20 minutes.
I think I would approach trailering in the same way for both horses. The difference will be in how long it takes each one to gain confidence. I'll break the basic pattern I follow into steps as best I can. :wink:
Step 1: Approach trailer with horse. Be purposeful here, expect the horse to calmly walk aboard without breaking gait. Walk purposefully up to the open trailer, looking straight where you're going. Think of it as setting an example for the horse; you want him to focus on the trailer and step calmly on, too.
Step 2: Allow the horse to become confident at the edge of his comfort zone. Depending on the horse, the edge can be a variety of places. You will know the edge when the horse requires further encouragement to go willingly forward. Instead of pulling and getting into a tug-of-war, just stop and allow the horse to "observe" the trailer. A dry lot is best for this step, since many horses will try to graze. Don't let them, if he's grazing, he isn't learning about the trailer. Don't hold him at the edge, either. If he feels the need to back away, allow 2 voluntary steps back, then start backing him up. Back until your horse begins losing the "run back" midset, then immediately reapproach (ALWAYS face the trailer), and allow him to rest at the edge of his comfort zone. Depending on the horse (especially with a more fearful horse) I might dispense treats here. The treats are not meant to "bribe" the horse onto the trailer (ie, luring them on, "here, horsie horsie..."), but to facilitate relaxation and stimulate the "lickey, chewy" mouth of a thinking, relaxed horse.
Step 3: Reapproach. When you have several of the relaxation earmarks (lowering head, licking and chewing, resting of hind leg, relaxed tail, blinking, desire to graze, etc.) ask for the horse to step closer. When you encounter resistence again, allow the horse to relax as in Step 2.
Phase 2 (In the trailer).
Step 4: Allow the horse to relax in the trailer. Don't hold him in or tie him, simply expect him to stand on a loose lead. Praise, treat, pet, as applicable to the specific horse. If the horse chooses to back out, allow him to unload himself uninhibited until his hind feet are on the ground, then start backing him up and away from the trailer (as in Step 2). Again, keep facing the trailer. Reapproach and allow rest and relaxation in the trailer (or as close to it as possible, some horses take a few "dry runs" to digest what just happened before a second loading).
Tips: Don't get excited, this is not a big deal. If you make it into one, the horse will think it is. It's no different than leading the horse into his stall or pasture.
Wear gloves and use a long rope or lungeline (if you are confident handling that big of a rope coil in a hurry, if necessary) if you are concerned about a horse running back. If they learn how to get away to release the pressure, that can quickly become a dangerous habit. Keep his eyes on you, and maintain your "personal bubble" until the horse is confident. Perhaps invest in a head bumper if the horse is throwing her head up inside, the last thing you want is for her to associate the trailer with pain.
Practice obedient leading without a trailer. Often, when it comes down to it, problems loading are problems leading. The trailer is just enough of a stressor to the horse to bring out any bad leading habits he may have.
If at any time you feel that the situation has become unsafe, please get on-site, professional help.
I hope that was a bit helpful for you. I'm no professional, but that method has gotten me through (relatively) minor issues with my own horses, as well as a few others, with minimal fuss.
Good luck! :D
EDIT: Barrelracer's CA version works well, too. I actually like it a little better as far as speed of effect, but I ended up tweaking mine to the above version when I was dealing with an older gelding who knew how to rip away from a handler if he got too flustered, and got easily flustered with lunging.
My horse had some weird problem with trailers. I used my trainer's modified version of this because he was also weird to lunge. We'd walk up the trailer in a positive, energetic way like it was nothing at all. Once he stopped walking and refused to go further, we would take a training stick and have him back up very quickly a few strides. Approach the trailer nonchalantly again and continue the backing up with each refusal. Once the horse makes a big step (for mine, it was putting both front feet on the ramp), reward with something they enjoy.
Eventually the horse will understand the trailer is a positive experience and it is easier to load and get treats, then to back up a whole bunch. (one thing that you don't want to make them back up for is it have approach the trailer curiously, sniffing, etc. but as soon as they retaliate, back, back, back)
Once the horse gets comfortable getting on, off the trailer have the horse sit in the trailer with something extra rewarding (i mixed a few different treats together with some carrots) to munch on and get used to their surroundings. That way they can get accustomed to the inside without the force of the back door. Eventually put up the butt bar while they eat, then eventually the whole thing. Do not tie the horse's head until the butt bar/ramp is up.
Note: Do not do this all in one day (lol) It took my horse about 3-4 weeks to do this all, stopping quicker for the day if he did something very good.
The main thing to remember is to make the "big" steps a very rewarding experience so that the horse is willing to try new things continuously. :] good luck!
Horses are loaded with some form of pressure or bribe in most cases,but it is a little easier if they really enjoy the trailer.
To do that the handler has to expose the horse to the trailer over time.
I start by tying the horse to the outside of the trailer so that they can get use to the environment.
Sometimes I use the buddy system also.
This is a yearling that is already trained to load and a weanling.
It is important to keep the process as quiet and relaxed as you can.
Thanks for the information...
I'm probably going to work with my horses trailering a lot this winter, as next summer my friends have already expressed an interest in trailering and riding in different places and I don't want to force my horses to do something they're not totally comfortable with more than I have to.
I may lunge my gelding like was mentioned, but my mare knows how to 'get away' and would freak...so I'll have to lead her and stuff...
Also, the trailer I'm using is a step up... not a slant/ramp load... will that be much of a problem?
Mine is a step up.
Also, you can practice your "open door" cue at any gate or doorway. I do this when going into gates and going into the stall.
I stop at the opening with my horse (like in a halter class). When I am ready for the horse to enter, I turn towards my horse and make an usher move and wave them on in. This is the same cue that I give at the back of my straight load trailer.
Alright... thanks for the info!
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