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Git In My Trailer!

I have been lucky in that I have never owned a horse who had a serious loading problem.  But I did once bring home a horse on trial who had a trailering issue.  As in, the day I went to pick her up to bring her home, it took over an hour of several cowboys (this was a tall TB mare who had ended up in a roping/Western barn… not a good fit) doing their best to muscle her into the trailer and using pretty much every trick in the book (meaning: whips, chains, ropes, brooms…).  They got her in the trailer eventually, but it wasn’t pretty.  It wasn’t happy.  And I don’t think any of those techniques would ever result in a horse who was very willing to get into the trailer the next time.

I ended up keeping this horse for a couple months before ultimately deciding she wasn’t going to be my next event horse.   By the time I took her back to her owner, though, I had fixed the trailering “problem.”  Because I hated the way poor Bridget had been loaded into the trailer by the cowboys (who had the best intentions), I searched for a technique that would be positive.  What I found (sadly, I don’t remember where now!) was basically the technique I now use any time I have a horse who is feeling a little reluctant to get into the moving box.

So, in all its glory, here’s the technique:

1.  Walk the horse towards an open trailer (that has yummy hay in the hay bag, of course).

2.  When the horse stops (as it will, invariably, if you’re dealing with a reluctant loader), pause a moment.  If the horse looks tense or anxious, let the horse relax.

3.  When the horse looks relaxed, ask her to step forward.

4.  If she steps forward:  GREAT!  Praise her!  Pet her!  Let her rest and relax!  (you can feed treats if you want, but I like praise better.  Praise never turned a horse into a nipper).

If she refuses to move or steps backwards:  Let her know you disagree with her decision by making it harder work.  My personal favorite way to make it harder work is to either back the horse up or ask her to disengage the hindquarters (sometimes both).  How far I back the horse up and whether I use disengaging depends on how long we’ve been trying to get into the trailer…  I usually start out with about 5 steps of backing up.  The longer it takes, the more steps we take, with a nice bit of disengaging at the end.

5.  Ask the horse to walk forward again.  If she steps forward beyond where she stopped the previous time, praise, pet, rest!  If she stops earlier than where she stopped before, back up/disengage.

The important thing here is that any time the horse makes progress towards the trailer, she gets a reward.  I think the most powerful reward is rest.  The idea is that outside or away from the trailer becomes work. inside or closer to the trailer becomes a place of rest, so the horse wants to go there.

6.  When the horse finally gets in the trailer (even if it’s just the front feet), let her stay there (petting, praising, feeding) until she starts to get nervous.  Then back her out (5-10 steps).

I know.  It’s really hard to let the horse get out when you just spent so much time getting her in.  But I promise she’ll get in again.  And she’ll be more relaxed about it the next time.

7.  Immediately walk her forward and ask her to get in again.  IF she looks relaxed and happy, praise her, pet her, and then close her in for a few minutes.  If she still looks nervous, repeat step 6.  If you’ve closed her in, open the door and let her back out.

8.  Repeat steps 6 & 7.  In an ideal world, then you’d let her out and put her away so that she learned getting into the trailer doesn’t always mean she has to go somewhere.  But most of us don’t hitch up our trailers just to practice loading.  So, if you are taking your horse somewhere, make sure you aren’t trying to get there in a hurry so that you can take all the time you need (having a deadline often makes tempers flare), and then drive carefully so she has a good experience.  And then expect that you might have to repeat this technique when you load your horse back up to go home (but I will bet you $20 that it won’t take so long to get her back in the trailer the second time).

It’s really that simple.  It sometimes takes awhile, but I don’t think it has ever taken me an hour to get the horse in the trailer using this technique.  Not even Bridget after the aforementioned icky loading experience.

Comments

Pingback from Hay in Her Pockets » Trail(er) Pony!
Time September 23, 2011 at 4:29 PM

[...] Git In My Trailer! [...]

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