A trailer load­ing les­son

Many horses re­sist en­ter­ing tight spa­ces. Here’s how to over­come that prob­lem.

EQUUS - - Contents - By Jonathan Field

Many horses re­sist en­ter­ing tight spa­ces. Here’s how to over­come that prob­lem.

Q: I have a two-horse, straight-load trailer, which my horse will en­ter only if the di­vider is down. When it’s in place, he re­fuses to go in. Treats and grain aren’t enough to coax him, and I usu­ally have to re­sort to us­ing a butt rope with the help of two peo­ple to get him in­side. Most of the time I am haul­ing him on my own, so when I need help, there isn’t any­one to as­sist. Once in­side he is fine and will wait un­til it’s time to un­load. The easy so­lu­tion would be to take out the di­vider, but I’d like him to ac­cept load­ing with it in place. How can I train him to load more read­ily?

Name with­held by re­quest

Istrongly agree with the idea that a per­son needs to be able to load his or her horse with­out as­sis­tance. The good news is that your horse loads with­out the di­vider, so if you were in a jam, tak­ing it out could be an op­tion.

Horses re­sist lead­ing into trail­ers for a num­ber of rea­sons, but in this case, it’s clear that the is­sue is the con­fine­ment of the nar­rower space. Here are some steps---the first two done with­out the horse trailer and the third with it---that will help you de­velop a long-term so­lu­tion:

• Get the horse com­fort­able with pass­ing through tight places. Cre­ate a path­way us­ing four up­right bar­rels, two on each side, a lit­tle wider than the trailer stall. Send the horse through on the lead line while you re­main out­side the bar­rels. To make it more chal­leng­ing, grad­u­ally pull the bar­rels closer to­gether to the point where he re­mains un­fazed even when he bumps his ribs on the way through. As he gets com­fort­able with the bar­rels, use other ob­sta­cles, such as jump stan­dards, to cre­ate more op­por­tu­ni­ties to guide your horse through nar­row chan­nels. You’ll want to do this un­til he re­laxes and can walk through as many dif­fer­ent tight spa­ces as pos­si­ble.

• Help the horse equate con­fined spa­ces with rest. Once a horse will go through nar­row path­ways, the next step is to have him stand still in one. Cir­cle him around and keep him ac­tively work­ing and mov­ing for at least 15 min­utes. When it’s time to rest, bring him back be­tween the bar­rels and ask him to stand still. Rest­ing is his re­ward for work­ing,

and he will even­tu­ally see that con­fined space as a de­sir­able place to be. If at first your horse does not want to stay there, you can widen the gap be­tween the bar­rels, but as you con­tinue to use the area as a place to rest, grad­u­ally pull them in again---ide­ally, un­til the space is nar­rower than the trailer stall.

• When ei­ther lead­ing or send­ing a horse into the trailer, re­lease aids or pres­sure to re­ward him for even the small­est

com­pli­ance. The horse needs to feel re­lease and com­fort with ev­ery step he takes to­ward the trailer. A re­lease of the aid means you let the rope go slack, re­lax your­self and give him a mo­ment to con­sider this try. Then after a mo­ment be­gin ask­ing again. Be pa­tient and fo­cus on each move­ment he makes get­ting closer or far­ther away from the trailer. If he moves closer in any way, re­lease and re­ward for an­other mo­ment. Then ask again. If a horse feels forced or is con­tin­u­ally pushed to­ward or into the trailer with no re­lief or time for thought, he won’t build con­fi­dence to go in eas­ily in the fu­ture. Rea­sons to re­lease the pres­sure in­clude: if he looks like he’s go­ing in a bit deeper, is be­ing cu­ri­ous or takes a small step closer thereby in­cre­men­tally mov­ing his way all the way in.

• When it comes time to load him into the trailer, keep him ac­tive be­fore­hand. Do lots of tran­si­tions and move­ments both to get the horse’s re­spect and to get him to fo­cus on you. Just as you did when you taught the horse to rest be­tween the bar­rels, take 15 min­utes be­fore ask­ing him to step into the trailer. One of the more com­mon mis­takes peo­ple make is to try walk­ing a horse straight to the trailer with­out any prepa­ra­tion, only to find that he doesn’t want to go in, and then the strug­gle be­gins. If that hap­pens, es­tab­lish re­spect, keep him mov­ing, and then go back to the

trailer and send him in­side to rest.

No­tice that the bulk of your train­ing work will take place away from the trailer. When a horse has con­fine­ment is­sues, it’s best to work on build­ing his con­fi­dence through sim­u­la­tions be­fore ap­proach­ing the feared ob­sta­cle. This method will chal­lenge him and help him gain the self-as­sur­ance he needs, but any strug­gles along the way won’t be “at­tached” to the trailer.

About the au­thor: Jonathan Field is a trainer and clin­i­cian from Ab­bots­ford, Bri­tish Columbia. His pro­gram, Jonathan Field Horse­man­ship: In­spired by Horses, teaches the skills nec­es­sary to build a re­la­tion­ship with horses. Field grew up rid­ing both English and Western and worked as a cow­boy on one of the largest cat­tle ranches in Canada. Field reg­u­larly does pre­sen­ta­tions at events like the Western States Horse Expo in Sacra­mento, Cal­i­for­nia.

Pho­tos by Den­ver Desch­enes

2. The first thing to do is to get the horse ac­cus­tomed to pass­ing through tight spa­ces that have nothing to do with a trailer. I start by cre­at­ing a path­way us­ing four up­right bar­rels, two on each side, a lit­tle wider than the trailer stall. I then...

1. Horses re­sist load­ing into trail­ers for many rea­sons, but for some the is­sue is con­fine­ment of the nar­row space. When a horse has con­fine­ment is­sues, it’s best to take time to build his con­fi­dence through sim­u­la­tions be­fore ap­proach­ing the feared...

7. Once Cactus is in the trailer I al­low her time to re­lax. I want her to think of the trailer as a place where she can be com­fort­able and rest. 5. Here you can see Cactus re­sist­ing, look­ing away and avoid­ing the trailer. When this hap­pens, I keep...

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