Does he really know the trailer?
It is a question I often ask myself.
‘He is just missing parts of information that he needs to know how to be relaxed about traveling.’
This is what I think when someone tells me of their trailer loading problem or horse.
Some of you may have seen the Brett Kidding’s trailer loading demonstration from the live TRT event. Where he showed some of the things we can all recognize, ways resorted to without training when we just try to get a horse on.
The simple idea of just thinking you’re going to ‘put’ or ‘make’ your horse go in the trailer is what often leads to failure or problems in loading or traveling later on.
Like everything with horses I like to teach to them before doing to them.
I try to begin with always having the thought of ‘how can I teach my horse everything he needs to know about the trailer?’ And how can I teach him to start to ask if he can please go in the trailer today so I can take him somewhere.
Trailer loading as a training session
Creating the right mindset in myself is easy. I just think that the trailer loading will be today’s lesson and something I will devote time to teach. Just as I would teach an exercise in the riding.
I always leave plenty of time to train so there are no time restraints. It is not necessary to have it perfect in one lesson, for some horses a number of sessions may be necessary to give all the information and to consolidate each stage with the appropriate break down for that horse.
Leaving the lesson until the time you have to really go somewhere with your horse, like a panic situation when he gets a bout of colic and you have to rush to the clinic. Or an already stressful morning before going to a competition, having not trained him before and just hoping he goes in, often sets you up for failure.
And sometimes a long painful loading time to come home, or even maybe a long walk home from the show.
These are all times where you will most often cause issues of anxiety with the trailer for you and your horse and future loading problems.
What does he have to learn?
So when you have planned your trailer loading session and you have enough time, what do you want your horse to know about the trailer?
The learning already begins five to six meters away from the trailer. If you’re approaching the trailer and your horse is already leaning back with his head in the air, looking everywhere except to the trailer, it’s not really a good start.
Your horse needs to know how to take the right confident posture in his body for the right confident approach to the trailer. A confident good approach to the trailer is really important, it creates a positive mindset for being able to think further about the next step.
When your horse has fear or resistance when approaching the trailer, you should solve the approach first before starting to teach your horse to go into the trailer.
Control each step
The next step is to have the horse take the first step on the ramp. It’s important that this step is not a made step, it should not be a step where the horse is pulled on.
The first step should be a step the horse takes for himself and that he takes full responsibility for. It sets the way for the rest of the steps and the lesson that the horse feels from the beginning it’s on his will not on our want.
The next thing I want to teach my horse is to take controlled steps from the beginning of the ramp to the front of the chest bar. I don’t want a horse to jump in or run in, Instead I want to be able to control each step he takes.
So I want to be able to let my horse take as many steps forward as I want to, stop when I want to and be able to ask for as few or as many steps back as I want. So you have the feeling he waits for what the next step might be. For each step forward and back and the stop I use a voice cue, to again avoid the feeling that the horse is being made to make the movements.
This control gives you the option to change your mind at any time to keep your horse safe and to stop your horse from learning to run or rush off.
Horses also need to learn how to move in the trailer. I like to be able to move left and right with the back open so they have the option to go out and don’t feel trapped. The moving left and right gives the horse the feel of the space in the trailer and creates stability and body awareness to be better balanced in the trailer while traveling. It also avoids ‘frozen feet’ and a fear to move.
Closing of the tail gate
The closing of the tail gate, the ramp, is also something I like to train. I like that I can open and close the back and the horse does not think or want to come out until I ask him to. So that he learns to wait and does not press up against the tail bar.
I also do the same with closing the top, if it is a tarp curtain or flap. I train this with the same process as I do with any of the tools in the ground work. The horse must know the sounds both the ramp and the flap makes when opening and closing and what it means. I don’t ever want the meaning to be that he goes in we close him in so he feels trapped and we drive away.
Meaning of the destination
Finally, I also like to train the meaning of a destination. After the loading training is done and he loves to be in the trailer, I take a small trip of maybe 3 minutes and come back to a different parking place but still at home.
I don’t ever go to a new, strange place that becomes a distraction to the meaning of the training the first time.
I open the trailer with still the feeling that he waits for me to ask him to step back. As I want my horse to step back one step at a time, he gets to realize he’s still at home. It is at that moment the horse sees, feels and knows the meaning of travelling in the trailer.