Loading your horse on a trailer, doesn`t have to be a problem if your practise without even being near a trailer. How? These seven exercises will not only prove useful when loading your horse, they are also a lot of fun to do!
It might not seem such a big deal to walk unto a trailer, but for horses it goes against al their instincts; waking into a dark cave filled with echoey noises. Did you know the eyes of a horse need longer to adapt to light changes? On a bright day it can be weird of us to walk into a dark room, for horses it`s even stranger. A horse will be able to put aside it`s fears and conquer his instincts when he trusts his human. He`ll follow them straight into the abyss of the trailer, only to be left on his own once he is locked up in the dark box. Fortunately, this doesn`t have to be a bad experience.
These seven exercises evolve around these three ingredients:
oh, and a lot of positive re-enforcement (+R) and snacks!
Here are the 7 ways to train for trailer loading without a trailer:
1. Walk this way
Ask yourself: Do I pull on my horse to make him go? Will he follow me without a halter and rope? Will he follow me anywhere? Does he like to be with me? Can we go faster or slower together? Backwards? Do I invite him to go somewhere or do I make him? Do I expect him to follow me?
Practise: walking together until you don`t know who`s following who and who`s idea it was to go. It is then that your body language and energy is in tune. The more often you can find that feeling the better! I really enjoy walking him to his stable and back to the field, sharing time together. And I can trust my horse in different locations as well because I pick up on any change in energy or body language.
2. Squeeze through
Ask yourself: Does my horse get nervous in tight spaces? Does he rush through a narrow opening? Will he stand in a doorway or walk between to barrels? Will he be okay passing between you and a wall?
Practise: going through tight (but safe!) spaces. Maybe you can set up two jumps and have him walk between them. Or even two ground poles. Be creative with what you have, a gate, a sliding door, barrels or garbage bins. Maybe even a building a wall. You could lunge your horse and have him go between a barrel and the arena wall in a trot or a canter and see if anything changes. Is he relaxed? On a sunny day you can practise going inside the barn or the shelter. I have ridden my horse at a canter through an oxer that was just as wide as us. Not because we are fearless but because we have practised this type of thing a lot!
3. The floor is lava
Ask yourself: How does my horse feel about different surfaces? Is he ready to investigate the ground he walks on? Can you ask him to lift a certain foot and step unto something? What if it is a tarp or a mat? Will he walk into a puddle of water or unto a board? And how does he feel backing up onto a different surface?
Practise: going unto any other surface that you encounter (as long as it is safe), from sand, to tarmac, to stones, to water, unto wooden planks, a tarp, a bridge. You can put all sorts of stuff into an arena or even a paddock to introduce a horse in a playful way to stepping unto different footings. I have found that when you are not focussed on getting a horse to walk unto something but just letting them investigate on their own accord, preferably with other horse around, they will surprise you. This can be such a fun and playful investigative time spend with your horse, and it should be just that.
4. Low ceiling
Ask yourself: Will my horse duck down to go underneath something? Is his used to walking through a doorway that is not built for the size of a horse? Will he stick his head into anything?
Practise: walking underneath low branches. Maybe you have a (safe) bridge or tunnel in your area where you can practise with an experienced horse, making sure you have plenty rewards at the ready when your horse goes underneath these. You can even build a structure with a tarp or a blanket to go underneath. Hang a blanket in front of his stall or a place he is used to walking into, lift up a corner to show there is light (and food) at the end of the tunnel. He will probably willingly walk into a familiar place even if the doorway is smaller than he is used to. I have taught my horse to stick his head into his rug, it is so much easier putting is on this way.. like a sweater on a child without the hassle of getting arms into the right holes. LoL
5. Behind the bum
Ask yourself: How would I feel if someone slammed the door behind me when I walked into a room, or shoved me into an elevator and noisily closed the gate? How do I want my horse to feel about being put in a tight space? How do they train carthorses to feel comfortable in the harness with a carriage behind them?
Practise: your horse being okay with a rope going behind his bum. Just have a lunge line attached to his halter and walk round you horse. Be ready to let go if anything happens. Take it slow and test if your horse is okay with the rope touching him. I expecting you have already such a bond with your horse you can touch and brush him everywhere. When you are washing or hosing of your horse it should not be a problem when the hose goes behind his bum. If all of this is okay see what happens when you add noises. You don`t want to frighten or scare your horse, that is not the objective. You want to reward relaxation and be able to tell when you notice any changes in your horse so you can stop and tell him it’s okay to walk away. Even if that means going off the trailer when he`s not comfortable with being there! This is a good thing, it means you can practise the loading once more.
6. Different angles
Go back to the above-mentioned exercises and ask yourself if you can do these from any position to the horse. Next to his head, his shoulder? Next to his ribs, from 5 feet away? Can you still be together and communicate if you are standing behind your horse?
Practise: for instance, to send your horse between two barrels and into his stall. Or ask him to come to you over a tarp or even a jump if he`s into that kind of thing. You could send your horse off to touch a target or a traffic cone and come back for a treat. These games and challenges are so much fun to do. Horses love a good puzzle that will get them a treat and they will feel like a million bucks if you praise them for getting the simplest thing right. It will surprise you how willing they are to please you and how inventive in offering things to do.
7. Trust me, we got this
Picture your horse walking freely beside you toward the open end of the trailer. You have never done this but you can picture the horse just walking right into it. You stop and signal your horse to go on and walk into the trailer. Maybe you have already put a target in there or his favourite feeding bucket. You`ve already opened the other door so light is flooding in. You are looking for any signals from your horse that he might not feel up to the task. There are no other people around or if they are, their energy is in tune with yours. There is no hesitation or doubt, just the feeling of balance and that whatever happens it is going to be fine. You are just playing a game, like all the above-mentioned games you have already played. Nothing has changed, the trailer is not different than all the other places where you have played these games. Your leadership is not commanding, you radiate... "trust me, we got this." Because whatever happens, you have the exercises to fall back on, you don`t have to get your horse on the trailer. You don`t have to because he already wants to go on there.