The owner said his horse had trailer issues. He’d watched a video and used a whip and rope, with bad results. Then he hired a local trainer but after two hours of fighting with his hysterical horse, she gave up and left. Now the horse was even worse, the owner said, and dangerous.
The trailer isn’t the problem. It’s always my first thought.
It was a very slow load but the horse got into the trailer and I brought him to my barn for training. He was smart and very athletic. A sensitive breed; the sort of horse some people would label hot, unless you looked at his eyes and saw his fear. The really crazy part was that the horse wasn’t crazy. He’d been an endurance horse and was spectacular on the trail. Calm, forward, and happy; wonderful to ride. It’s just the trailer, the owner said.
The trailer isn’t the problem.
The gelding and I worked a little bit every day trying to build his trust back–a glacially slow process. Eventually he loaded faster, just one step at a time. I showed the owner my method and he felt he could continue on his own. Patience was crucial. We agreed.
I was at their boarding barn a few months later and saw them tacking up. The horse was tied to the trailer pulling back and rearing, while the owner, with the lead wrapped around his arm, leveraged his body off the ground and onto the rope, using his weight to add to the pressure the rope halter already cutting into the gelding’s poll. The poor horse managed to pull back even more frantically, his eyes wild with terror. There are no winners in this war. It’s been three years and our failure with this gelding haunts me still. It’s enough to make you think it’s time to lock the front gate and take up needlepoint.
Any horse can have a bad day loading. Sometimes it happens when a rider is loading the way they always do; everything is fine. Then someone innocently asks to borrow fly spray, so the rider says, “Yes, it’s in the truck,” and all of a sudden her horse won’t load. Meaning a small thing can alter the usual rhythm of the process and then normal becomes broken; the horse hesitates. At that moment, the rider has an opportunity to not turn loading into a training issue.
Step One: Standing next to your horse, announce in a loud and clear voice, “We’ve got all day. Take your time.” Breathe. It’ll take twice as long if you hurry, so repeat, “No rush, what a good horse.” Obviously this cue is meant for you.
Step Two: Stop worrying about the trailer. Humans have much more anxiety about trailers than horses do. It’s why some folks have trailer issues with generations of horses. It’s not about the trailer.
Step Three: What is the horse really afraid of? Imagine an area the size of a living room rug, around 12’x 10′, on the ground just at the back of the trailer. They’re afraid of that space of ground because that’s where the fight happens. Horses are smart enough to see the big picture and they’re conflict avoidant. They want to avoid the “scene of the crime.” So DO NOT EVER pick a fight there. Instead, bring them to that place as peacefully as you’d lead them to water. Go one step at a time, if needed, with a release and reward each step.
Step Four: Do you feel like this is all just a bunch of coddling and that firm discipline is needed? Do you want to make something happen? Go to the tack room and get a whip. Then flog your face with it until you’re obedient. See how well that works? Now call a friend and get a set of polo wraps out. Have your friend take one end of the wrap and wind it around your torso, starting about mid-chest and going down to just above your wrists, so you are able to move your hands a bit but not use your arms at all. Then go back out to the horse. In other words, discipline yourself. Do less, go slow, be polite.
Step Five: You may ask him to move up from his hind, but no pulling on the lead. Not once. Sing it out, “All we are saying … is give peace a chance“. If you still need to pull on his face, repeat step four.
Note: Using feed to tease him into the trailer might work on a sunny day with no wind or challenge, but attraction to food fails when the stakes go up. When faced with multiple horses or injury or natural disaster, a relationship with treats will never save your horse. He needs a relationship with a leader for that. Feed him when he’s in if you want, but not during the process.
Step Six: Once the horse’s head is near the back door and he’s standing quietly, can we all agree that the horse knows what’s being asked? There’s no need to get loud now; you’re there. Ask for anything remotely like another step toward the trailer and reward that. Be cheerful; you’ve refused to escalate so far and that’s wonderful for someone of your species.
Now is a good time to ask how much importance your ground work plays in your daily routine. Do you do leading exercises consciously? Does he move forward when you ask without pulling? Is going into the trailer any different from stepping on a tarp? Use your best groundwork language every day, connect and ask for light responsiveness as a habit, and know it’s about your relationship. It’s not about the trailer.
If you’re looking at your watch, you’ve lost. Time is a human currency and if you haven’t planned enough time to load him, that’s totally your problem, not your horse’s. Blame yourself.
Still have emotions or frustrations? Need control? Absolutely normal. Breathe, overcome them. Force a smile and become a real leader.
Last Step: He still knows what you’re asking. His head is in the door and you ignore everything that isn’t forward. You reward everything that’s even a thought of forward. Then he simply steps in. He volunteers when he’s ready. It may end up taking less than a minute or over two hours, but he did it and you reward him, knowing that he will remember and go faster next time. Each time you load, the most important thing is what your horse will remember the next time you load.
Then celebrate not resorting to violence. Notice how good it feels not being filled with frustration and anger. Smile for real; this is what winning feels like.
Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.
75 thoughts on “The Trailer Isn’t the Problem.”
Brilliant post. Thank you
Thank you for writing this. I love the instructions for the humans!!! My daughter’s pony had no problems loading until we moved and he was suddenly in a herd of two in a new home. Even then he loaded – it just took longer. We were okay with that. Fast forward to a Pony Club event where we were peacefully loading (albeit a bit slowly) when 5 or so overzealous Pony Club parents charged over and surrounded the pony, cracked a whip, and then went nuts when he reared to avoid going in the trailer. He had never done such a thing in his life – but when faced with the trailer – where the little girl he loved was standing (the overzealous parents didn’t bother to note that) and the crazy people behind him he went the only place he could go where he wouldn’t run over anyone – straight up in the air! We got him in and drove out of there and the next time we tried to load he refused. I called professional help – I didn’t want to make things worse. The trainer had my daughter start by simply walking him BY the trailer. That was it. She did that every day. The next week daughter hand-grazed him at the closed door of the trailer. Then stood with him at the open door. Gradually she had my daughter load the pony one foot at a time. For a full week she asked him to put one front hoof in the trailer and that was it. Then both. And then suddenly things were fine again and she taught him to self load. Each step was quiet. Boring even! But making things clear – we weren’t going to make him load, we weren’t going to escalate anything. We just wanted things to be easy and peaceful again. I sent out an email telling all Pony Club people to stay far away from our trailer at the next event. Imagine their shock when daughter (9) unloaded and then loaded her pony with a big smile and no trouble at all. A few trailers down the overzealous could be heard cursing and yelling and cracking whips as their kids’ horses kicked and shoved and resisted. Sigh.
Thank you is an understatement, but thank you for taking the time to share this experience. Congrats on getting such good help, for seeing a solution that falls short of loading at first, but ends up loading best, at last… And I feel for you when “help” arrived and destroyed it all. You had the right perception of the big picture. What a good pony!! Thanks, Billie.
This trainer told me when she arrived that what she was teaching us could be used in every equine issue we ever had – and that she basically didn’t get many repeat clients because the savvy ones took the method and used it for everything and thus rarely needed her again. That has proven so true. I think what she taught us is what you describe – taking the long view and removing all the pressures to “do it now” and “win this battle” etc. etc. She said “always get softer and quieter, never get louder.” I have found in the decade since that this advice works for everything. Not just with horses. 🙂
This pony is pretty amazing. Not always easy because he demands a partner not a boss or a pushover. I call it “being in your footprints.” I guess now that I think about it he has been the very best teacher of all. But I know you already knew that! 🙂
Yes, it does work with everything. I feel like I just write the same thing in different scenes… but it’s so needed. Humans are slow learners. Horses not so much, as your trainer knew. And yes, ponies are the very best trainers.
Maybe re-think the idea of staying in Pony Club. Are the benefits truly outweighing the negatives?
oh my… a sad thought…
Daughter is 19 so has been out of USPC for a good while now!
I remember seeing that kind of “loading” when I was a kid. As far as I’m concerned – its abuse! It was back then and the fact that it still is going on, doesn’t change it. I remember watching an episode of Pat Parelli – describing what a scary dark place a trailer is to a prey animal and it is – if no one has ever spent the time proving to them that its not going to eat them. Sadly, even some of the so-called natural horsemanship trainers use the scare tactics. Ray Hunt would rollover in his grave to see them!
Ray is right. Like always.
I hate to watch people try to force a horse to do what is so un-natural. I have been lucky with the horses I have had that never had a problem loading, but I also don’t load much or go anywhere….This is a great post for anyone that has “issues”
It does hurt the eyeballs… thanks, Lisa.
My mare and I have had some trailer problems, some of which may have been helped by replacing a loud rattle trap with a quiet trailer. But I’m not sure even that was necessary. Here is what has happened two days in a row. I must have been channeling you. After a long absence from any trailer activities, I walked with her quietly up to the open trailer. I didn’t ask. She knew what I wanted. I was prepared to wait for her no matter how long it took. After maybe three minutes, I challenged her in a soft, deadpan voice: “hey boss mare. Are you really afraid to go in there? Are you telling me you would be afraid to lead your herd into this safe place?” And within two seconds she just stepped up and went all the way in. I had just been playing with her, talking to pass the time. She couldn’t have understood me, could she? I didn’t close her in. I didn’t let her stay in very long. Good girl. Back to pasture. Repeat the next day. We are at the trailer door again. We are waiting again, but after maybe a minute I asked her in the same soft deadpan voice if we needed to have that boss mare discussion again. I swear she just looked straight ahead and hopped right on. This time she turned around (we started with a big space) and stood at the open door like she was on guard. She could have walked right off, but I had to ask her to step down. So I learned this week the truth and beauty about what you wrote here. You really do have to give your horse all the time she needs, not just the time you have. And that willingness to wait got me to that calm place I needed to find for this activity. Love your blog and your books and your donkey pictures.
Oh Bonnie, I love this comment. Was it the talk… I doubt it. Standing in that spot, they absolutely know what we are asking. We don’t have to nag, and half the time, we interrupt them just as they are preparing to step in…and accidentally train them to not try. Maybe your mare said, “Thanks for not treating me like I’m stupid. I’m not, you know!” Great job of listening, what ever she said, and thanks for the kind words. (Donkeys rule.)
One thing we have added is after step seven (last step) praise the horse and repeat immediately. It has been our experience that everyone thinks you are crazy except the horse. He will be much easier to load the second, third or fourth time in a row. When he loads without any fanfare close the door, you’re done. Next time you go to load your horse may just walk right on. Worst case it may take half the time and half the repetitions. I have never seen it take three training sessions.
Thanks, Guy. Like you, sometimes I repeat that last step… it’s an advanced move… for humans of course. Great comment, thank you.
Absolutely the only way a horse should be loaded! I always unload and reload at least once with any horse that does not self-load. I think it lets the horse know we won’t trap him in the trailer forever. The last time I didn’t do it was when I was younger and more easily pressured to hurry up and get the trailer down the road. The poor horse scalped himself when he freaked out in the trailer. I immediately knew if I had stuck to my guns and unloaded and reloaded him it would never have happened. I still feel bad about it, decades later. Sorry, Buddy.
I don’t always reload. It isn’t right for everyone, but that said… peer pressure is the worst. Thanks, Lucy.
I was so proud of my little Arabian when it came time to move her to my new place. I did not have much time to.prepare her, so I just had to trust my earlier progress. The evening before, we worked on going in, coming out, and stopping halfway out. I shut the door with her in once. The next day, I loaded and unloaded once, then hauled her. I didn’t have any help, and once I got her on, I really had no choice but to haul her all the way, because she doesn’t like strange places or traffic. She was an angel. She even stopped halfway off the trailer on the way out after the ride.
Good for both of you… and you didn’t really need help. You had a relationship, you prepared ahead, and what a good girl! Both of you! Thanks for sharing, Junia.
I think I had the wrong reaction to this post. I laughed through the “go beat yourself in the face” parts. (Isn’t that the truth!) Quickly sobered up at what you saw later. IMO you didn’t fail the gelding…though I get the feeling. His owner failed him by not listening to you.
Hudson is so auto loading I have to hold him back while he jigs impatiently at opening. Throw lead over his back and he launches himself into step up and quietly walks into stall. Looks over his shoulder like “you going to come tie me or what? Let’s GO,”
I arrived at barn one day: huge, lathered mare, steam coming off her, swinging wildly at the end of the lead rope while her new owner, who was trying to load and calm her by waving a white whip in her face (she couldn’t get close enough to stroke her neck with it). Mare was desperately trying NOT to hurt the hysterical woman hitting her in the face with a whip.
I’m a trailering moron. I don’t know how to haul. I didn’t know how to teach a horse to load. I figured my best chance of helping the mare would be to offer to give the owner a break. The trailer was too small for the 17hh horse. An old old QH trailer. The woman said “yes please” and went and sobbed on a tree stump. I asked her: This was loading PRACTICE. No time frame. I walked the mare in big circles at end of trailer, told her jokes, repeatedly refused the whip the owner was convinced would help. The mare calmed down so fast, owner was astonished. This was obviously a very very good hearted horse. I led mare to ramp, she was anxious but went right up to it. I promptly stopped her, sat down on ramp, which was probably extremely bad horsemanship (dangerous…under mare). 2 min later, hear head was down, I was scratching itchy spots, and she volunteered a hoof on the ramp. Owner decided I was magic, lol. Nope. She had a GREAT horse. 15 min later, huge mare was standing quietly in teeny trailer and I backed her out. Making owner hysterical again. I explained this was huge success….but owner couldn’t believe I’d asked the mare to unload. Husband showed up, furious I’d let the horse “win”. They wanted to lock her in to teach her trailer was safe…
Nothing I could do, which made me ill. I had to walk away. Everyone involved got hurt, including this beautifully hearted good horse. I love what you said: IT’S NOT ABOUT THE TRAILER. Brilliant.
Oy. It leaves a horrible taste. I will resist my desire to make a sexist remark here, but what’s wrong with people? Why such a narrow view? We don’t deserve horses. (Thanks, Jane.)
Reminds me of when I was a Sheriff Deputy. I’d have 5+ guys, sitting down (I unloaded them, one @ a time from an overloaded veicle full of Crack Cocaine….thanking them for their cooperation as they sat on the curb with legs crossed and sitting on their hands. All cool, yet I’m ready to kill if someone makes a move on me. I’m showing them kindness and respect. Then a back-up arrives 1/2 hr. later….a man. Suddenly they’re pissing fireworks as the testosterone rippes through their veins.
I end up calling for code three assistance because the 1st time a male back-up arrives, the fighting begins. Turns into a big cluster____!
We were a big county in California. Waiting for back-up can take a long time. I loved my career, except when this kindof’ stuff goes downhill
FAST! (Not all men Cops are the way the first guy was)…when it goes this way, its extraordinarily tough on the spinal column! Eventually I had to retire…..so many urinary contests later….
Well, great comment. I do admit to thinking about this as I was writing and the news came through. A few less urinary contests would be a good thing. Thank you for this thoughtful comment, and thank you for your service. We need more like you out there…
Thanks Anna, this is so true… even with dark tiny caves for trailers… if approached the horses will go into the trailer. It takes time and patience and sometimes re-learning when there is no trailering in between. But that whole, take a breath and smile, then say thank you.
I enjoyed talking to Ebony about your trailer. She is such a smart, good girl. Thanks, Sharon.
And, if you have babies, be sure a casual stroll near, around, into and out of trailers is a calm part of their everyday in-hand experience. Mine find it routine by the time they are 3 months old, which is a pure pleasure by the time they are 2 and think they know everything. Not to mention, it’s potentially life-saving if a medical emergency requires a trip to the vet. As you say so concisely, it’s not about the trailer.
Agreed, it is a matter of life and death, but to be played with from the start. Babies are easy if they get that relationship early. For the old PTSD survivors, it’s a slow recovery. Thanks, you are so right!
My horse loads no problem – her issue is that 5 years ago she broke a leg & had to stay at an equine hospital which involved a ferry ride in a horse ambulance with a sling. When she was ready to come home after her surgery, she again came back in the horse ambulance. Now if we try her in a trailer or a lorry, instead of standing all relaxed like she used to (she used to compete a lot when she was younger & had no issues at all with travelling) she sits down or even tries to lie down in the trailer, which is clearly dangerous, so we don’t go anywhere any more. Any ideas?
Wow, I wish I could meet her. First, she comes by this opinion fairly, doesn’t she? I’ve known horses who were in trailer wrecks; some get right back in and some won’t, a bit like your girl, they remember. The short answer is find a way to cut it all into smaller bites. Get to that scary moment and breathe. So even slower, respond even quicker but with compassion. The part that scares her has to be illuminated long enough for her to see it’s okay. She doesn’t trust her feet…I might even try a TTouch body bandage. Most of all, keep breathing with her. When her breath goes shallow, you go deep. Good luck. I’m so curious about her, thanks for commenting and keep me posted. It will take time, more time…
Thankyou for replying, Anna. So we’ve been letting her go up into the trailer – which she is more than happy to do – and stand in there for as long as she likes. This part has never been an issue, so we are reinforcing (hopefully) that trailers are harmless. The trouble in the past has been having the trailer actually move, that’s when she sits – not always immediately, but usually wIthin half a mile or so. We’re now starting the engine on the truck, attached to the trailer, but not moving off – she continues standing, quite relaxed & happy. Next week when all the hay is cut in the big field we’re going to try a short drive in the field & see how she goes. I was thinking that if we stop & let her out before she goes down, we can gradually lengthen her drives in the field to include turning corners etc until trailering is no longer an issue, does this seem like a good approach to you?
This is the first time we’ve bothered trying her in a trailer at all for almost 4 years – in fact it was reading your blog, Anna, which made me think of it. There’s no urgent need for her to be trailer-safe, we’ve managed fine without it, but I’d really love to go for a beach ride & let her swim in the sea, she used to love that before she got injured. It’s too far to ride to the nearest beach so she would have to be driven there. I don’t want to force her to relive the trauma of travelling with a broken leg for the sake of a trivial beach ride, on the other hand we may actually need to travel in the future so it makes sense to help her with this in case it is necessary one day…
Sounds great… and 4 years is a long time, but also a healing time. Is your pasture flat? Usually land or dirt roads like the one I live on, are a bumpier ride than pavement. If there is close pavement it would be smoother. It’s funny; most horses are uncomfortable in parked trailers. I was always taught to drive off right away because the movement helps them balance. Your horse is the opposite on some of the old rules, and with good reason. Keep up the good work.
Commenting so I will be notified of Anna’s response!
Oh yes Jackie! I want to see how this goes too! I look forward to your updates.
My boy Leo had some PTSD after a tire incident. He would get stressed being near the trailer so I started feeding him in there. Put his food in and walked away so it would be his choice. After a month or so we started working on loading (with out food). His fear was reduced and we were able to work through it.
My other one loads fine but getting out it a challenge. He bumps the butt bar repeatedly after I untie him. We solved lots of the issues he came with but this one is still with us. I just stand in the trailer, talk to him and scratch him til he settles. Any more suggestions?
Interesting to see people watch us. Some people think I spoil him and others are nodding in approval.
I’ve seen feeding in the trailer work and fail–one gelding ate every pile of manure in the pen rather than step in to eat. Perhaps if the hay was closer so he could reach it. In his case, he got hungry. And yes, I’d do the same with the other one. Chat and scratch till he settles. You can always count on an audience of experts… especially for trailer loading. I smile and wave. Especially if they think I’m “spoiling” a horse. (They think you’re nuts, not a bad thing…) Good luck, sounds like things are improving for Leo. Thanks, Diana.
So right, it’s never about the trailer. Owners need to earn respect on the ground before attempting the trailer. If only people would listen and learn, sigh. I remember watching an adult beat the snot out of her horse at the back of a trailer, surprised the horse won’t load. And she wonders why the horse won’t load. Whey would the horse go to THAT place when she is beaten when she gets there? Some friends had to intervene and get her to calm down away from the horse. My red boy loaded, but he wasn’t comfortable with it, so we started the process all over again this spring. All baby steps and four months later he will self load and stand on calmly with the doors closed. In a week or two, when he tells me he is ready, he will take a short ride. People need to ride in the enclose trailer to see what a bouncy, rattle-trap they are. Then they will really appreciate that their horse trusts them enough to climb into a small, metal box.
What a great comment, nice job of pre-problem solving; smart to start again just to make it a happier thing. And I agree- I rode in the trailer as the first step of learning to pull one… Does change your perspective, doesn’t it? Thanks, Sally.
Oh yes Anna, the breathing around horses is so important as so many hold their breath in fear, frustration, wrecking locomotion as well. I take big deep breaths, and my horses do so immediately afterwards. This relaxation obviously creates peace, building trust, and trainability as every muscle relaxes. Great when.schooling youngsters as well. When ready to mount, “think relaxation”….mount from a step and sit there, just breathing and rewarding. Don’t go anywhere yet, I do this many times until I read the horses are ready to step….still steady, calm breathing. I don’t control (yet) where they choose to go….we aimlessly wander, usually ending up at the grass around the creek. I don’t over-ride the youngsters either. I might be on one for 5 minutes, another 10. They’re SO INDIVIDUALLY treated and schooled….
I think that’s Grace but it could so easily be Notchee! Thank you for your patience and wisdom through all my moves. I’m afraid of the trailer and you helped me get a little closer to it, too, one calm step at a time.
It is Grace, but I remember Notchee so well. She schooled us well, and I will forever be sorry for her injury coming out that first time. The last move was kinda fun, though…
So maybe my problem is different, maybe not. My large teenage acting boy will follow me into the trailer but then immediately backs out violently. He used to load but then I hauled him off to a trainer that he hated and he’s been difficult since. How do I clear my head so we can get through this?
Sorry to hear this…it’s a different thing, but not the first I’ve heard it. One of my horses used to go in fine but get stuck coming out. Your horse is different but I would start the same way. First, let go in your mind, breath through it. This might be the hardest part, so be patient WITH YOURSELF. When you feel at peace and with no agenda or expectation, start with him. Breathing slowly, one step into the trailer and maybe then you ask him to go out. So it’s your idea first. Then slowly, ever so slowly, build on it. Good luck.
It boggles the mind as to why humans would think a prey animal would willingly put himself in a spot with no escape route and then those same humans get angry when he reacts negatively to being forced! A friend bought a two year old gelding who had never been trailered. He hired a good kind horseman to transport him. This was a kind hearted but intense horse (in the 15 years he lived here, then across the road at my friend’s we never ever saw him lay down other than to roll.) The good kind horseman was powerless against the woman who raised him, she didn’t whip or try to force the poor horse, she sobbed and blubbered because she was selling him and was going to miss him! (HONEST!) That poor horse was so freaked out by the actions of the main person in his life that they were never able to get him near a trailer again. I can just image the horse thinking ‘ wow, if she’s that freaked about it I’m not going anywhere near it!’ The good kind horseman even stopped here several days later to see if the poor horse was still so traumatized.
Good comment; we underestimate horses too often… we know they read fear, so a temper tantrum is huge. Shame on her for such a horrible send off. Thanks, Sherry.
Almost forgot, did you know breathing works with roosters too? I have a youngster who was supposed to be an Ophelia but judging from the strangled crows in the morning it’s turned out to be an Orville. I decided he could stay if he behaves himself so every day I go out, pick him up and hold him close. When he struggles to get away I take a deep breath and exhale. He calms down every time!
I totally believe it. Breathing is the universal language.
As you well know, Petit-Prince is a very smart guy, extremely curious but scared easily. So when I start leasing him, soon after his arrival at the barn, I decide to expose him to what ever would seem to scare the little fellow. Like a “real guy”, he seemed curious of all machinery on the yard. At every oportunity I had, I would let him sniff trucks, tractors, farm equipment and so on. One summer day, we had a big hunter show at the barn and a horse trailer had been parcked with its ramp down. I thought, what a marvelous opportunity for the poney to get used to a horse box! He carefully smelled first the truck, next the trailer’s tire, the side door and so on until we got to the ramp ; the minute he smelled the hay inside, up he went just as the owner was coming to load her horse! I was so embarassed but also pretty proud of my guy. Luckily for me, the women understood and laught with me. Such a good poney and a good women to!
Hehehe, when not even asking is just the right cue. Gotta love horse people!
You’re so right on so many things.
However, here’s my blog that chronicles my journey with my two horses on tailoring skills: http://www.clickerchronicles.wordpress.com.
One horse has issues with the trailer moving and the other is scared to death of backing out. Different issues, different approaches. 🙂
Really nice blog, Laurie, and good luck with your horses.
Pls do NOT lock your gate nor take up needlepoint! We continue to need you, Anna! How many times do you remind us to breathe, to build trust, to be patient? Thank you for these inspirational and practical blogs! Blessings, Ev and Susie Mare
You’re welcome, Ev. I would bleed all over needlepoint anyway.
Thank you Anna, another fantastic piece of writing and thank for helping us all to remember breathe and to laugh at ourselves as well. To help us remember get out of our heads and finally smile to our horse instead…….
Kate, Amen to that… our heads aren’t usually all that fun anyway… smiling on the ground or in the saddle is infinitely better!! Thank you.
Can we talk about what comes after actually stepping into rhe trailer? I have a nice 3H SL with tack in back and a door from dressing room to the horse area. Here’s where some of our history still lives. I want her to self load (she will) because in the past she has pinned me against the wall trying to turn around to escape. So, I’ll stay outside. She is stressed by being confined in a narrow space (divider closed), both facing forward and backwards, which is expressed by pawing and striking. In the past she has gotten her leg caught in a manger doing this. So no mangers. Maybe no tying at all because if any horse could get her leg over the tie it would be my mare. So, I combined the two stalls nearest the door to give her a bigger space in which to move any way she wants and not be tied. She appears to be the least stressed with this set up. There is a butt strap across the opening to outside. And while I was stepping away from this to unlatch and close the trailer door she ducked under the butt strap, stepped down and was free. Not acceptable. Potentially very dangerous. So, maybe I need another person there. Or a new type of butt strap located lower down. Or two butt straps. Or, maybe, as some respected horse people would say, I need to go many steps back to teach her to stand tied patiently without pawing or striking to eliminate those behaviors before confining her in a trailer.
Hauling and loading are two different experiences, and as I have been reading, all horses find standing in a moving trailer at least a little stressful. So, I tried your experiment yesterday with my husband’s help. Lady loaded nicely and was untied in her big space. I was in the horse area but behind the closed divider closest to the door that opens into the dressing room. I could see her and she could see me but I was safe (at least from her). The minute the truck was started she began to paw. Then my husband began to drive down our driveway at about 1/3 of a mph. It felt like we were in an earthquake. I was moving all over the place. I think Ron went three feet before I gave him the signal to STOP. So I see why she may not want to stay in the trailer once she has loaded. She’s smart enough to know what might be coming after she steps in – she must remember what confinement, scary movement, getting her leg stuck in something feels like.
The greatest thing for me is I didn’t escalate (unlike in the past). I had all day to experiment with these variables and I wanted to know as much as I could find out about what would make her the most comfortable and least stressed and what worked and didn’t work.
Lady is a mare I have a nice relationship with. I can work her at liberty and come up to her when she’s lying down- even sit in her if I want. She always comes to me when I show myself in the pasture. She is sweet and kind and takes care of her grandfather horse (age 30). At the same time she is a dominant horse and the boss mare and is not reluctant to state her position on things.
I am confused. What to do and how to do it. I’m leaning towards giving her the bigger space in the trailer, not tying her, getting an escape proof butt bar retrofitted on my trailer so I don’t have to ask for assistance (thinking of the Pony Club folks), and then taking short trips, ranging from five feet to a few miles to my lesson barn 70 minutes away. But the big fear still able to raise its ugly little head is what if she changes her mind about loading, now that I’ve reminded her about what comes next?
The whole time I’ve been typing this, one letter at a time, on my phone (at least 40 minutes) Lady has been tied near me in my cool barn on a short tie and has only half-heartedly pawed the ground twice, which I ignored. I’m not inclined to embark on a project to teach her to stand for hours tied and not paw, BUT I would if you said it was an important step and told me how to do it!
Wow that’s a lot of words. What do you think? Or have I just suggested another blog topic?
What? You typed all that on your phone? My head would have exploded!
First, I don’t know your mare; I can’t diagnose something when my own eyes haven’t see it. I’m just guessing.
A couple of random thoughts. First, ask someone if you can ride in their trailer, just to see if the ride is like your trailer. My trailer doesn’t seem as rough as yours sounds…but who knows. It might need some work??
The number one cause of ulcers is trailering. No kidding. I have no idea about your mare’s history, but she does remember it. No doubt about that. Lots of times, I give some sort of antacid before hauling. U-guard or tums, or generic ranitidine… check out that side of it, perhaps giving her something to help with the stress might help.
Finally, this is how I haul. Keeping in mind, I haul rescues, horses to training, some I know, some are wild… this is what has worked the best over the years. I have a simple 4-horse stock trailer. It’s white and has slats on the walls–very open and light. Inside it has a partition between the front and back; basically two stalls. Although it’s bigger, I only haul two horses at a time. I don’t tie but rather leave them loose in stalls. Depending, I haul more than one, so there is company. If I’m picking up a rescue, for instance, I might pack up my mini and bring him along as company for the new horse. This works for me.
Again, just random thoughts. You are right to listen to your mare, keep being creative…and really consider her stomach. Hope this helps. Thanks.
Thanks, Anna. I did exaggerate about the earthquake ☺️ I just meant really that there is definitely a need to balance even on a straight road. I wanted you to say that hauling in a big space and untied is ok, so it’s great that it works safely for you and I wanted you to not advise me to make her stand tied in order to teach her to stand tied. I was feeling a desperate ? need to make a decision about the space configuration and restraint/no restraint in the trailer. I’ve made it and am going to stick to it so she has something to get used to. I think big and free will be better for her. I will need resolve against nay sayers and a functional butt bar.
Although she hasn’t been hauled anywhere for many moons, she pretty suddenly became cinchy and reluctant to ride a few months back. I have been investigating the possibility of ulcers with my vet and am soon to meet with a nutritionist too. Did I mention her BS is 8/9?
Tums is a useful idea-immediate, temporary, inexpensive. I’ll try it.
Thanks for the reply. It was very helpful.
Yay, lucky call on my part. On my site there is a link to articles…a series on ulcers I wrote, and google it, too. You will be very happy, it’s more common than people think. And lots of help out there these days.
I hope after more that 2 years this post is still seen. How does that ‘ol saying go… “I am horse rich and cash poor”? Not only am I that, but I used to be horse rich and knowledge poor. I grew up with horses, but the grown-ups were the people making all the decisions while I did all the riding. When my son was about 9 he wanted to have a horse. I bought him one- Arab. She was sweet had nice conformation aside from being grossly under weight. I had her vet checked, wrote a check and Voila! I was a new horse owner. I returned 2 days later with the horse trailer that was 30 years old but still in good shape (sound, good floor, good tires). I walked her up expecting her to just step on up like I had seen dozens of times with my parents. Nope. An hour later she was finally in and only because I locked hands with her husband under her backside and got her before she realized what was up. Closed and locked the doors and away we went. The next time wasn’t any better. All summer was just a nightmare when it came to loading. I got suggestions, advice and a couple of attempted demostrations. I thought of making her comfortable around the trailer, so I backed the trailer to the corral and fed her in there. With her front feet touching the back of the trailer, she would stretch her neck way out and eat the hay and grain. I moved it further in…she stepped one foot in grabbed the hay and drug it out to the back of the trailer or just behind it. I was beginning to have an appreciation for an Arab’s intelligence.
The next time in the spring for the first day trip I happened to park where the step up wasn’t so high and she loaded (big mouthed wide eyed emotican here). But when unloading her wouldn’t back out. It reminded me of the scene in the movie The Proposal with Sandra Bullock when she is stepping down a ladder in order to get in the boat. I wondered if she didn’t just have a depth perception thing. I walked around looking for a ditch or little incline I could use to unload her. Yep, it worked. But she didn’t want to load when it was time to come home. We finally got her in, but she was just a mess driving home. She had that trailer moving all over the place. After unloading her she had some scrapes on her legs and I had no idea why she had such a problem. All of a sudden while I was thinking about it while not being able to go to sleep I wondered if she didn’t have some sort of vertigo problem while being in a small trailer. That thought was made stronger when we loaded her into a larger 2 horse trailer with just an 18″ suckerrod frame separating the two horses while ride sharing to the same event. She had no problem except for the backing out. The next time she had to go in the trailer, I slid the divider over since it couldn’t come out and went completely to the floor. She was so quiet one wouldn’t notice we were pulling a trailer. As long as I made the stepping in and out a little closer to the ground she loaded/unloaded with no problems. Once someone walked by and said I was spoiling my horse. I said to myself, “No, I’m winning the war”
I sure do miss her.
Thanks for working with her rather than against, for listening and thinking. You did win the war… Great comment, Gigi.
I just began working on loading yesterday. I’ve seen the videos, too. I know it wouldn’t work for Beau any more than it did for the horse described above (another arabian? Not that it matters).
I wish I had read this before I started, because my picture of what to do is much more clear now. Fortunate for Beau, I have been reading and listening in the member area for a few weeks, and I have a good trainer that has taught me in the past to never, NEVER pull on a horse’s face. Beau used to react to the site of an open trailer. Yesterday, he followed me in once, all the way. Twice after he loaded two front feet. I called it quits when the neighbor started cutting down trees and the distraction proved too much. We ended on a good note, and will apply exactly this step by step today.
Smart stop there, and congrats on the good work, both of you!
It’s never too late to do better and it sounds like you are… Beau thinks so anyway. Thanks, Molly. Well done.
My horse will self loads while the trailer is just parked at the barn or in the pasture, I don’t even have to go in. But move it to road where we have to drive out and he no longer self loads and won’t even follow me in. It would seem it’s the “going for a ride”….”leaving the barn”… that he refuses to do. Any ideas? Or just keep asking him to load until it happens?
Without seeing a video I can’t say. I never substitute another’s eyes for mine, I see different things. I do know his feelings are real, that travel bothers him, possibly with pain included. If you can have someone video, I could do an online consultation but I won’t guess sight unseen. That’s the sort of advice that gets horses in trouble. Sorry.
Thank you for your comments. I think it is an issue of he knows this is where the trailer leaves the barn and he just doesn’t want to go, (usually for a 3day camping trip). Recently I took his pasture mate up and loaded him first, much less resistance on the first load and eventually just walked right in. So of course one might assume “buddy sour”, but I can saddle up and go out for a 3 hour ride and not even get any hesitation about leaving. Not really expecting a reply, just thought I would share.
I love this comment, thank you, D. You say at the end that 1+1 doesn’t necessarily equal 2. Yay, this is when understanding can happen. Well done.
We’ve had my daughters new show horse for about six months now. He has shot backwards out of the trailer as soon as loaded pretty much since we got him. Literally the day we were picking him up even. For a while, it worked to have someone with a carrot stick behind her and shut the door. However, since about three months ago, he completely freaks out with the carrot stick or anyone even near behind him. Can’t pull or tie him in trailer or he completely freaks out and rears backward. We have been working with him on this since the beginning of March now. Here is where he is at now: We can get him to walk all the way in to our 3H SL to eat or for treats but flys out backwards as soon as the door starts to shut. How do I get the door shut without him flying out like that!? I’m thinking about trying Blinders on him so he doesn’t see the door closing. Any advice is welcome.
Rachel, I can’t write out the full answer here. Sorry, I just don’t have the time tonight. I approach training this differently than you have tried, and please, don’t try blinders. Horses are much smarter than you are thinking, that’s why treats don’t work either. You can’t trick him into this and making him more frightened by having someone behind with a whip only makes it worse. I think you know this or you wouldn’t write. He needs to trust you and so far, the harder you try the less he trusts. First, is he okay? Are you sure he doesn’t have ulcers? Start by knowing he isn’t in pain, but remember trailering is the #1 cause of ulcers. I’d bet part of this is pain. Must he haul alone? I would try having a friend along. I know it isn’t ideal, but he has lost so much confidence that a quick fix isn’t going to work. I think you have to start from the beginning and work affirmatively. He clearly had a problem before he came to you and he needs to de-escalate. I’m so sorry, I think you have to think of it as rehab. He got a bad start at this, before you, and now it’s turned into terror for him. We have to work with the fear and it will take time. I’m happy to work with you on this, but I can’t do it in a comment box. Please, don’t push him harder. It will make things even worse long term.
I absolutely agree. My new mare had so much fear of loading. I knew she knew what I was asking but I could hear her saying that her fear was bigger than her ability to do it. It took a long time working regularly on making the trailer seem like a non scary object. Lots and lots a patience. She loads pretty quickly now. Sometimes fear takes over again but I allow plenty of time. She never loads until she poops and smells the trailer walls. Lol
Forcing her would NEVER work !! Respecting her fear works.
She is grateful to be understood and acknowledged. I think it’s the finest thing we have to give horses, Thanks, Donna