Saturday, April 25, 2009

Trailer Loading Mistakes and How to Avoid them

Trailer Loading can be one of the most stressful and frustrating activities with a Horse. And to top it off, for many, it can be a total mystery how some people have Horses that will simply walk in, and yet, they cannot seem to help you with yours. For the most part, Horses learn to trailer load fairly early in life when they are being started by professional trainers. Occasionally you will come across a Horse that becomes difficult and as time goes on he becomes impossible. Horses like this may have had a bad

experience in a trailer like a bad driver or an accident and over time decides that he no longer

wants to load. For the most part, teaching a Horse to load should be left to professionals but there are a couple of things you should avoid doing so as not to undo the work they have accomplished. And if you have a difficult loader, there will come a time when total refusal will happen and you may have to teach your Horse from scratch. The following are the most common mistakes people make and although they make them with the best of intentions, these errors will definitely make the job considerably harder instead of easier.

Mistake 1.

Trying to teach a Horse how to load when you need to go somewhere.

People will spend hours, days, weeks, months and even years teaching their Horses how to side pass, slide stop, leg yield, pick up leads, and all manner of other movements and skills. And according to their claims, these movements are all natural movements. Yet, when it comes to teaching a large animal,

whose primary defense mechanism is speed, to confine himself into a small movable box, we expect him learn as he goes with little or no formal training in the process. It is common for us to wait until we have someplace to go, before even bothering to try and load a horse. I have done this myself on numerous occasions with embarrassing results.

In order to avoid mistake number one, resolve to spend as much time teaching a horse to load as you would the most unnatural maneuver. After all, it is the most unnatural thing you might require from a Horse.

Mistake 2.

Thinking that once a Horse has learned to load, he will load in any trailer. This is simply not true, a Horse becomes accustomed to one trailer and he may hesitate to load in a different trailer. That hesitation may elicit an unfavorable response from the handler. This may cause a second and bigger hesitation in the Horse and the vicious cycle begins until the Horse becomes nearly impossible to load. Different trailers have different configurations that will be unfamiliar to different Horses. Some are accustomed to slant loads, some to straight loads. Some are used to ramps, while others are used to step ups. All these differences will present challenges to a Horse who has never seen them.

Avoid mistake number two by treating a Horse presented with a new trailer as if he had never been loaded. If he walks right in, then that's great, but if he doesn't, be prepared to go through all the same processes you would if he had never been loaded into any trailer. It will go faster since he has been loaded before, but force yourself to think about it as if it wont. Be willing to take two hours to get it done, and it will probably take ten minutes. If you EXPECT it to take ten minutes, then it will end up taking ten days.

Mistake 3.

Trying to load a Horse when he does not have the proper tools to be loaded.

The tools a Horse needs to load properly are basic ground skills. The Horse must be properly halter broke. He needs to be easily caught, easily haltered, easily led, easily backed on the ground, and easily moved laterally on the ground. He also needs to be easily sent. Loading a Horse requires the handler to give the Horse instructions on the ground. Too often people firmly believe that a Horse understands all instructions and that the Horse is fully Halter Broke when in fact, the Horse is not. Again, people will spend inordinate amounts of time teaching a lead change or a side pass. They will dedicate specific amounts of time, days, weeks, and months to the perfection of these and many other movements. But when it comes to proper leading, and ground work, they expect the Horse to simply know it already, or learn it from osmosis over time. Very seldom do they set aside a certain amount of time every day or every week for the perfection of ground skills.

So to avoid mistake number three, perform the following test with your Horse:

1. Can you, with Halter and Lead Rope visibly IN HAND, simply walk up to your Horse in the pasture WITH other Horses and catch him by yourself without help from others and without treats? If you cannot, then your Horse is not ready to Load. It is OK to use treats to train the Horse to want to be with you more and to teach a Horse to be caught, but before you consider the Horse to be easily caught, you must be able to catch him without these incentives.

2. Can you ask the Horse to lower his head to put the Halter on? If not, the Horse is not ready to Load.

3. When the Horse is Haltered, take the Lead Rope and drape it over the BACK of your hand. Then walk off briskly. Does the Horse follow or does the Lead Rope simply slide off the back of your hand? When you walk off briskly, can you walk fast enough that your Horse needs to break into a trot to keep up and does so? After walking about 50 feet, stop. Does your Horse stop without your needing to grip the rope? After stopping, with the lead rope still draped over the back of your hand, take a few steps back. Does the Horse back up easily and willingly or do you need to grab the rope and pull. If you need to grab the rope on any of these exercises, the Horse is not ready to Load.

4. Can you lead your Horse up to a gate, and then send him through the gate ahead of you? And then ask him to turn around and come back through the gate to you? If not, the Horse is not fully Halter broke and is not ready to Load.

5. Ask your horse to stand quietly next to you. Then using your little finger, push on his side until he moves laterally. See if you can ask him to move his front end over and then his back end. If you cannot do it with just your little finger, then you need too much force and the Horse is not fully compliant. Thus, he is not fully Halter broke and is not ready to Load.

Now understand that most Horses will fail all these tests. My own included will not always pass and definitely needs refresher training. And even though most Horses will not pass the tests, they generally will Load. But for a Horse that is a tough Loader, these exercises are essential. They do not require a lot of time to teach, but they do require some dedicated time. Do NOT expect a Horse to learn these skills to this level without consistent practice over a period of several weeks and do NOT expect a newly bought Horse under the banner "Halter Broke" to pass the test either. For most people, Halter Broke simply means the Horse can be haltered under certain conditions. There is nothing wrong with this attitude, however, when you need to teach a Horse a difficult and unnatural action like Loading, make sure you have all the tools at your disposal and the job will go much more smoothly and quickly.


The Natural Horse Vet said...

This is a classic.. too funny..
Trying to teach a Horse how to load when you need to go somewhere.

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