Monday, September 3, 2012

Favorite Method to teach Trailer Loading

While not strictly about dressage, if you can't get  your horse on the trailer you certainly are not going to get to your dressage show so I thought I would include this as well.

Over the years I have worked with many horses on trailer loading and now have a quite an arsenal of approaches.   Each horse is different and so each approach has to be slightly different as well.   The one thing that is consistent for all horses is that it takes patience.  The moment you try to rush the process or do a "trick" to get them in is the moment you lose the game.   You may get them on the trailer that one time but you haven't taught them anything and thus you will be starting at a spot even further behind then the first time because you have a horse that still doesn't want to get on the trailer but also knows your new trick and how to evade it.

You could write a book on all the different methods for trailer loading and I am trying to keep each of these postings somewhat short so I am going to focus on just my favorite method here.  Believe me -- I've tried everything on horses -- I even had one that the method that ended up working for her was to blindfold her and lead her in backwards!

To start... make sure you have gloves on in case of pulling and good footwear.

Before I even get close to the trailer I start by working the horse on the ground away from the trailer.  We work on simple commands to make sure the horse is listening to me.   Walk.  Woah.  Walk.  Woah.  Circle.   Backing up.   Going between items  -- making them closer and closer at times to simulate the "squeeze" of the trailer.

Once I know the horse is listening and calm I start doing the same exercises near the trailer.  If calmness continues then I try simply to walk the horse on the trailer.    Lots of times if you have the horse already listening to you that works.    Many times it does not.

If it doesn't then I get a long lunge line and feed it through the opening to the trailer stall, threading it through the escape door and back to me.  Once I have the lunge line in place, I lead the horse to where I can hook him on it but not terribly close to the door.   At that point I can stand near the entrance with a line to direct their head to the trailer entrance and my other hand free to use a dressage whip.   With their head facing the door I gently tap their back leg.   Not hard..... more of an annoyance.  A bit more annoying than a fly but not by much.   The SECOND they take a step forward I stop the tapping and tell them "good boy" and let them stand to relax.  If they pull back some that is okay.   Its not about forcing them forward.

I continue the tapping in sequences as they move forward, letting them relax a bit in between.  They may swing their butt out.  That is okay.. just keep the tapping up and make sure their head is always facing the trailer.   Let them figure out the best way to enter the trailer and that moving forward means the tapping stops.  Many people want to circle the horse if they aren't lined up straight to the entrance.   This is a mistake because the horse figures out that they get to move away from the trailer when they are crooked.    What they have done is trained you to release them from the scary object by going crooked.  Guess what?  They will do it over and over again!   Just let them figure it out that going crooked is not the best method for them.  When they bump into the divider a few times they will figure out going straight is better.

Once they are fully in, you can put up the butt bar and go around front to release the lunge line.

The good part about this method is that eventually they learn to self load and there is not major stress to it for the horse.  

Warning -- this method can take a long time -- I've spent well over an hour getting a horse on a trailer but once they do it easy to repeat and the second time takes MUCH less time.   I've also had this method work in just  few minutes though.   The key is patience.  Be prepared to take as long as it takes the horse to learn on their own that moving forward is the key to release of tapping annoyance.

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