Behaviour expert Suzanne Marshall offers some simple tips to encourage a reluctant loader into the lorry or trailer
Loading can be stressful for both horse and handler. Are you are always the last to leave the lorry park at a show because you can't get your horse back on the ramp? Perhaps you are unable to get your horse out and about at all because they refuse to load. Behaviour expert Suzanne Marshall has teamed up with Horse to solve your loading issues.
1. Assess the horse.
If you know the horse's history, consider why he could be reluctant to load in order to help you find a solution. Has he had a bad experience while travelling, or is he insecure in small spaces? "A horse is such a large animal we cannot force him to do anything," says Suzanne. "We have to get him to want to do what we want."
2. Putting the basics in place
It is important the horse respects his handler's personal space and leads correctly. Suzanne says: "Usually, if a horse leads correctly and responds to what I ask, he will load." Practise leading your horse, working in the school initially. When you stop, the horse should stop. If he continues to move forward into your space, correct this by putting your hand on his chest and asking him to move back. The horse should stand close to your shoulder without barging you and without you needing to drag him forwards. He should stop, walk on and move over when you ask. Suzanne uses a Dually halter, which trains through pressure and release.
3. Do some pole work
Once the horse has mastered the basics and is leading correctly, Suzanne introduces pole work. She lays poles out in an arena in a L-shape, with a 2m wide walkway. She then asks the horse to halt in the walkway and take small steps forwards and backwards, as practice for positioning him in the trailer. She also reverses the horse through the L-shape. If the horse has trouble reversing round a corner, break it down into easier manouevres for him. Start with straight lines. If your horse is still unable to back up or move around the poles consider having him checked for back problems or other physical issues. He may be reluctant to load due to pain.
4. Use a 'pretend' trailer
To get the horse used to enclosed spaces and people moving things around behind him, set up a small area about the same size as a trailer. If possible use a fence line as one side of the 'trailer' and have raised poles as the other two sides. A pole on the ground can mark the entrance. Once the horse is happy standing in the small space get some volunteers to stand in a safe space behind the horse and raise the pole off the ground and then put it back down again. This should help the horse accept the ramp opening and closing.
5. Introduce the trailer
Make the trailer as inviting as possible by opening doors and removing the partition. If you are worried about your horse's reaction use padding in the roof and top of the entrance. If possible park the trailer in an arena or enclosed section of grass. "It is best to have the front ramp shut to prevent the horse from trying to shoot through, but if possible, open the top section to allow light in," says Suzanne. She practises taking some forward and backwards steps near to the trailer, to make sure the horse is still listening. She then approaches the ramp giving lots of praise and encouragement. Once the horse is on the trailer they should be backed down the ramp and then led up the ramp again. Repeat this step a few times until the horse is comfortable coming on and off the trailer.
6. Closing the ramp
Once the horse is happy to come on and off the trailer it is time to try closing the ramp. Make sure this final step is taken slowly and quietly. First crouch down as if you are about to pick up the ramp and then stand up. If the horse is relaxed about this step you can close the ramp for a minute or so before removing the horse and then repeating the process.
Remember not to over-do it, depending on the horse it may take a few days to do all six steps. Also if the steps are repeated too many times the horse may get fed up and play up out of boredom.
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