Trailer Loading Basics 

Working with a horse at a clinic

Several years back, I had posted an article about Trailer Basics For Loading on my old blog. 

While there’s a ton of great information out there about getting horses to load on trailers, it’s still an issue that owners often deal with, and it’s a question that is frequently posted on forums and Facebook pages. 

Most often, the root cause traces back to not having a foundation on a horse – being able to control their feet lightly – before ever trying to get them on the trailer, or they’re asking the horse for the next step too soon. 

Working on loading with Dynamic Host

Here’s some simple big picture points to keep in mind any time you’re working with your horse. The same principal applies no matter what you’re doing. 

  • Horses have the mental capacity of a three year old child – always keep that in mind. 
  • Horses learn by repetition. 
  • Quit asking for anything when they give you the slightest try. 
  • Make the right thing easy (rest) and the wrong thing hard (work) 
  • Always end on a good note even if you have to set them up to get it. 
  • Encourage curiosity and you build confidence. 

 

So applying this to trailer loading and unloading…. 

  • Before you ever approach the trailer, make sure your horse knows how to move forward on their own. 

You need to be able to point or tap at the hip and they move forward without hesitation. The reason they need this is so they load on to the trailer by themselves. 

 

  • You need to be able to move all four feet forward, backward, and sideways by a simple easy tug of the lead rope. 

Think of a showmanship horse. They can get a horse to square up or do a pivot by moving the lead just an inch or two. When you’re loading your horse and asking them to put a foot on or take a foot off, you need that same lightness. 

 

  • Make the trailer a place of rest and away from or off the trailer a place of work. 

If your horse wants to go away from the trailer, let him but put his feet to work. Then come back to the trailer – or as close as you can – to let him rest. 

  • Don’t immediately make your horse get close to the trailer if they’re afraid of it. 

If you horse starts acting up six feet from the trailer, don’t automatically try to get them right next to the trailer. Instead, ask them to work their feet at seven feet away and gradually move in closer. Don’t ask them to move closer until they’re relaxed at the distance they are already at. 

 

  • Ask them to put one foot on and off a million times until they’re bored and falling asleep. 

You need to ask for it so many times that the horse is completely relaxed and keeping their foot on the trailer on their own. If they want to take the foot off, let them but ask for it to go right back on and leave them alone. Too many times people ask them for that next step too soon and the horse regresses in their training. 

 

  • Ask them two feet on and off a million times, then three feet a million times, then four feet a million times. 

The same principal applies to the rest of the feet. Ask them to put that same foot so many times that they’re comfortable with it and keeping those feet in place on their own. If you get three feet on and they want to back out, let them back out and then ask them to come right back and try again. Don’t ask for that fourth foot until they’re keeping those three feet on by themselves. 

  • Because they’ve already loaded and unloaded all four feet a million times, they already know how to unload as a side effect. 

 

Horses want to come off the trailer for two reasons. 

  • One is they are truly not comfortable being on the trailer – they need more work on being taught to load until they are. 
  • Two is that they’re anticipating coming off – remember horses learn by repetition?

Think about your hauling and unloading routine. Do you have the same process every time you haul somewhere or when you come home? Change it up and keep your horse guessing when they’re coming out of the trailer. Instead of unloading as soon as you stop, try opening one door and waiting a while. Then open another door and wait again. When you go to unload, unload them and put them right back on and then unload for the day. Anything to mix up the routine will help. 

 

A few thoughts on safety…

 

  • My number one safety rule is to make sure they are untied any time the divider is open or the butt bar is down.
  • I don’t tie until they’re locked in, and I always untie before I open the divider or unsnap the butt bar. 

 

  • If a horse isn’t comfortable staying on the trailer on their own, don’t shut them in. 

Wait until they’re standing on the trailer and not coming off before you shut and latch the divider or trailer door. If a horse is scared of being in a trailer, locking them in is not going to magically cure the fear. It’s only going to make them feel trapped. 

 

  • Pay attention to how you drive. 
    • Horses will start having trailer trouble if your driving is causing them to become unbalanced. 
    • Be slow and gradual with your stops. 
    • Take turns slowly and easily – be sure to gradually slow down when coming into a turn. 
    • Wait to accelerate coming out of a turn until your trailer is completely through the turn. 
    • Gradually accelerate. 

 

A few more tips… 

  • Incorporate your trailer training into your daily turnout routine

Every time you turn your horse in and out, you can spend a couple of minutes on trailer work. You don’t have to fully load your horse. Just ask for a step or two on and off the trailer and then quit. Be sure to quit on a good note. 

 

  • Haul your horse to town for simple errands. When a horse is getting used to hauling, frequent short trips are a good way to get some seasoning. 

 

  • Don’t get in a hurry – no matter what. Horses are a mirror of our emotions and frame of mind, and our body language. If you feel yourself getting impatient or worried because you have somewhere to be, take a big breath that your horse can hear. Horses look to us to be leaders. If we’re calm and confident, they will be too. 

How well does your horse load? What steps can you take to help your horse load better? 

Dynamic Host on the trailer — it took a lot of work to get to this!

 

 

 

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The Days Are Getting Shorter…

Being the horse girl that I am, I can’t post without sharing the latest horse news!

Beavis, the young Dash For Perks barrel prospect that I posted about last time, is back home at the Sherlin farm where he’s being used for riding lessons. The horseman in me wouldn’t let him go back until I got one last decent run actually around all three barrels. So we ended on a good note and I feel truly blessed to have gotten to borrow such a terrific young horse to ride. Lots of great lessons learned!

My mom & me with Beavis in the barns

My mom & me with Beavis in the barns

At the end of September, I wound up with Dynamic Host, aka “Louie” thanks to Prancing Pony Farm owned by Julie & Justina Faunt in Riceville, Tennessee. He’s a 17.1 hand, 9-year-old Thoroughbred gelding by Dynaformer. Dynamic Host won the Tokyo City Cup while in training with Art Sherman who trained California Chrome. I’ll be putting some foundational training on him as an Eventing Prospect so it looks like I’ll be pulling those breeches back out that haven’t seen the light of day in several years!

With an added horse that’s big and needs a lot of training, and days that are getting shorter, I’ve been thinking a lot about time management and how to save time. With a 45 minute commute to a full-time job, giving lessons, and 9 head of horses – 6 are stalled – my days are always full.

My husband has to be at work at 5am so most mornings I’m up at anywhere from 3:30 to 4am. The mornings are usually when I’m catching up on social media and book promotion. Sometimes I’ll get in some writing. That’s also when I fix my lunch, get in a real quick work out, and fit in my prayer time. If I’m really industrious, I might even throw in a load of laundry or unload the dishwasher! Then I’ll start feeding and cleaning stalls, which normally takes about an hour to an hour and half – it depends on whether or not everyone cooperates coming in! Donkeys can be cantankerous at times!

On the days that I don’t get up early, not only do I not get as much done, I also feel like I’m running behind. So getting up at least a little earlier not only helps me accomplish more, it also helps to keep me more focused and prepared.

Doing all my barn chores in the morning is a critical piece  of the day as well. Sometimes my husband will pick stalls in the evenings but most of the time I’ll pick stalls and spread manure in the mornings. This frees up my time in the evenings to ride.

I also try to prep in the mornings for the evening feeding as much as I can. I feed soaked cubes and beet pulp before evening turnout so I’ll pre-load the feed tub with the dry cubes so only water has to be added. I’ll also mix feed for any horses that get special feed.

I do my feeding out of a wheelbarrow — that wheelbarrow was the best investment ever! Instead of making multiple feed trips to the feed room, I can just load up and dump feed as I go down the hallway. This saves a ton of time!

I usually don’t get home from work until a little after 6pm, at which time I’ll quickly get in a few updates for the social media pages before I start working horses or give a lesson. I’ve learned to give myself a time limit on the evening updates and usually try to keep it at around fifteen minutes. Otherwise, I’ll spend too much time on that and not get my riding done!

Horses learn by repetition. So even if they’re only learning something for ten minutes, if they do it the same way three times they’ve usually got it. Over the years, I’ve learned you can accomplish a lot of long-term training  in short intervals, which works great for people who are busy, or if you’re like me and have a lot of horses to work. Those short sessions over time add up if you’re consistent with what you’re doing.

I try not to do long marathon sessions with a horse. I’ll set a goal for the ride and the second that horse meets it, we’ll quit and either take a little trail ride around the pasture for conditioning, or we’ll quit for the day. Not only does that save on time, but it gives me a better chance of ending on a good note with my horse.

There are three tools that I use as time savers for working horses – ponying, lunging & ground work, and riding bareback. All three of those allow me to accomplish a lot in a short amount of time:

  • Ponying not only allows me to condition two horses at once, it also helps them to learn to traffic, and work on their reining skills.
  • Lunging is more than just getting the edge off of a horse. You can work on things like balance with transitions, speed control, and just paying better attention. Working on lateral movements from the ground can definitely help improve the lateral responses you get under saddle.
  • Riding bareback saves a lot of time because you don’t have to tack up. You’ll also improve your riding and your horse’s responsiveness.
Trailer load demo at Circle C Cowboy Church colt starting competition and clinic 2011.

Trailer load demo at Circle C Cowboy Church colt starting competition and clinic 2011.

Getting up early, preparing ahead of time, and maximizing your ride time can all help you to be efficient in working with your horses.

What are the special things you do to help save time and be more effective with your horse? What are the things that you struggle with?

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