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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I Support Rodeo

This week’s post is actually a commentary I made on the Cowgirls With Curves facebook page last week…

After a comment about abuse on a rodeo meme pic, I feel like I need to make a statement.

I try not to post political crap on this page because that’s not what it’s about. This is a place for we as horse folks of all disciplines to come together and be encouraged and get a laugh every now and then, but I will take a stand on this.

I support rodeo and I will always support rodeo. I personally have only barrel raced at NBHA jackpots and a couple of futurities, but I’ve never ran rodeo. It’s always been a dream of mine ever since I was a kid in the 70’s watching the Hesston commercials for the NFR, and one day I will rodeo, good Lord willing. I have lots of friends that rodeo, have been involved with rodeo ministry in years past, and the love of my life is an old bull rider. So my ties with rodeo come from the heart.

Some folks might assume I’m this way because they think I’m just a barrel racer or that’s all I do. They are sadly mistaken. Yes, I love to barrel race but that’s not all I do or all I am. I’ve shown hunter, trail, western pleasure, judged hunter/jumpers and gaited horses, sorted cows, and even trained saddleseat, western pleasure and halter Arabs for a few years in my twenties. I’ve taken a stretch of lessons for eventing, and even had an event prospect off the race track. I’ve gone to ranch clinics and roped calves for doctoring, and I’ve broke more colts than I can count, a few older horses to boot. So I’ve got a pretty well rounded perspective when it comes to horsemanship and what is and isn’t abuse.

I don’t support true abuse in any event or discipline – rodeo or otherwise. But when someone calls out rodeo and makes a blanket statement that it’s abusive but other disciplines get a pass, I have to stand up. There’s abuse that happens in ALL disciplines. Look at Rolkur in Dressage, or riding horses with broken legs in the Kings Cup Endurance Race, pushing horses past their ability in Eventing, or tying horses up for hours in Western Pleasure.

If putting a flank strap that’s as tight as a rear cinch would be on a ranch saddle or a packing set up, on a horse is considered abuse, then those horse riding/showing folks calling it abuse might want to be aware of the fact that there’s a whole other world out there that adamantly states even riding a horse is abuse because  horses had rather be out grazing and we’re making them carry us around. People say the mere act of trimming whiskers is abuse too, as well as using ANY type of bit. If that’s the definition of abuse, then a ton of us are abusing our horses!

As someone else pointed out in a comment on the post, the folks that call the mere act of riding abuse are out to ban all aspects of riding, and instead of bashing each other’s disciplines it’s important that we come together and support one another. 

Oh, and while I’m at it, they don’t break horses in rodeos and the bucking straps on bulls are not around their testicles. And as far as spurs, I’ve seen far more reining, western pleasure, and gaited horses with bloody sides than I ever have bucking horses.

In addition, if it weren’t for rodeo the bucking horses would be bound to a Mexico slaughter house because they like to buck and no one wants a horse they can’t stay on or that’s dangerous. I’d much rather a horse have two square meals a day, get vet care, and only have to work at most 16 SECONDS every weekend than to see them on a truck for 48 hours without food or water just to be cut up while they’re still alive at the end. Heck, my horses work a LOT harder than they do!

Maybe not all the stock contractors or competitors are perfect when it comes to dealing with bulls and horses (I say get some first hand ranching experience and dealing with irate stock without pens and then you can judge.) But then not every rider that rides a dressage pattern, jumps a cross country course, or rides a class down the rail is either. There are poor horsemanship and stockmanship examples in every facet of the horse world but they aren’t the example of what it’s about, and the exact same applies to rodeo.

Rodeo, the people involved, and all the things it stands for will always be near and dear to my heart. I love and appreciate all disciplines because in the end it’s about what a horse and a rider can do together.

Copyright F.J. Thomas

Let’s Talk About Weight & Horses

Weight is a touchy subject for women, especially for horsewomen that don’t have a positive body image. How many of us have seen posts on forums asking whether or not a rider is too big for a horse? Far too often, at least in my opinion, multiple responses hold up the 20% golden rule that’s the end all be all of whether or not a rider should ride their horse.

For those that may not be familiar with the 20%, studies have shown that the maximum weight a horse – any horse regardless of build or size – should carry is 20% of their body weight. The studies indicate that when a horse carries more than 20% of their bodyweight, their heart rate increases and their muscles fatigue quicker.

 The average 15 hand horse will run around 1,000 pounds, which means the most weight they should carry is 200 pounds.

I ran Beavis on barrels at 185 pounds.

While this may be a good loose general rule of thumb, the problem is that most of these studies that have been done don’t take into account the differences in genetics, conformation, condition, or rider balance and fitness. In addition, there’s not uniformity in the horses and riders that they’re using to determine these results.

To make matters worse, some shows have even gone so far as to ask heavier riders to dismount based on the 20% rule. My fear is that if this taken to extreme, formal rules will be put into place on a larger scale – pun intended – based on studies that never took into account the individuality of horse and rider.

Using this 20% rule as the end all, be all is like saying people that weigh the same can lift the same amount of weight. Go to a weight lifting competition and you’ll see that’s simply not true. It’s not uncommon for smaller lifters to out-lift someone that weighs more than they do simply because they’re stronger.

Weight is not an indicator of strength or endurance but using this 20% rule as an end all be all makes it exactly that.

As a former trainer and instructor that’s ridden a large number of different breeds of horses, and as a competitor that’s been at every spectrum of the scale, I have a good feel of how weight impacts a horse and I know where the differences lie.

 While a rider’s fitness level does have an impact on how well a rider rides, my opinion is that a rider’s strength and balance are what is important. A rider can be strong and balanced but not necessarily fit according to traditional thinking. A balanced rider that is in time with their horse will have less impact on a horse’s back than a rider that’s fit but doesn’t have the best balance.

A rider’s build can also have an impact on how well they ride. If a rider is top heavy, they’re going to struggle more than a rider that carries more weight in their hips. With more weight up top, the physical impact on the horse’s back is going to be different than weight further down.

The same thing goes for horses and how they’re built. It’s common knowledge that a shorter back is stronger than a longer back. Two horses can weigh the same, but the shorter backed horse will be stronger.

My old horse Bluff weight 1200 pounds but he was also long backed.

Conformation and angles also play a role in a horse’s strength. In the barrel racing world, a horse with shorter cannon bones, a long hip angle, and lower hocks is more desired because they’re stronger making them faster coming off of a barrel.

A horse with a good shoulder angle can carry more weight more efficiently than a horse with an upright shoulder angle. Pair a good shoulder angle with correct angles in the pastern and hocks, and they’re even stronger.

Toad is a tough little horse right at 1,000 pounds.

Differences in the depth of the girth can also impact how well a horse carries weight. A deeper girth area allows for greater lung capacity so their endurance is better.

Conditioning also plays a role in how well a horse carries weight. It’s not only whether or not a horse has been worked, but the type of work they are being asked to do. For instance, a western pleasure show horse or hunter horse may be legged up perfectly to go compete in a class, but they may not be legged up enough to go run a barrel pattern competitively.  They need to be conditioned for the event they’re being asked to do in order to carry weight at an optimum level.

Over the years I’ve ridden several horses that I was either right at or a little over the 20% level. One Paso Arab cross mare that I rode weighed right at 900 pounds – 20% would be 180 pounds. There were several years I rode her weighing 185 and my saddle weighed 25 pounds. That mare carried me without any problem at all. We went on hilly trail rides and at the end of the day she had as much energy as she did at the start.

This Paso Arab mare carried me a lot of years at heavier weights and had no trouble.

I currently have two Quarter Horse geldings that both weigh right at 1,000 pounds. One is barely 14.2 and the other is right at 15 hands. I’ve ridden them both at 200 pounds and they carried me as easily at that weight as they do now, and they never tired any quicker than my black gelding that weighs 1250 pounds and is 16 hands.

1250 pounds and 16 hands, 1000 pounds and 15 hands – they carry me equally!

By the same token, I have had some smaller horses that weighed right at the 1,000 pound mark that I was a lot more careful about riding. I could tell they struggled a little more carrying me. This mare below is one of them. When she was green, could buck me very easily – which she worked out of – but she also tired quicker than my other horses did.

To the riders out there that struggle with a positive body image, don’t get too hung up on the 20% rule that gets spouted everywhere. Instead, take a look at your balance and strength and look at your horse as an individual whole.

Ask yourself these questions –

  • How is your balance and timing?
  • How well does your saddle fit?
  • How is your horse built?
  • Is he short backed or long backed?
  • How is the rest of his conformation and muscle?
  • How well is he conditioned?
  • Does he tire when he’s worked? How long does he have to be worked before he does get tired?
  • Does he wring his head or have any behavioral issues that could be caused by being uncomfortable?

If you still have questions of whether or not you’re too big for a horse, find a professional that is experienced with plus size riders. They’ll not only be able to give you an unbiased opinion, but they’ll be able to help you with issues that can be unique to larger riders and smaller type horses.

Weight is just a number. It’s doesn’t tell the whole story, and it doesn’t tell how well you ride or how well your horse can carry you. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just A Few Minutes

Is your horse getting enough time from you?

With working and taking care of family, sometimes spending time with your horses takes a back seat. Sometimes you feel as though you’re lucky just to get them fed and turned out all in one piece. The thought of catching, grooming, saddling and riding is just too daunting a task.

Toad tied out at a barrel race.

Toad tied out at a barrel race. This is one horse that I’ve done these exercises on a lot!

Fortunately, there are things you can implement into your daily routine that will help you and your horse stay tuned up even though you may not get a chance to ride. The best part is that it only takes a couple of minutes every day to see a big difference in how your horse responds.

Most likely you have the same routine every time you feed and/or turn out your horse. You do the same thing every time you do your chores. The good news is that horses learn by repetition and you can use your routine to make a difference in your horse and not spend that much time.

For instance, every time you go to feed your horse you can ask them to move over or do a side pass before you give them their feed. This only takes a couple of seconds to do, but when it’s done every day the benefits add up.

Another exercise that I implement into my daily routine is moving my horse’s hips and shoulders over while they’re eating. I’m not quite sure why, but there’s something about working with a horse while they’re eating that helps them to learn quicker. Again, it only takes a few seconds to do but  you’ll see a huge improvement in the lightness of your horse.

If your horse is grumpy while they’re eating, then you definitely want to spend the time working on your horse while they’re eating. Not only is it a chance to bond with your horse, but it’s also an opportunity to address respect issues that may not come up any other time.

Turn out time is an excellent opportunity to get your horse moving their shoulders and hips. Instead of pushing your horse over like you did during feed time, you can work on getting your horse to move without having to touch them. You can also work on flexing and getting your horse to give side to side through their face. With time, you can get your horse extremely light and that will most certainly translate to under saddle.

When you’re leading your horse in our out, instead of just going straight to the pasture or barn, take a couple of minutes to move the hips or shoulders.Ask them to move the shoulders and then quit – make sure you quit on a good note.

It only takes a minute or two, five at most, to implement these exercises into your daily routine. Not only will your horse get some much-needed interaction, but because you’re doing it every day and it’s repetitive, your horse will catch on quickly and improve.

Done with our ride.

Done with our ride.