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Successful Loading and Travelling Part 1

You don't need a special headcollar to load your horse (but sometimes it helps!)

There are two main reasons a horse doesn't go into the trailer / lorry

  1. He's scared

  2. He just doesn't want to!

There is a third reason, which is that he’s in pain. This is less common in regards to loading but it does happen and is worth investigating if you have a horse that suddenly doesn’t want to load seemingly without reason.

Reasons 1 and 2 both have to do with his mind and to really fix the problem you are going to need some time to convince your horse that going into this thing on wheels is a good idea!

I've often thought that the whole travelling experience for a horse must be a strange thing, I mean, you get in one end, get rattled around in a noisy box for a bit seeing things wiz by, all of a sudden you're in a completely different place! It's like Dr Who's tardis!!

All of that aside whenever we do anything with a horse it's so important to remember that they have no idea what we want or why. They can only base their responses on what's happened in the past so it really depends on if that was good or bad for them is going to be how they deal with it the next time.

With a scared horse, building confidence is key and this takes time. The more you can practise when you're not going anywhere the better it will be. Often a scared horse will feed off our 'we need to get there' impatient (or desperate!!) emotions and will become worse!

With a more stubborn character motivation is the thing. This horse is constantly asking 'why should I?' and we need to have a good answer for that.

To just make it that bit more of a challenge, often a horse that appears stubborn at the bottom of the ramp is a quivering wreck at the top! Is he stubborn or scared - no he’s both!! Which means working on motivating him at the bottom of the ramp and building his confidence when he’s on. Whatever the situation, the biggest tool in our toolbox is patience, frustration will usually only lead to the whole thing taking longer and your horse being convinced that this was a bad idea in the first place!!

Ask, Release, Reward

A lot of the problems I see in training are down to the fact that the horse is not actually clear what the goal is and even if he is clear he’s not always convinced it’s a good idea!! As humans because we are clear what the goal is, we often forget to reward the steps to the goal and only reward when (and if) it’s complete. For example, with most horses I will start by rewarding them touching the ramp with their nose.

What is a release? A release in this sense is when we stop asking for something so in the case of loading I will ask the horse to take a step forward with the headcollar, when he does I will stop asking and let him think for a moment, realise that he’s still safe and then ask again, another step, pause, let him think and so on. This is where I see the biggest mistakes happen in loading, often there is little or no release, the horse isn't allowed any thinking time to gain confidence or understand what is required. More on this in the next blog.

If the horse backs out, I calmly start the process again, noting each time how far my horse went, it’s usually a little bit further in each time as he gains confidence.

Loading is a bit like getting into really cold water some of us want to inch in, a little toe, then up to the ankle, then the knees and so on, usually we wimp out and get out a couple of times before we take the plunge. Equally there’s some of us that just jump in all in one go!!

In the same way, some horses have no problem walking on the box but really don’t want to stay in once their on! This is a totally different process of walking them on and off and NOT shutting them in until they are happy to stand on the box with it open. Then and only then do I start getting them confident with being closed in, more on this next week in part 2.

On Food

For some horses all they need is a little extra motivation and food can work brilliantly as an incentive to get them going. For others it doesn’t work at all. I always like to have a haynet in the box as an added reward or incentive once they’re in there. It also helps me gauge how confident they are once they’re on, a confident horse will usually munch away happily but one that’s still worried won’t touch it. Once they are going on well doing things like giving them their feed on the box is a great idea to build confidence and motivation. More tips and idea’s on how to get your horse motivated to go on the week after next in part 3.

Headcollars, halters, bridles etc

You can load a horse effectively in any head gear using these principles, however if I have a horse that has a tendency to pull on the headcollar or has learned to pull away I might choose to use a rope headcollar that is thinner so the horse is less likely to pull on it. Ultimately, what I am aiming for is that my horse sees the lorry/trailer as a great place to be and is so motivated to go on there that I could load them without anything on their head!

Something for a bit of fun...... and yes, I have done this at a competition so my boots didn't get muddy!!!!


Before trying any training technique it is important to rule out pain or discomfort. Saddle fit, teeth, back, hoof balance and lameness issues should all be checked by a qualified professional before applying any training.

If you have questions or need idea's to help with a specific problem feel free to get in touch with me on


Lyla has been helping riders and their horses in the UK, USA and Europe for over 15 years. She has prepared horses for crowds of over 6,000 people with no calmers or ear plugs for venues including Birmingham NEC, Aintree, Bury Farm EC and Hartpury.

Lyla specialises in horse psychology and behaviour problems with a specific interest in dressage and has worked with horses from grass roots to Grand Prix across the UK and Europe including international competitors and Olympians from Spain, the US, Canada and the UK.

See or email for more details.


All training techniques discussed are from experience only, it is impossible for to accurately advise on horse/rider combinations without seeing them live. Lyla Cansfield & Equine Mind & Body Training strongly advise anyone considering using any of the techniques discussed to get live help and can take no responsibility for the outcome of applying any of the techniques discussed with or without supervision. Riding is a high risk sport.

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