Successful Loading, part 2 - Building Confidence
In my previous blog I said there were two main reasons horses don’t load
He just doesn’t want to
with a possible (less common) third, that he’s in pain.
For this blog I’m going to focus on the first reason, he’s scared 😧🐴
In order to understand the psychology of why horses don’t like to load it’s worth taking some time to look at a horses nature. A horses’ primary means of responding to danger is to run!! He doesn’t have horns like a cow or a goat, his only weapon if you want to call it that is his hooves and his teeth but quite honestly if you’re a horse in the wild and in danger you’re much better off to run first, ask questions later 🐎💨
So what, I hear you say. Well this means that nature built into the horse an innate fear of small, enclosed spaces. If you’re an animal that needs to be able to run away from danger, it makes sense that you wouldn’t want to be restricted to somewhere that made this impossible. So nature designed horses to be naturally CLAUSTROPHOBIC 😱
Now our domesticated horses are a bit more used to going into enclosed spaces than a wild horse but it’s always worth remembering that going into that small space is against everything nature tells him he needs to survive. In horse logic it makes absolutely no sense to go into a small space, even more so when it’s parked in an open field!! 🖼➕🚛=❌
Added to that for some ‘difficult loaders’ every time they’ve got near a trailer every human has gone ‘mad’!! Clucking, pulling, pushing, pleading and so on, and when they did get on they were shut in quickly, rattled around for a bit then appeared somewhere new. When I really think about what it must feel like for the horse, I’m amazed any horse gets on! 🙏
It’s all about the Release
One of the biggest mistakes I see time and again in loading horses is the lack of release or thinking time given to the horse. I get it, I really do, usually we’re in a hurry to get on the road to the competition even if we’re running early we’re worried there will be traffic. 🚗🚛🛵
And if you’re travelling with someone else and your horse is the one holding everyone up because he won’t go on then that’s a whole other level of pressure on you 🤦♀️😩
In spite of all that when you are trying to build your horses confidence in the trailer or lorry the most important tool in your toolbox is going to be patience 😇
So ask your horse to walk forward using the headcollar. As soon as he walks forward let the rope go slack and give him a moment to think before asking for the next step. Give your horse time to sniff the ramp, sniff the trailer, have a look around, take a step on and back off again, then back on again and so forth..
That moment of thinking time allows your horse to realise what you want, and also to realise that he’s still safe once he’s done it. Taking your time like this will yield more solid results with a horse that’s scared as he needs time to realise it’s OK 🤔
Horses that load but get scared when they’re on board
These are the one’s that rush on, and then rush off again really quickly!!! Loading is not a problem but getting them to stay there really is. This can make unloading really quite dangerous. Often these horses are also a nightmare if you get stuck in traffic as they are waiting to get off the second the lorry stops and don’t understand the concept of a traffic jam!! This is also the horse that is likely to try to get out by climbing over the bars or partitions because he’s trapped.
N/B Never leave a horse you are not 100% sure of on a trailer or lorry with the ramp down or door open. If your horse is in any way scared of being in there he may see the open ramp/door as an exit route and try to get out. It’s much safer to keep everything closed if you’re in any doubt.
Sometimes the best thing you can do is nothing
This horse needs time spent on the lorry/trailer not going anywhere, just standing there, preferably with a haynet to munch, taking in the scenery. If they want to get off, I usually allow them to get off, turn them round and put them straight back on again and stand up there until they don’t feel the need to get off.
With these horses I also like to check that they can move around on board, so I might ask them to back up a step and then come forwards, or move over to the side as if I’m closing the partition.
Most travelling problems are actually confidence or loading problems. If you fix the loading issue the travelling issue usually goes away especially if you’ve taught them that it’s OK to take a few steps on board, they then get more confident to balance themselves when it’s moving.
Practise, practise, practise
I totally understand that no one really wants to practise loading, it’s something we’d rather just happened without having to think about it and to be honest with most horses it does. But, if you have a difficult loader, the more times you can practise when you don’t have to go anywhere and give your horse a good experience the better it will become.
The majority of horses are more than happy to co-operate once they know what’s required and it doesn’t scare them so taking some time to get loading sorted out to where it can be reliable is really worthwhile and sets your horse up for as stress free an experience as possible whenever they need to go somewhere 😁👍
Next week I’ll be delving into the other horse, the one that just doesn’t want to go on!!
In the meantime have fun with your horses and here’s a little snippet of me and B having a bit of fun with the trailer 😃🦄💕
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 email@example.com
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.
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 without supervision. Riding is a high risk sport.