Horse Facts and Tips
|First Posted: Apr 13, 2011Aug 25, 2012|
Trailering Behavioral Problems and Your Horseby Debora Johnson
You are getting ready to trailer your horse and you know that there are going to be behavioral problems. What type of problems are these and what can be done about it? Is your horse reluctant or refuse to load when you trailer? Is your horse difficult once he gets on the trailer? Is your horse difficult to off load the trailer? Does your horse rear? Does he invade your space? Does he kick out? If so it is my hope that this article will be helpful to you.
It is important for your horse to have pleasant experiences associated with trailering. Careful training and patience are key! Again, once a horse has a bad trailering experience it takes much longer to retrain. They have long associative memories.
Think and Perceive Like A Horse
How I Train A Horse to Load
Example of One of Our Past Horses, Gambler's Gold Star, pasture name Gold
A past horse of my husband's did not like to load. He would do anything he could not to go up the ramp of the trailer. Gold (pasture name) also would not load on a step-up. We tried everything from making the trailer light inside, to using food incentives, to tapping him gently to go forward with a dressage whip, to using a rope behind his rump, to putting his easy to load pasture buddy on the trailer first. We did not rush him. We let him hang out around the open trailer to get use to its presence. Our trailer is a Rice trailer made in England. It has ramps that open in the back and from the side. The horses can be loaded in either direction. The horse can be backed off when unloading or walk through and out the side ramp. It is a thoroughbred size trailer and has plenty of light and space. There are no bad odors in the trailer. It is clean. Gambler's Gold Star just did not like to load. We suspected that he had a problem from his past--before us.
We hired Debby Samer to come and help us. She did. It took lots of patience and time. She was able to redirect Gold Star's psychological aversion to trailering. We gave Gold some Cool and Calm, a mild over-the-counter sedative, and waited for it to take the fear edge off. She had my husband, Bill, stand inside the trailer behind the chest bar. There was a long rope attached to Gold's halter. Bill enticed Gold with treats and treats were also put on the ramp. Gold was urged to approach the ramp. He was given lots of praise. Once Gold Star was bold enough to put a foot on the ramp he was given lots of praise and treats. He was not rushed. Debbie did continue to urge him forward with kind words (walk on) and a light tapping behind his elbow and then below his hocks. In time, Gold learned that entering the trailer was nothing to fear. Once he was on the trailer Bill gave him more verbal praise, pets and treats. He then unlocked the breast bar and walked Gold through the trailer down the front ramp. Everything about the experience was made to be pleasurable and reduce Gold's stress. It was also done in steps over a period of time. First Gold would approach the trailer without stress. Then he would put a foot on the ramp. Then he would step on the ramp. etc. We took short trailer trips once he would enter. Losing your temper and impatience on your part only reinforces the horse's fear of the trailer. It sets the corrective training back. It is wonderful if you can do this retraining over a period of a week or more. By taking that extra time you will reap the rewards of patience.
We will never know why the horse had such an aversion to the trailer, but eventually he would load and unload without problems. I might add that we always used a head bumper with Gold just in case he decided to rear or do the unexpected. We also wrapped his lower legs and put on bell boots to protect his feet. Gold was 16.2 hands and built like a tank. He had also been a breeding stallion before we got him. That handling during those years probably had something to do with his fear of the trailer.
Sometimes a horse may kick out while being tapped to impel forward. A hard wack or two below the hocks, when that behavior arises, should take care of that behavior. Make sure that the wacks are immediate so that the horse associates the wack with the kicking. Also, I use harsh words as well, "No!" The horse learns that kicking out is going to produce unwanted sensation!
Negative Associations When Trailering
A horse learns through association. If you use punishment when trying to teach a horse to load onto a trailer that horse will have negative associations with the trailer and you--such as hurt and pain. Rearing, bolting, kicking, dancing around and backing are often behaviors associated with fear.
Positive Associations When Trailering
Suggestions to Solve Unexpected Problems
If a horse presents an unexpected problem and must be loaded immediately, the following may be of help to you:Butt Ropes
Secure a long rope to both sides of the back of the trailer where you load your horse. Most trailers have hitching areas that are made of metal. Leave plenty of rope so that you can encourage your horse to enter by applying pressure across his butt area (the thigh area of the back legs) with the rope. Be mindful to make sure your horse or you do not get tangled up in the rope. If this happens, just drop the rope and get out of the way! Your horse will most likely off load backward ramp or step up. Not good, but hopefully no one gets hurt. I see people joining hands and applying pressure to the horse's butt urging the horse forward with the pressure from their bodies. I do not like this because it seems too dangerous to me.Tranquilizers
Downers from using tranquilizers are the side affects that horses often do not remember the trailering experience, therefore, do not learn when the trailering experience is positive. They can become unstable in the trailer, as well, because of the possible loss of equilibrium (dizziness). I would never use sedatives if I were going to any kind of competition.
Always check with your vet before administering any kind of drug!!!
For More Information:Trailer Loading Methods