spent so much time trying to get horses in trailers over the years! We’ve all been there right, packed, excited, ready to go… and your horse says a resounding NOPE, not going in that tin box to fly along the roads. It’s fair enough that they are wary of this unnatural way of getting places, but it is awfully stressful, fun limiting and time consuming if your horse doesn’t load up willingly.
I listened to Ken of Dromgool Horsemanship explaining how he uses ground school to send a horse up a ramp. Using that technique, all three of my horses learned to self load – and then the two I still have took it to the next level – they run from the far field, across the farm, and load up at liberty without any guidance!
Going on the horse trailer is something they really want to do of their own accord.
Loading two ‘horses that don’t float well’ that I hadn’t worked with before, in a windy storm for a friend took 15 minutes.
Changing the habits of a lifetime can take less than half an hour all up, if you have a clear intention, and are consistent and calm. For an example, Summer was a horse who sometimes just couldn’t be loaded. After a 10, then 5 then 3 minute session of this technique, she was almost perfect and within a few weeks was self-loading calmly, travelling well, and had stopped rushing off when we unloaded too.
As usual, this training technique is based on pressure and release, but with the right training, float loading ends up being driven by the horse, through intrinsic motivation.
Ok, she tried to go straight there but super cute and she worked it out! Music @iksonmusic
And wow – does a happy, self- loading horse make life easy! Here’s a short intro video I made to explain this – and below is a step by step guide to applying this trailer training method.
Let’s break down the steps
1. Practice away from the trailer, to make sure you have cues for a good steady back up, and can groundschool / lunge your horse in a nice even circle at a steady speed.
2. Ensure you are set up for success – look out for loud noises, herd bound horses, make sure your rope is tidy and not tangling. Park your trailer in a nice space with lots of room behind the ramp and the ramp on a nice angle, and steady. Have hay ready in the trailer and practice latching the draw bar if you haven’t used the float a lot.
3. Work your horse behind the ramp, in a nice calm circle, with an even energy – make sure you have some ‘forward’ to work with.
4. When you are happy with your horse’s state, alter the circle so that they come into a turn that faces them up the ramp. Your job is to ‘send’ them up.
5. While the horse is moving forward, use your normal cues – a click, kiss kiss noises, verbal encouragement – in a nice calm way.
6. If the horse stops, give them one chance to move forward again on request, and if not, back them off the ramp quickly. If the horse stops and begins to rush backwards, back them up fast. If the horse stops and takes a step or two back, immediately push them back off the ramp.
In all these scenarios, the key is to move them back, with energy, for longer than they want. “With energy” doesn’t not mean you should use any force or aggression, but it may mean you raise your voice, and it will mean you raise your energy. At first with Summer, my ‘mare who didn’t float’ I said loudly ‘back back back!’ and held my hands higher.
7. When the horse has gone back a good 3-5 seconds longer than they wanted to, dramatically change your body language and step to one side, encouraging the horse forward. Use a calm voice, and your forward cues. Believe that they are walking up that ramp, now. For as long as the horse moves forward, even maybe for a teeny pause if they then step forward again, stay calm, quiet and encouraging. The moment they step back, push them back again.
8. When your horse enters the trailer, you will be behind them and assuming they pause long enough, you can slip the bar up, raise the ramp and go around to reward them. If they dont stand quietly for long enough for you to do this safely, keep using the back off until they do.
Make the float their quiet, safe place to rest, and make any backing out higher effort. Like Ray Hunt said, ‘make the wrong thing difficult and the right thing easy’.
Once they stand and you have the bar up, if they are agitated, get moving slowly as soon as you can. If they are calm, you can pet them or feed treats, and let them know they cracked it.
9. Try to make sure the first few trips using this method are smooth, slow and last a decent while. A 30-40 minute trip is perfect and often a motorway or freeway is straighter and smoother than other roads, so helps give them a great stress free experience. Let them snack from a haynet so they don’t get agitated from a sore tummy. If you have a long ride, let them cool off and give them a little simple feed with chaff before the trip home so they are full and relaxed.
Once you have a reliable load happening, you can drop the circle and just send them straight up. From here, if your horse is happy and relaxed, you can begin unclipping the rope before they walk up the ramp, and eventually, they should walk happily in from wherever you point them at the ramp!
Have fun! If you have questions, pop them through at @nzmares on instagram.