Trailer Loading - Overview
Trailer loading doesn't have to be a nightmare!
This series of 6 videos will take you through a simple step-by-step method to teach your horse to load and unload safely, quietly and willingly every time.
The series is suitable for every horse, regardless of it's previous training or experience with loading.
The purpose of this lesson is to teach the horse to load calmly on to the trailer, stand while the ramp is fastened and back off quietly and slowly when asked.
The Basic Elements:
The SPOT on the horse that you want to move: The left front foot
The DIRECTION you want it to go: Forwards and backwards
The MOTIVATION for moving it: Dressage whip tapping the hip, gentle rein or lead rope pressure
The REWARD given for the correct response: Release of pressure, praise and allow the horse to stand and rest
Trailer loading is about stepping forwards and backwards when being cued to do so. The horse learns that when signaled to step forward, if he does so, he is praised and the pressure is released. The lesson teaches one-foot-on, one-foot-off, two-feet-on, two-feet-off and so on until the horse is at the front of the trailer and waits until you signal him off. This means that he learns to get on and off the trailer at in the same lesson. This pattern has two advantages:
- The horse is never overwhelmed. By the time you want the horse to go on the trailer he is completely familiar with the pattern and knows he will simply wait to be signaled off again.
- The horse learns to get off at the same time. Many horses, especially those that rush backwards off the float, are more frightened of getting off the trailer than getting on. They rush off because they know they have to get off eventually and this is what is frightening to them. These horses have often been hurt or scared coming off, for example when a horse throws his head up and hits the roof of the trailer when backing off or slips on the ramp.
Helpful things would be:
- Bridling and Give to the Bit
- Stop and Back Up
The lesson should take about 20 minutes for the horse that has never seen the trailer before.
If your horse has had a bad experience, runs off backwards, rears and strikes etc., then this lesson will take you a little longer. You should NOT experience any of those behaviours during the lesson but your horse may require some extra time for 'un-learning' and 're-training'. Allow an hour for your first lesson and come back another day to complete it if necessary.
Remember if your horse is tired, mentally or physically, he is not learning. If you find he is getting worse then try to find a good point to stop and begin again another day before the horse becomes frustrated. This is a sure sign that the horse is mentally tired and cannot cope with any more.
Remember this lesson should be taught on its own and not just before you want to go somewhere. The horse should not travel on the day of the lesson.
Once the horse is walking on, standing and waiting until you ask him to back off, it is time to finish the lesson. Try not to keep 'practicing' as your horse will soon tire of the exercise and his mind will turn to other, more interesting, things.
Things to Remember:
- Forget everything you have ever heard about making outside the trailer the bad place to be (apologies for starting the 'Things to Remember' list with the thing to forget).
- Break it down for the horse - a thought of forward movement is better than nothing (or backwards), reward that.
- This is an 'emotion level' lesson. If your horse is rearing you have gone too-far-too-fast. Get the emotional level right and you will have a successful and safe lesson.
- Try to put your horse's history out of your mind. You need to address what the horse is experiencing today.
ISES Training Principles:
- Release the pressure immediately when the horse responds. The pressure you are using here is gentle tapping with the dressage whip on the hip for forward movement. It is important to stop tapping immediately when the horse responds with even the slightest of forward movement as this tells the horse that he was correct.
- Use signals that the horse can differentiate. Make sure the horse can tell the difference between your cues. If you cluck to the horse to move forwards, be sure you aren't using the same verbal cue for move backwards.
- Train and initiate responses one at a time (shaping). Don't try to get the horse all the way on to the trailer. Simply teach the horse to move forwards and backwards (with the trailer in the way!).
- Train habitual responses using consistency and repetition. You are teaching the horse a habit - 'when I get to the bottom of the ramp I walk up the ramp and wait quietly until I am asked to back off.'
- Train only one response per signal. Tapping the horse on the hip only means go forward. The horse soon learns this so your signal can become very light, even to the point that simply raising the whip slightly elicits the desired response of go forward.
- Avoid fear during training. This is always important but critical for the safety of you and your horse in this situation. The horse should remain calm throughout the lesson and be engaged and attentive. Controlling the horse's emotional level is essential.
- Train persistence of responses. The horse learns the pattern of loading on to the trailer. When taught in this way you will, in the end, simply point the horse to the trailer and he will load himself.
- Check for relaxation. It is so important that the horse is relaxed and calm. If you see any conflict behaviours, such as head throwing, rearing or kicking, address those by breaking it down further for the horse. Make it a little easier until the horse feels less threatened and stressed before gently increasing the number of steps forward on to the trailer again.
- ISES Training Principles Poster
Download your copy of the International Society for Equitation Science's (ISES) Training Principles Poster here.
- ISES Code of Conduct
Download your copy of the International Society for Equitation Science's Code of Conduct. Parts of this document are particularly applicable to those of you that compete or hold events.