Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Trailer Loading Tips (Part 2 of 4)

By Jessica Crouch

Last month I gave you my #1 safety tip: NEVER tie your horse in the trailer...... UNTIL the partition or butt bar is in place. This month I continue on the theme of taking the time to work with your horse until he can confidently load and stand quietly while you close the divider and latch it securely.  

Why? Most horses lean into pressure until taught otherwise. A horse who tries to back out of a trailer while he is tied will feel the pressure of the halter behind his ears, panic, throw his head up and hit it on the roof of the trailer as he frantically pulls back. Even if he is not seriously injured, the memory of that moment is enough to make trailer loading in the future quite a challenge. Although we can't totally erase that pull-back response, we can do a lot with our horses to help them learn to yield from pressure - hopefully giving them the skills they need to think things through if they do get in a bad situation. Also, as you work on trailer loading, you sometimes do need to put a little forwards feel on the halter - you want your horse to come forward softly off that feel rather than throwing his head up.

GOAL:  Your horse softly responds to a little pressure on his poll by dropping his head or coming forward - depending on your feel.

First, place your hand on the halter knot and apply the lightest downward pressure.  Most horses will ignore you - you might increase the pressure gradually until they take notice and give you a try; at which point release immediately. Some will immediately tense their neck and raise their head- just wait on them or allow your hand to go up with them - don't increase the pressure at that moment! Wait until they drop or soften and immediately reward by releasing. Work with this until your horse understands the request and will lower his head whenever you ask. This is an extremely useful skill that will come in handy when bridling, clipping, doctoring and in many  other situations.

Second, back your horse several feet away from you. Now put a little forwards feel on the rope. So far with our obstacles we've really been focusing on talking to the feet.  For this I want you to keep that in mind, but think more about  the pressure of the halter on your horse's poll asking him to come forwards. It's just a little different focus. If he ignores you, you might just wait on him and eventually increase the pressure just slightly and wait again. It is NOT  a tug-o-war. If he throws his head up and gets wide-eyed, go with him but keep just a little pressure and wait on him. The instant he comes forward, release. Work with this until you horse softly steps forward the instant you put a little feel on the rope.

It is a bit beyond the scope of this article to go in depth about the details of teaching a horse to follow a feel fowards.  However, I really want to at least make you aware of this important part of trailering. So......once again I must refer you to Mary's wonderful Friday morning groundwork classes for help with the actual exercises. If your horse doesn't come softly forwards off a feel on the halter rope, it really is important to help them master this fundamental skill.

Read Part 3 of 4: Approaching the Trailer