A Different Way to Approach Horse Loading
Horse loading is often the single most difficult task horse owners have problems with. It’s no wonder really because from a horse’s perspective, it can be compared to us being afraid to walk down a dark narrow alley in a scary neighbourhood or a graveyard at night! It’s all about instinctual fear. If you were a horse you wouldn’t run into and enclosure for safety, you would run into the wide open space.
If you feel you have a problem equine with regard to a horse loading problem what I would suggest you review is the trust and respect factors in your relationship. Building strong equine relationships depends on us considering the horse’s perspective in this and all situations.
We have all seen the little babies follow their Mom’s right into a trailer. Hmmmm, no training done there by us! Out of shear trust and respect a baby horse will follow their Mothers anywhere! I see this as a personal goal for us to achieve, particularly when it comes to horse loading challenges.
I offer you the following example of a Horse Loading Experience in an attempt to open a new perspective on the subject.
I Heard What You Said!
I was called to help a horse named Cash to become better at horse loading onto a trailer.
Thus far in her 15 years of life she certainly had many trailer rides yet she was clearly uncomfortable about the process. She was fine with the front two feet on but the rest was very hard for her. A battle that many had ensued, and usually after a lengthy time she would reluctantly be forced on and the door closed.
Before I go on I should let you know how I prefer to teach a horse to trailer load. I try never to lead a horse into a trailer (I have seen and been in too many dangerous situations using this method). Instead I teach a horse to self load from outside of it. That way I am assured that it has become their idea, and not my idea by using any force or coercion. Plus it is far safer for all parties involved.
Anyway, it was a straight haul ramp type trailer she was often put on. My trailer is a step up, angle haul, enough room for a horse to get on, turn around, and get off if they feel unsafe. I find it a great teaching tool for horse loading. However, not the only one since we must be reminded that it’s not about the trailer but more about trust, respect and communication.
Knowing that Cash had viewed her experiences in a negative fashion, I knew she was going to show me exactly all the ways she had learned to avoid the situation. Well she didn’t disappoint me there! She was a tough cookie! And for every move she had I needed to have a counter move. It was very important that I take every step slowly since I was undoing old horse behavior and replacing it with new horse behavior. Plus I wanted to make this a positive experience.
It took two whole sessions before she was happily jumping on and off (and on, and staying on, then off) my trailer with the look of, “I don’t see what all the fuss was about!” But now I needed her to get on that straight haul trailer.
Back she went to some old behavior yet she would happily go all the way in except for 4 inches remaining. Just enough so that closing the door was impossible. I thought I'd checked everything in that trailer to see if there was something I was missing through her perspective, yet she still would refuse. I would not be satisfied by forcing her on so I knew it was time to take a break and re-evaluate this situation.
I came home and couldn’t stop thinking about her. Constantly asking myself, “What is it she trying to tell me? What have I missed? How can I help her?” I learned long ago that horses don’t make mistakes, they can only process the information that you have supplied. Thus if it doesn’t go as planned I check in with me rather than blaming the horse.
I sat quietly and closed my eyes visualizing Cash in my mind's eye. I asked her if she could show me what she is feeling about the trailer. In a flash, I was picturing a can of sardines! I thought "What?, Where did that come from?". Yet I looked closely at the contents of that can. Have you seen sardines in a can? They are all squashed together so tightly that they cannot move at all (now for a horse, that would be most frightening!). I couldn’t stop thinking about this perspective.
The next day, I looked into that straight haul trailer and removed the breast plate at the front and replaced it with a lead rope which created about 6 inches more of space. I asked Cash to get on, and BANG, on she went all the way in with no hesitation at all. It wasn’t that she didn’t fit in there to begin with, it was that she felt like a sardine in a can if she did!
Can I communicate with horses from an empathic place? I don’t know for sure yet I have experienced many events like this to indicate that I can. Did I listen to my intuition? You bet I did and if you ask Cash, it really paid off!
Here’s how Cash loads now ( note: no halter or stick in my hands).
If you would like to know more about horse trailers and the best way to trailer a horse
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