BARKS from the Guild July 2017

Page 46

EQUINE

Teaching Trailer Loading

Kathie Gregory highlights ways of training horses to be calm, relaxed and confident about

ot all horses au- There are many reasons may not enjoy going tomatically enjoy horses into a trailer but there is the process of much trainers can do to make them feel more at going into a trailer, yet in ease with the process an emergency it may be essential for them to do so. In actual fact, there are many things a horse may be worried about that prevents him from walking straight into a trailer, and this article sets out to examine some of them. To start with, the horse could have issues with balance.Various conditions mean that older horses may not be so sure footed. For example, a horse may have arthritis, poor eyesight or poor hearing, and all of these can cause him to feel unsteady on his feet. Some young horses find it difficult to shift their weight so they can stand on three feet; you may see this when they are learning how to stand to have their feet trimmed. Whilst it may not seem that this would be an issue when stepping onto a trailer, it can quickly become one if the horse is unsure and decides to go very slowly. While at normal walking speed there will be no problem, when a horse is unsure of how to balance, his weight slows down sufficiently. In effect, he is pausing, and shifting his weight to continue can be difficult. The trailer ramp may also cause the horse to think he does not have secure footing until he gets used to how it feels. Another issue might be that the horse has to step backwards to get off the trailer, and although most people have taught their horse to back up a step or two, he may not be comfortable going backwards down a ramp. In addition, the surface of the ramp and trailer may be new to the horse, and he may need some time to get used to how it feels on his feet. The noise it makes as he steps on it can also make him feel unsure of committing to getting on. Obviously if the surface is slippery it is not only a safety issue, but also one the horse is likely to refuse to step on. Many horses are used to being in a small space such as a stable, but that does not necessarily translate to being comfortable in other small spaces. The trailer does not have any of the associations the stable has, making him less likely to want to get into it. The noise of the vehicle can also make a difference. It is one 46

BARKS from the Guild/July 2017

thing to step into a small space, but quite another when you add engine noise, and then movement, particularly if you have a noise sensitive horse. A very alert and watchful personality is also likely to find the vehicle noise a challenge, along with an inability to see what is going on around him. The whole concept of being in a moving box is not natural to the horse. Noise, movement, lack of space, unable to see his surroundings, and an inability to leave the trailer if he wants to, all conspire to make this an anxious experience. If the horse also has had bad experiences with being loaded or travelling, things can be even worse, and he may panic or refuse to go anywhere near the trailer. Horses can also be wary of new situations, so if a trailer is a new experience, what is unfamiliar may be a potential threat. All these factors affect a horse’s sense of safety and confidence, and can make trailer loading difficult or even impossible. However, there is a lot you can work on before you first introduce your horse to a trailer, or to resolve issues due to previous experiences. Think about all the aspects of the trailer and set up games and activities that teach the horse to understand, be comfortable and competent around them. I will mention a few here, but there are many exercises, tricks and movements that you can teach your horse. Learning is all about expanding understanding and awareness, so teach your horse to enjoy being taught, learn at his own pace, and express himself and experiment as he learns. All these things help him become more self-confident, emotionally resilient and feel safe and secure. Photo: Ewa Highland

N

being loaded into a trailer

Balance

- Pick each foot up independently. Hold it in position for a few seconds. - Move one foot at a time, forwards, backwards and to the side. - Step forwards, backwards and sideways a different number