HILL'S HORSEKEEPING NEWSLETTER
© 2007 Cherry Hill
I just recently got a additional horse. She
is a sweet 6 year old Arab, but she is a pain to trailer! When we first
tried to trailer her in a 2 slant horse trailer she would half way go in to get
the treats we were persuading her with to get her in and then she would back out.
Than when her previous owner came to help we used a butt rope and she just ended
up hurting herself. Than the second time we tried a larger trailer and bought
some antidote to make her drowsy and she still didn't load. But than the third
time we payed a professional to load her and she just got in, no problem. Do you
have any tips on how to load her in the future?
Yes, I do have one major tip.
I suggest you read "Trailering
Your Horse" from cover to cover.
To get you started, I am printing
an excerpt from the book here and some other resources on our website. But realize
that this excerpt covers just one portion of the training your horse needs. You
will need to cover the entire ground training program outlined in the book to
make your horse a trailering trooper !
Best of luck,
a horse to load in a trailer is no different than any other aspect of horse training.
You need to start with the basics and build using a training progression. It helps
if you have a clear picture of your end goal in mind, but to get there you must
develop a group of smaller sub-goals. Each sub-goal should be treated as a separate
lesson. If you and your horse master the ground training lessons that follow,
your horse WILL load in a horse trailer.
As you go through
the lessons, you need to show the horse what you want him to do as well as what
he must not do. Horses are much more content when they know absolutely what is
expected of them. Remember, horses are basically followers and will do almost
anything for you if your requests are clear, consistent and fair.
consistency, you must let your horse know each time he has made a mistake. If
you don't, it will be confusing for him and it will take him longer to learn the
correct response. For example, each time he puts pressure on the halter, whether
he is just lightly leaning on it or trying to blast past you, you need to give
a tug on the halter to let him know he should not do that. Your goal is to have
him lead lightly - like a butterfly on a string, not a runaway freight train.
doling out of praise is a little bit different. At first, you should praise your
horse each time he responds correctly. You can lavish the praise on him with a
good rub on the withers or stroke down his neck as you say "Good Boy"
or "Good Girl". In later lessons, eliminate the scratch or stroke but
continue with the verbal praise. Finally, when the horse knows the lesson thoroughly,
you can eliminate the verbal praise. Then you can use the verbal praise and/or
the scratch or stoke occasionally to reinforce his good habits. Once the lesson
has been learned, praise is most effective when it is used sporadically. If you
lavish praise continually, it will be hard for the horse to distinguish what he
is being praised for. The reward will lose its effectiveness.
you are correcting your horse or praising him, your action should follow the behavior
immediately. If you are slow to respond, you may be punishing or rewarding the
next behavior instead!
Once your horse has learned a particular
lesson, you must repeat the exercise regularly over a period of days and in different
locations to establish it firmly in his mind. Repetition is the key to developing
a conditioned response, which is a requisite for solid horse training. Don't think
that since you can load your horse on a warm, quiet day when his buddy is already
in the trailer, that he knows the lesson definitively. Can you load him when the
wind is blowing, his buddy is in the barn calling to him, and a dog is barking
nearby and so on? The more thorough you are with the entire ground training program,
the more assured you will be of being able to load your horse during exciting
times such as during a storm, along a busy highway, or when your horse is injured
If you establish a solid base of in-hand work and
work over obstacles, leading or sending your horse into a horse trailer will be
easy. Trailer loading should not be a traumatic fight between human and horse.
In order for the human to win it is not necessary for the horse to lose. Both
can be winners. A horse should not be mechanically or physically forced into a
trailer. He should enter willingly of his own accord.
other horse training lessons, your mind is a powerful aid in guiding the horse.
But you also need physical aids to tell the horse what you want. The physical
aids are your body language, a halter and lead rope, your hands, an in-hand whip,
and in some cases, a chain for the halter. As the horse learns what you want him
to do, you start coupling verbal commands or signals with the physical cues so
the horse doesn't depend on the physical cues.
in one of the simplest lessons, "walk on", when you are leading the
horse, you want the horse to walk forward when you walk forward. At first you
might need to use a tap with the whip or a pop with the end of the lead rope on
the horse's hindquarters to cause him to step forward promptly. Or you might need
a sharp tug or two on the halter or chain to keep him from charging forward or
crossing in front of you as you walk. Or you might need to poke him in the neck
or shoulder with your elbow or the butt of the whip to keep him from crowding
But once he has learned to respect your personal space
and walk forward promptly with you, you can use subtle voice commands, sounds
or gestures to confirm the guidelines for the horse. Then later, your horse will
just operate from your body language or any specific cues you want to use.
as you progress through this battery of lessons, it is better to perform the simple
lessons well than to rush ahead to the end goal ill-prepared. Take your time,
be patient, do your homework.
In Chapter 6, you'll learn important
in-hand lessons that are the basis of all horse training and handling, whether
trailer loading, longeing, riding or just grooming and health care procedures.
Chapter 7 provides you with ideas for obstacle training. Obstacles
are objects that you negotiate in a particular fashion to build your horse's confidence
and to develop skills that will be useful during trailer loading.
Chapter 8, I'll demonstrate loading and unloading in a variety of ways using horses
at different stages of training and using various style trailers.
of the progressive nature of the program, you won't see too much misbehaving but
in Chapter 9, I'll point out common trouble spots and how to avoid or correct
CHAPTER 6 - IN-HAND WORK
you and your horse must be comfortable working with each other during in-hand
work. Before you even think about attempting to load your horse in a trailer,
be sure you have established thorough in-hand manners and responses in your horse.
This chapter outlines the in-hand work that every horse should know.
PRE-LOADING GROUND TRAINING CHECKLIST
You should be able
to perform all of the following with your horse relaxed, in willing cooperation,
and with no resistance or avoidance. All exercises should be performed from both
the near and off side.
Catch in stall, pen,
paddock and pasture
Halter without fussing
without pulling away
- Turn loose without galloping away
- Walk forward
promptly and in proper position
- Turn left from light cues
right from light cues
- Stop without requiring strong cues
without requiring strong cues
- Stand on a long line without moving while
trainer moves around
- Move sideways from light cues
- Turn on the
forehand from each side
- Turn on the hindquarters from each side
more info see In-Hand
WHOA ON A LONG LINE
Whoa on a long
line is the equine equivalent of putting a horse on the "honor system".
You are teaching and testing a horse's ground training to be sure that when you
tell him whoa and leave him, he stands perfectly still until you release him.
It is like the command "stay" for a dog and it is prelude to "ground
tie" which you might want to use when riding. When you first teach a horse
this lesson, you will only step away from him about 1 or 2 extra feet and for
only a few moments at a time. Gradually increase the distance and time until you
can leave your horse and step to the end of your 12-foot lead rope for several
To most effectively conduct in-hand work, work at your horse's
shoulder with about 2 feet of slack lead rope between the horse's halter and your
hand. This position is safe - you won't get stepped on or left behind. And it
is an effective position to get the horse started, control his forward movement,
and effect turns.
When you take the first step forward, do so energetically.
Your body language will encourage the horse to respond in kind with a prompt,
energetic forward step.
If your horse needs some "waking up",
you can trot from the halt instead. Give your horse a little more headroom - up
to about 3 feet on the lead rope and use the voice command "trot on"
or whatever you use for trot if you longe your horse. You want to develop an instant,
energetic reaction from your horse. Practice these walk and trot departs regularly
so it becomes second nature to your horse. Then, when a horse might have a question,
such as when asked to step into a trailer for the first time, the practice will
pay off. The horse's forward response to your cues will be so deeply ingrained
that he will automatically step forward. Be sure to do your homework in these
When your horse knows whoa on the long line and the walk
on command, you should teach your horse to walk forward on the end of a long line.
This is a similar lesson to the one you would use to start your horse longeing.
However, here you just want the horse to walk straight forward a few steps, not
in a circle. Once your horse starts moving, you will either walk along with her
or ask her to whoa. The object of this lesson is to know that you can start and
stop your horse from 8-10 feet away.
LAGGING AND CORRECTION
a horse is not paying attention, he is not likely to be in tune with your body
language and commands. To get a horse to start promptly from a standstill, be
sure to stay in position at his shoulder. Carry a 18-inch dressage whip in your
left hand and at the instant you say "walk on" and start walking yourself,
tap the horse on the hindquarters with the whip. You'll have to swing your arm
around behind you to do this so be sure to give yourself enough slack in the lead
rope so you can do this. It should be a controlled, subtle maneuver, not a wild
gesticulation. Do this every time you walk off with the lazy horse and soon he
will start waking up and forming a new habit.
In your in-hand work, picture
that leading your horse is like taking a butterfly for a walk on a string. Hopefully
this will make you less dependant on controlling the horse with tack and make
you focus more on body language, voice commands, and consistency. Test the thoroughness
of your communication using invisible tack. Start in the normal in-hand position,
then remove the halter and hold it in your left hand.
When YOU are ready,
step forward as you do when your horse is haltered. Use your normal voice command.
You might wish to hold your right hand as you would if holding a lead rope as
a visual cue to your horse.
[ for more info see:
Space and Turn On The Forehand ]
The ideal attitude in a horse is responsive
and cooperative yet confident. I like a horse that respects my personal space
whether we are working or standing. This is the type of relationship you want
to develop with your horse.
Some horses, when given the opportunity, will
crowd their handlers. This can stem from a variety of reasons. The most common
are insecurity, pushiness, or excessive sociability. While this might seem darling,
it can be a nuisance and even a hazard.
One way to encourage a horse to
stay in his own space and keep out of yours is to use the butt end of your in-hand
whip as a cueing device. I prefer to use a 30" dressage whip with a cap on
the end to push on the horse's shoulder or neck. If a horse is particularly stubborn,
you can use a whip without a cap to deliver more of a poke.
At first it
might take quite a forceful press on the horse's shoulder to get his attention
and to get him thinking about moving a step away from you.
After just a
few deliberate cues, all that is required is a light cue and the horse steps wide
to the right. This personal space lesson will come in handy when you teach your
horse in-hand turning and sidepassing.
If the horse is just crowding you
with his head, you can pitch a wave in the lead rope that pushes his head away
If you need to move the horse's body away, another technique is
to use your right elbow to poke him over.
For more info on trailering
your horse see:
Newsletter, June 2002, TRAILERING ISSUE