I have had many comments over the years from people who have seen me around the country: service station attendants who didn't think I had horse in my trailer because they couldn't hear them moving around or pawing when I was re fuelling; people who watch my horses unload quietly; people who saw how confident I was that my horses would load even in a situation that wasn't ideal. The most common comment I hear........... "you're so lucky that .............." Well, it's true, given all the dumb things I've done and all the miles I've travelled with horses by land and sea I have been lucky. I've also had some real-life learning experiences, twice had a wheel come off the float I was towing, one trailer fire and one towing vehicle fire as well as many other interesting incidences, each one helped me to learn something. The more I learn, the more I prepare, the more I prepare the luckier I get.
My luck usually comes from a lot of concentrated effort and work.
Following on from my last Blog, the more your horse wants to be in the float, the harder it is to put him off being in there . There are a lot of situations and incidences, like the ones mentioned above that will put a horse off so my biggest suggestion is to not travel anywhere until he REALLY wants to be on that float and you've had several sessions that have re-enforced to your horse that the float is a good place to be and everything is ok when he's on there. I'm sure we've all heard stories of horses that have been sent out of their stables because the barn is on fire only to turn around and run back to their stable, where they then die. In a state of confusion and fear a horse will go back to its last place of safety and comfort!
A very common thing that I hear is "my horse loads fine but then rushes out". One of the best ways to tell how a horse feels about being in a float is to watch how they're coming out. You don't want them to be any more enthusiastic about coming out than they were about going in. If this is your problem, then refer to the previous article of float loading which sets the horse up to think his way forwards into the float. A horse moves in the direction of their most prominent thought.
Here are some tips to help things get a lot better with your loading and traveling:
Before Closing the Ramp Load your horse into your float in different places. Horses aren't good at generalising their learning and you need them to do this to load successfully in different situations. After you're happy that you've had several good sessions where your horse has loaded calmly, confidently and positively, turn the float around 180 degrees and load him a time or two facing this new direction, more if it's hard for him. Move your float to a different paddock, driveway or part of the property and have him load a time or two. The aim is to get to where the location of the float has no bearing on the quality of his loading. Doing this is one thing that can save you a lot of delays in loading your horse in the future. The ultimate is a horse that loads anywhere, anytime, any float, you just need to ask.
For a green horse before his first trip: Practice closing and opening the ramp behind them without going anywhere, repeat it several times. Then unload, take a short break of a minute or two then load up and don't shut the ramp. Finish with something easier than what you are working on.
The First Trip
Leave your property drive around the block, or don't leave your property if it's big enough to go on a short trip, and return home. By doing this you are not adding the stress of arriving at a new environment and having to deal with that. After you've unloaded load him up again, several times if that's what is needed for him to be loading and standing calmly again. Finishing with something easier than he's just done i.e. load him on again, don't shut the ramp, off load him.
To tie or not to tie
There are situations where either of these practices would be the right thing to do and there are situations where both would be the wrong thing to do. Don't be fooled there is no 100% safe way to lock a horse in a box and tow it at high speeds amongst drivers of other vehicles also traveling at high speeds.
Personally, I do tie my horses, however I do it more to stop them from pulling the rope through and standing on it. I make sure that it is long enough so that if they go back they hit the butt bar and have no pressure on their head. You want to avoid a situation where you cause a horse to pull back inside a horse trailer.
Horses learn patterns very quickly, it's easiest not to teach them a negative one. When I arrive at a venue I'm in no hurry to unload my horse. I stop, allow the vehicle to run a short time, turn the vehicle off then unload my tack, equipment, have a drink or just wait. I don't want a horse to associate stopping or the engine being turned off with unloading. You will need to stop, switch off and have your horse wait at fuel stations, some road works, accident sites, ferry rides and many other times where you don't want him to be impatient about getting out of the trailer.
I then untie my horse(s) and then lower the ramp, again he waits a short time while I do something else, when I'm ready I toss the rope, I use a 12' rope, down the wall side of whichever side he's standing hoping to catch the end of the rope on the bar. I take hold of the end of the rope, open the bar and count to 30, I haven't asked him out yet so he should not unload. Most green horses will unload on their own, I won't try and stop them, I will simply load them straight back on as many times as I need to before they will wait calmly, for a count of 30, to be asked off. I draw the rope towards me using the pressure on the nose to ask for a back out, the cue here is very clear and as such it's equally clear when they're not being asked out. Remember the rope was on the wall side, this will tip their nose towards to wall helping to prevent them from looking to the center of the float which in turn causes them to back out crooked and often their back legs fall off the outside edge of the ramp, often causing them concern and sometimes injuring them. With the rope on the wall side of their body you have a greater chance of preventing this. If the horse does back out crooked I simply do the opposite to correct by turning their front end in the opposite direction than the way their hindquarters went.
These are just a few tips that may help you have less stressful trips for you and your horse. If you are interested in getting started with the ground work I use to prepare a horse for trailer loading, amongst other things you can check out our on-line course The Connected Horse Course on https://russellhiggins.thinkific.com/courses/dependable-horse.