Ready for the road
Training your horse to be good to load is very important, not just for going to shows but also in case of emergencies. If you need to get him to hospital, loading quickly could be the difference between him receiving prompt treatment or not. Safe loading is therefore an important part of owning a horse, and putting in the time to get this right can help you build a bond of trust and can lead to a calmer horse who is easier to handle.
Teaching your horse to load has very little to do with the trailer or horsebox itself, and more to do with how he perceives being asked to do something he finds stressful. However, it is important to make sure you are setting him up for success. Ensure the ramp isn’t too steep or slippery and that space is big enough for your horse to comfortably manoeuvre. Make sure he isn’t over-rugged, because as keeping balance while a vehicle is on the move is hot work for a horse that isn’t used to travelling – opt for a fleece in colder weather or if he is clipped and remember he may not need a rug in winter. Bridleway have an excellent range to meet your travel needs – www.bridlewayequestrian.com/shop/home.php?cat=256
Protective travel boots are important, though it can take time to introduce your horse to boots if he’s not used to them. So, take the time to get him used to walking around with the boots on or consider using over-reach boots and brushing boots or bandages over pads – http://www.bridlewayequestrian.com/shop/home.php?cat=250
Coping with confinement
To learn to travel happily, your horse needs to cope with small spaces. He needs to know that you are there to help him and not force him into a small space that he genuinely finds scary. Fit your horse with a headcollar and a bridle over the top, then attach a lunge line to the bit rings or a bit coupling and ask your horse to approach the ramp. Let him sniff the ramp and talk soothingly to him to tell him he is doing the right thing. Make sure you don’t pull on the line and give him something to pull against. Keep the rope slack and only increase the tension to ask him to move forwards.
Next suggest he steps up onto the ramp by taking a feel on the rope. If he puts a foot onto the ramp then praise him again. If he then pulls back, stand your ground but let the rope out allowing him to take steps back. Then, once he has stopped, ask him to come forward again. Make sure you keep his attention on you and not on what is going on around him and he will soon learn that there is nothing to be gained in stepping back.
Loading practise in this way needs to be carried out when you have all the time in the world so you never put pressure on your horse or yourself to get the end result.
Once your horse has got the hang of loading fully into the box, make him wait inside for a moment stroking him and maybe even giving him a treat, then walk him calmly back down the ramp. It’s important not to confine him or force him to stay inside the box, but to teach him to be more and more confident each time he loads. Don’t attempt to close the ramp or travel your horse anywhere until he loads quite happily, which will take several days, and then take him for a short journey around the block and back home. Don’t risk taking him to a show on his first outing when he might not feel confident to load to come home. After his first trip, you might have to go back to the beginning of his training and build up his confidence about loading again.
A calm exterior
Always work with a calm, neutral body. If you start to get angry or frustrated, your horse will pick up on it and become anxious. Loading a difficult horse can really test your patience, but patience is an important factor for getting the right result. Pressure and tricks might get him into the box but he will be just as anxious about the experience the next time around.
Put the time and effort behind the training now and don’t wait until you want to go to your first show to start the loading process. Standing in a moving tin box is an alien thing for a horse to do, so appreciate that, empathise with him and help him to overcome his fears.