How to get your horse confident so that he can calmly and confidently load and travel.
In the last five editions of Pegasus I have shared with you many ideas to help gain your horses trust and confidence. These ideas are well tried and tested and they all come from understanding the innate behaviour of the horse.
Here is the all important check list which also combines as a way to refresh our memories from the previous articles and draw them into this edition.
The Check List
Horses are prey animals and get emotional when worried or in pain. Emotion runs down their body and into their feet!
- If you make a horse stand when he is scared he will probably exhibit one of the following unwanted behaviours:
- Rear ~ prance ~ head shake
- Pull ~ brace ~ not pick feet up/open eye/mouth/clamp tail etc)
- Bite ~squash ~ kick ~ strike
- You need to be able to touch your horse all over
- Your horse needs to see & smell objects of concern
- Remember that they cannot see objects that are put right under their nose. Hold it slightly to the side and at least 3ft away
- Use approach and retreat
- Keep your body language & your emotions relaxed
- Be aware of your attitude and keep your eyes ‘soft’
- Keep breathing (!)
- Recognise and reward the smallest try
- Keep training sessions short and motivating
- Focus on a positive outcome and not on the primary task
- Set yourself up for success – keep sessions achievable
Learning and utilising the above ways of being around a horse will already have you and your horse in a more confident and trusting relationship and is great preparation for calm and confident travelling.
Whether your horse has never travelled before or whether he has had a bad experience and you are needing to gain his confidence again, the method is the same.
Think about the transport. It has a ramp that moves when they stand on it, a trailer floor with closed in sides and a low roof. Now think about your horse, how is he about walking onto a strange surface?? Remember he has no depth perception and cannot see directly below him without altering his eye angle, how is he about standing between two tall high objects and how is he when you ask him to go under low obstacles which also affect vision as he is going from light to (sometimes) to darkness.
The answers to the above questions are often, “he is not too keen” ; “he will not step on unusual things” “he always rushes” “he plants his feet” or “ I have never tried to squeeze him between things”
When a horse is backed there is usually, not always!, but usually no or very little preparation work done to prepare a horse for the experience of going into a transporter, hence the amount of problems and stress often caused for horse and human.
Owners have been surprised that what there horse does confidently out hacking is not necessarily what they offer when you are in-hand, it is different and certainly it is more challenging when it is about going up a springing ramp and into an often dark small space with no exit and no room to turn around.
Set your horse up for success by isolating in this way:
Think about the ramp and see if you can get him used to walking over different obstacles, tarp…wading through used plastic milk bottles and carpet remnants are a few ideas. When he can walk over these with confidence then ask him to stop for a few seconds and walk on and build this time up to one minute as a minimum, do not force him to stand this will not gain his confidence. Once he happily stands then ask him to back away.
Please be sure that you already have a good back up in place before asking him to do it in a more difficult situation. It is always good to know that you can easily back your horse ten steps nice and straight and is very useful for reversing out of a trailer.
Once your horse is confident with this exercise then you follow the same pattern with walking him through the squeeze objects, always making the first object wide and then slowly making it narrow. The same principle works for the ‘going under’ something. I use either tomato canes and bailing twine or something similar, use your imagination with what you have in the arena and yard or at home, just remember to keep it safe! You do not want him getting caught up and then dragging the obstacle away, so please think of this.
Once your horse can confidently walk in, stop and calmly walk forward and backwards through the simulated trailer you are ready to advance to the real thing!
There are many strategies for the actual trailer loading being a success and the main ones in my view are letting them smell and using approach and retreat, rewarding the smallest try, I.e. one foot on the ramp!
This is a huge subject and I cannot give it justice in this article so if you would like further information please do get in touch with me. I also have a cdrom on trailer loading techniques which has helped many people with successful trailer loading.
I have enjoyed writing these articles and would love your feedback, if you have had success since reading them then please do share this, I like to have testimonials as it encourages others to try these methods.
My best wishes