Horsemanship: Solving Trailer Problems, Part 2

training jonathan field, natural horsemanship, trailer loading, load a horse trailer

training jonathan field, natural horsemanship, trailer loading, load a horse trailer

By Jonathan Field

Click Here for Part 1 of this article

See below for article sidebar - It worked when it mattered most!

See below for article sidebar - Pawing in the Trailer

When it comes to asking your horse to ride in a trailer, there are many things that can go wrong. Most of these situations present themselves due to the confined space of the trailer. When you think of it from the horse’s perspective, it is no wonder that he might hesitate to climb inside, and therefore not surprising that he might want to fly out backwards like a rocket when the door opens.

In "Horsemanship: Solving Trailer Problems, Part 1", I focused on making the trailer a place of comfort for the horse, so the horse would not want to immediately turn around and rush out. In this article, I will address the problem of horses that rush backwards out of the horse trailer, as well as horses that paw in the trailer and become emotional while inside.

training jonathan field, natural horsemanship, trailer loading, load a horse trailer

Photo: Robin Duncan Photography

When I am helping a horse that is unsure or fearful of the trailer, I first want him to feel that the inside of the trailer is a place of comfort. As I explained in the previous article, I will allow the horse to turn around and come out several times until he feels more comfortable inside than outside the trailer. Once the horse decides that he would rather be inside the trailer, I start to be more specific about where he stands in the trailer, close the divider, and tie him up.

Next, I want the horse to back out of the trailer calmly. It is important to me that all of my horses are able to back out of a trailer because, while some trailers are big enough for them to turn around in, often there are situations or trailers where they cannot turn around, so I want my horses to be really good at exiting both ways. I also want to be able to stop my horse several times on his way out of the trailer and be able to have him come back inside after stepping halfway out. In order to do this, he must become flexible in his mind; when he is thinking about coming out of the trailer and starting to physically do so, I want to be able to interrupt that thought and ask him to come back in.

training jonathan field, natural horsemanship, trailer loading, load a horse trailer

Photo: Robin Duncan Photography

Some horses are in such a panic that, as soon as the bum bar is down or the divider is open, they can’t stop themselves and rush back. If the rope is tight, they’ll pull back and fly out even faster. With the horse that runs backwards out of the trailer, the problem can often be solved by the way the handler uses the rope so as not to cause a claustrophobic reaction in the horse. More than anything else, the solution becomes more about how the handler reacts when the horse starts to run out.

In my last article I helped Cuda, an 11-year-old Thoroughbred gelding, gain a greater desire to be inside the trailer. Next, I wanted to teach Cuda that he can also back out of the trailer without rushing.

Once Cuda was at the point where I could send him into the trailer and he would stay inside rather than immediately rushing out, I felt comfortable going inside the trailer with him.

Before I asked Cuda to back out of the trailer, I wanted to build up a good backup response inside the trailer, one step at a time. A horse that wants to rush out of the trailer can find it hard to take just one step. I asked Cuda back with a light pressure on the lead rope, releasing as soon as he took one step back. I practiced asking Cuda to back one step and then to rest, and then led him forward several times until the yield was soft.

training jonathan field, natural horsemanship, trailer loading, load a horse trailer

Photo: Robin Duncan Photography

What to do if your horse runs backwards – and what NOT TO DO!

If the horse does run backwards out of the trailer, the way the handler reacts is most important. In this photo I show an example of what not to do with my body position. As humans, our tendency is to want to physically stop the horse.

The stance I exhibit is one I see all the time: my legs are braced and my hands are tight on the rope. When the handler reacts this way, the situation is likely to get worse. Not only are you likely to suffer a bad case of “learn burn” as the rope zings through your white-knuckled grip, but this “claws-in” predatory response will cause your horse to feel more trapped and, as a result, he may panic and pull back. This often becomes dangerous as the horse can fly backwards out of control and hit his head on the roof of the trailer.

If the horse does run backwards, do not try to hold him in. Instead, let the rope slide through your hands, keeping a steady, consistent pressure that won’t jerk or restrict the horse, but also won’t give total comfort in running backwards. Hold that steady pressure until he stops and comes forward, and then release. Then, lead the horse right back in to the place you originally wanted him to stop, and rest him there.

Be specific about where he rests and don’t forget the goal

It only took Cuda a couple of times rushing back out of the trailer before he found that he didn’t need to be in such a hurry.

I continued to ask him to stop at different points on the way out of the trailer and, when he couldn’t stop, I led him forward again to the place where I wanted him to stop. Whether he reached this spot by backing up and stopping, or passing it and coming forward, he was only allowed to rest in this specific location. In this photo, Cuda was able to stop halfway out of the trailer.  

If you are new to horse trailers and uncertain of where to be and how to remain safe, have an experienced professional help you through the process.

 training jonathan field, natural horsemanship, trailer loading, load a horse trailer

Photo: Robin Duncan Photography

training jonathan field, natural horsemanship, trailer loading, load a horse trailer
Photo: Robin Duncan Photography

 

It worked when it mattered most!

When I first got my stallion, Cam, he was always in a rush to back out of the trailer. He would fly out of the trailer like a rocket, landing about 15 feet away. Using the principles described in this article and the previous one, I taught Cam that he could stop and come back in easily.

Last spring, as I was travelling between demonstrations and clinics in Saskatchewan, I broke an axle and blew a tire on a busy stretch of highway. I had no choice but to unload my horses and then load them into another trailer in order to continue. I had pulled over as far off the road as possible, but it was still not ideal. Just as I was unloading Cam, a big semi-truck came barrelling past us. At the last second, when I saw the truck coming, I stopped Cam and led him back into the trailer. Since we had practiced this, Cam had no problem stopping and coming back inside; and thankfully he did, because if he had flown backwards like he used to do, he would have been met with a surprise as the semi-truck flew past only a few feet away!

 training jonathan field, natural horsemanship, trailer loading, load a horse trailer

Photo: Robin Duncan Photography 

 

Pawing in the Trailer

When Cuda was secured inside the trailer, right away he began to paw. While he now knew to stay inside, he was not yet feeling totally at ease in the trailer.

Using the principles described in these articles, I brought him out of the trailer, but this time, when he came out, I asked him to move. I wanted to give him more of a contrast between comfort inside the trailer versus discomfort outside by asking more of him when he came out.

I got quite active, asking him to circle, to yield his hindquarters and forequarters, and to back up. After some movement, I sent Cuda back into the horse trailer where I gave him a rest locked inside. He was unlikely to stop pawing for any length of time, but he lasted a bit longer each time.

 training jonathan field, natural horsemanship, trailer loading, load a horse trailer

Photo: Robin Duncan Photography 

For a horse that paws in the trailer, I will work on this over time and it usually takes between seven and fourteen sessions before the behaviour is changed. To prepare them even more, I often tie my horses up around the yard as part of their daily routine, until they stand quietly, just as I want them to do in the trailer. I will also park the trailer in my arena and use it as a place to rest after a training session. This way there is total comfort inside and no need to travel.

 training jonathan field, natural horsemanship, trailer loading, load a horse trailer

Photo: Robin Duncan Photography

Here Cuda has finally found a moment of relaxation while confined inside the horse trailer.

Click Here for Part 1 of this article

training jonathan field, natural horsemanship, trailer loading, load a horse trailer

Main article photo: Robin Duncan Photography

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