One of the best things about being involved with horses is being able to travel with our equine partners. Some of my fondest memories are trail rides with my husband, horse shows with my girl friends, and pack trips with my dad growing up. Now that I'm a horsey mom, I cannot wait to take my son on adventures with the equines here at Jones equine. However trailering can be a frustrating event if you’re not prepared and end in costly vet bills when things don’t go right. Here is a list of the 10 tips that I keep in mind and practice so that I can have a stress-and-incident-free trip.
1.Give yourself time: This is by far the most important tip...especially when working with young and/or green horses. Horses do not understand our time lines and horses can sense when we are rushed, frustrated, and/or irritated. It is so important to give yourself plenty of time to get loaded. Early in my training career, I would often feel rushed for time. In an effort to cut corners I would not give myself enough time to get loaded and that would lead to stress and irritation which slows down the entire process. It's so much better to have horses loaded in the trailer and be running ahead of schedule rather than having the clock ticking in your head while you and your equine partner are having a meltdown. I try to give myself twice as much time as I think it will actually take me to get loaded.
2.Pack the trailer the night before: Saving yourself the mental effort and stress of having all your tack ready to go a day before you load is the way to go. Take it from a reformed professional procrastinator ...this will save your bacon.
3.When training youngsters, use big open looking trailers: I have and still do train my green/young horses to load in small 2 horse trailers. However, its against a horse’s nature to be in a small, confined area. That's why bigger, more open looking horse trailers are better for training newbies.
4.Feed from inside the trailer: Making the trailer a spot where your equine wants to be. A sure fire way to set this in their brain, is to feed them for a length of time in the trailer. This is something I do with all of my young/green horses. I park my horse trailer backed up to the round pen and spend several weeks feeding my youngsters from inside the trailer. This lets them take things at their own pace, feel comfortable, and rewards them for being inside the trailer. ***Make sure you have your trailer secured and you only have 1 equine in the pen at a time before you attempt this***
5.Be aware of you surroundings: Horses can be unpredictable. Environments that we have them in can change in an instant. The best way to avoid disaster and expensive vet bills is to see a train wreck coming and adjust before it happens. Know where the “scary” things are, where other horses and people are etc.
6.Always reward a try: As stated in #3, loading in a trailer goes against the natural instincts of equines. For some horses “trying” to go in a trailer can be something as subtle as looking with ears pricked inside of the trailer. Know your horse, and know when to reward him for making an effort to go against his instincts. If you are not sure what this looks like having a trainer, like myself, walk you and your horse through the process is incredibly important and beneficial.
7.Make the inside of the trailer a place of rest: This is where I see the majority of mistakes happen in terms of loading. Often times inexperienced hands will unintentionally make the resting area outside of the trailer because there is so much stress about getting in the trailer. If your timing is off, you can quickly make the outside of the trailer look more pleasant and restful than the inside. This will end up in your equine learning that the outside of the trailer is the better place to be.
8.Make sure the trailer is secure: Safety 101, in all of your loading, before you load your horse, double and triple check that the trailer is secure before loading. I mean the trailer is completely hooked up to a parked/secured vehicle or the tires are properly blocked and the hitch is properly anchored. Then make sure that all the dividers if there are any are secure as well. A sure fire way to create a scary nightmare for you and your equine is to have a trailer that rocks around and doors/dividers swinging and slamming with every step.
9.Anticipate and have a good helping hand: loading can definitely be done effectively with one person. However sometimes it is really nice to have a good helping hand. Make sure its someone that really will be a help and not a hindrance to your process. Sometimes a helpful hand comes in the form of another equine. Use “good and faithful” if you have one to load in first and load your other equines afterwards. I definitely use this tactic on a regular basis.
10.Just because you got them in once doesn’t mean you can get them in a second time: With so much access to good horsemanship and training information out there, applying that information and getting a horse loaded in a trailer the first time is entirely possible. Horses are inquisitive animals and will learn things even if it's not our intention. If you have success the first time do not assume the 2nd, 3rd, subsequent, times you load will go as smooth or like the first time...