Travelling with your horse can open up a lot of opportunities, from discovering new hacking routes, to attending clinics, competing or that dreaded vet visit. Ensuring that your horse loads and travels confidently will enable you to do more together and take a bit of the stress out of going somewhere. Horses are prey animals and therefore entering into a small, dark space goes against their natural instincts and therefore takes a lot of trust in you for your horse to confidently and happily load. If you have a difficult loader or a young horse who you'd like to be a good loader then read on for our top tips on loading.
Rather than expecting your horse to just get on with it as you need to go somewhere, by using sheer force, the trick is to teach your horse to – if not enjoy – then feel comfortable with the loading process. They need to learn not to fear the trailer, but accept it as a safe, unthreatening space. This will take all the stress out of travelling and enable you to focus on the reason for your journey.
Here’s our top tips:
- Make sure you have plenty of time for loading; if you are in a rush your horse will pick up on this and feel more stressed.
- When loading ,make sure you and your horse are safe. Ensure the trailer/horse box/lorry is safe and roadworthy and is parked on level ground, that your horse is wearing the appropriate protective gear (travel boots, tail bandage, travel rug) and that you’re wearing a riding hat, sturdy shoes (steel toecaps are a good idea) and gloves. If you need more control of your horse then use either a bridle or ‘control halter’ along with a longer than normal lead rope or lunge line.
- If your horse isn't keen on loading then practice, practice, practice – even when you’re not going anywhere, open the front and back loading ramps so your horse can see straight through and knows there’s a way out or ‘escape'. If you don’t have a front loading ramp, you can still make the trailer as light and inviting as possible to build your horse’s confidence.
- Don’t engage in a game of tug-of-war, as your horse will always win. Instead, reward small tries e.g. a foot on the ramp, a step forward etc, either with praise and encouraging words, or a healthy treat. If your horse already understands that you will release the pressure on his halter when he goes in the direction you want, this can really help, so practice some general ground manners beforehand.
- Patience and positive reinforcement are key. It has to be your horse’s decision to load; you can’t force it, you can only persuade through training. Your horse needs to recognise the benefits of loading, not fear the consequences of not loading.
- Make the trailer a more inviting place than the ground. Walk towards it confidently and, if your horse hesitates or stops, apply a small amount of pressure on the halter, releasing it immediately when your horse walks on. He will quickly learn that the trailer is more comfortable and will make it his decision to load, rather than yours.
- If you’re having real problems loading your horse, use the ‘two lunge lines’ method. This involves leading the horse forward and gradually crossing the lunge lines behind the horse. This will exert a gentle pressure on your horse’s quarters, helping to encourage him forward.
- If you are training your horse for loading then, once your horse is on your trailer or horse box, just walk your horse on and then straight off. Once they are walking on and off confidently you can start pausing once inside and increase the time you pause for, until you are at a point that you can secure them in place with the partitions and breach bars in place and close the ramps before unloading again. Eventually take them for a very brief journey before returning home and unloading. You may not be able to progress to a short journey in the first practice session but build up to this over a number of days. Don't be tempted to rush your horse, take it easy and always to try to finish the practice session on a good note.
- If practical to do so, you could feed your horse on the trailer every night over a period of days to really help your horse look forward to loading. This is particularly useful if your horse is very unsettled in the trailer/lorry.
- Horses can be put off going on a trailer or lorry due to a bad past experience, such as the driver not taking enough care on a previous journey. Remember your horse is standing up and cannot see the road ahead so prepare for corners, stops and starts really early so there is no sudden breaking or pulling away.
- Your horse may travel better with a friend, so if possible try loading and travelling them with a seasoned and calm travel companion.
- If you're really struggling then enlist the help of an expert or behaviourist and just continue to practice at every opportunity.
If you have any tips on loading a horse, please comment below and share it with our other readers.
Written by: Hannah Dyball