Horse trailering the compassionate way
Ease the stress of trailering by mentally connecting with your horse
In my experience with horses, I’ve very rarely seen them comfortable with the prospect of being loaded into a trailer.
Note: getting your horse in a trailer is an advanced exercise task that should not be undertaken lightly. Do not underestimate the difficulty you may encounter – for some horses, on a scale of 1-10, this is level 10 difficulty for many horses.
For too many horse owners, the end goal is framed as simply getting the horse in the box. This, quite frankly, is lacking in empathy and ultimately ineffective. What is important to focus on however, is making sure your horse is comfortable enough to engage with what can be a terribly stressful activity if not done correctly. In this post, I’ll talk a bit about what I do to help apprehensive horses.
Picture this: you force a horse, an already claustrophobic herd animal, into a tiny trailer. As soon as she’s in, you close the tailgate, close the ramp, and then send her off with no previous feeling of comfort whatsoever. You’re bound for disaster, as well as an unhappy horse. This is why I try to refocus the goal to compassionately caring for the horse. No person wants to be thrown in a box and it’s completely understandable that a horse doesn’t either. Your ultimate goal should be to have a relaxed horse, because if you force them before they’re ready, they’ll never be happy.
How to tell your horse isn’t ready and what I do about it
When it comes to trailer loading, people tend to think “Oh I just want to get the horse in the trailer and go to the show”. If your horse is uneasy with the box, you’ll notice as you bring her to the trailer, she might start walking sideways to avoid getting on the ramp, start backing up, or just stop altogether and refuse to move forward. You may try this over and over again and fail without the necessary solid foundation or mental bond of trust.
You have to prepare your horse, and you have to view preparing your horse as a task in and of itself. As such, this requires a step by step process. Take your time. Remember, for a creature not comfortable with confinement, a trailer may seem like a death-trap. The best way to go about this is taking your time and being patient
You should never have to fight with your horse about getting in the trailer. Remember that this is an advanced and difficult exercise which requires patience and compassion. If at any stage your horse stops trying, shuts down, or stops being open to the task – effectively saying ‘No” – you’ll see it. To get him in a ‘Yes’ frame of mind, you’ll need to lead her away and do a few simple exercises to reassure her. She’ll try the aforementioned methods of avoiding entry into what he perceives as the “death trap”. This will most likely happen in the training process, and this too is natural, because horses don’t learn in a linear way, their learning tends to be on a more flexible back and forth curve.
Getting your horse with you mentally
Remember, once you’ve lost your horse mentally, the task is futile. Instead of forcing your horse into the trailer when she refuses, you should go back and do a few simple exercises to mentally reconnect and get her back into a frame of mind where she is open to trying again. Get her back to you mentally by walking her away from the box, going back to basics and doing some simple trust and focus building exercises – giving her some simple instructions. Once trust and focus are restored and she is mentally reconnected with you, try again and return to the trailer.
Always focus on reconnecting with your horse in a compassionate manner. You are not guaranteed to do this perfectly, so if you lose your horse in the process and notice they still don’t want to, take it slow. Go back and focus on reconnecting with your horse.
Once you go back to trying, you can invite your horse onto the trailer again. Here, patience is of utmost importance because you have now got her back into a mental space where she is willing to try what you are asking. Be sure to ask a tiny bit at a time. I never ask too much or force her, because if I do, I will lose that connection again and you’ll have to go back and re-establish your mental connection with the simple exercises again. When I do this, I don’t push, ever. I get her with me mentally each time we try and go back to basics if I lose her.
Although I will elaborate in another post what it means to get your horse with you mentally, I want to emphasise how important this is. Because once you’ve lost that connection with your horse, any task is pointless. So just remember, patience is key.
NOTE: Boxing should only be done only when your horse has a good handle on the basics of of following instructions and responding to an ask from you. If you are in doubt, working with an experienced trainer would be recommended.