Saturday, March 1, 2008

Trailering Time I

After spending two and a half hours in a salon chair getting most of my hair chopped off and "woven" into various shades of auburn and blond to hide the gray, I downed a few Ibuprofen and hooked up the trailer to my truck. My co-op truck full of shavings finally arrived, and my son and I had to heave 50 bales of shavings out of the truck into my trailer, haul it home, then heave all 50 bales back out of the trailer into their storage location.

Since I had the trailer hooked up to my truck, I decided to see how the horses would do if I asked them to get into the trailer. It's been quite a while since they have taken a ride anywhere. Gabbrielle was closest, so I put on her boots and encouraged her to step up and get inside. I had this nagging intuition that I should wear gloves, so I put on a pair and just tried to walk her in with the lead rope. Unfortunately, she balked, raised her head up and started snorting.

Gabbrielle has never had problems trailering in the past. The first time she was loaded into a trailer was when I bought her and brought her home. The breeders looped a long line several times around their arms, put the rope against the horse's butt like a sling, and they walked forward in unison, pushing the horse up into the trailer. The whole process didn't take more than two minutes. When Gabbrielle calmly stood in the trailer while we secured her, I knew I had just bought myself a winner as far as temperament goes.

However, today was a different story. She acted like she had never seen a trailer before. I worked on lowering her head, then gave her a tug on the lead rope while clucking. Each time she took a step forward, I released the pressure on the rope and petted her. It was a struggle with the wind whipping around us, and the horse boarder next door doing donuts in his truck while dragging his paddock, occasionally honking at his own horses when they got in the way. Each time Gabbrielle was about to take a step up into the trailer, the jerk honked his horn and she jumped back out.

I decided to get a baggy of snacks to reward her with, but was having problems getting the zip-lock to open. I removed my gloves, got the baggy open, and much to my surprise, Gabbrielle jumped into the trailer before I was ready for her. I think she was a bit shocked when she realized that she was inside, and she completely forgot about the snacks that she was lunging for. Bombay and Lostine immediately began whinnying at the top of their lungs when Gabbrielle disappeared into the trailer. She pushed toward the window to see them, but was squashing me in the process. I had to pull back on the lead rope with all my might to get her off me. She resisted the pull of the rope and reared up a little bit, which got my adrenaline bouncing off the walls. I was sure one of us was going to come out of this mauled.

She then decided it was time to get out and tried to turn around. When she was a little filly, I unloaded her that way, however now she is a mostly grown mare and there was not enough room in that trailer for her to turn around. I tugged backwards on her lead rope to get her to step back more, but she was all cockeyed. I tried pushing her body, but she was ignoring my cues. I don't know how we managed it, but she did back out of the trailer, despite her awkward body position.

Once out in the sun, I noticed that I had blood dripping from one finger, and another finger was cut as well. That's the problem with taking Ibuprofen -- you don't feel pain, so you don't know when you've been injured. I took the pills to prevent my back from blowing out while loading and unloading bales of shavings. I rested a bit and kept my eye on the finger to watch for swelling.

I couple of years ago while I was trying to desensitize Gabbrielle to wearing a blanket, one of my neighbor's slammed the trunk of his vehicle, and Gabbrielle jumped into me right when I was reaching toward her blanket to adjust it. I felt a little sting in a couple of fingers, but went about my business finishing my chores. Hours later I looked at my finger and saw blood coming from it. It had swollen up so much that my wedding ring was embedded in the skin, and it was crooked. I had obviously broken it, but didn't feel much pain. I kept a cold pack on it for several hours a day and bought a splint. Several weeks passed, and the wedding ring wouldn't budge. I ended up going to the doctor to have him cut the ring off. He gave me some good advice: Anytime that you even think that you might have hurt a finger, pull your rings off right away.

Fortunately, all I had today were a couple of cuts from our tussle in the trailer, which I wouldn't have had if I respected my intuition and kept those gloves on. I decided to encourage her to load without me being in the trailer. I attached a long line to her halter, threaded it through the front trailer window and down the outside of the trailer. I stood beside her, pulled on the rope, repeatedly tapped her on the rear with the end of the rope, and clucked my tongue until she took a step forward. I then released the pressure on the rope and stayed quiet. We did that for a while until the wind got so frigid that I had to give up and go inside to get warm. When I released Gabbrielle into her pen, she shook all her stress off and immediately relaxed. We will work on it some more some time soon. If anyone has trailering tips, please feel free to leave a comment.


BrownEyedCowgirls said...

Those pesky trailers.
When we start hauling a new horse, we usually load the more experienced horses first and the green horse usually jumps in with a little encouragement. Leave them stand for 30 minutes or so before unloading. That gives them time to relax and get squared away. A few treats add to the pleasure of the experience-LOL.
If that isn't enough, Parelli has a great lunging technique(be prepared to spend some time on it tho).
Happy Hauling!

Anonymous said...

Oh, boy, do I have loading tips! I've had 2 horses who were problem loaders and I learned some tips that I have since used on other people's problem loaders since then. I used to be able to get the worst loader on a trailer-calmly and happily--within 20 minutes. That was the first time. After that it would get easier and quicker. There are variations, depending on the horse's own temperment. So, feel free to modify based on what you know about your horse.

Wear gloves, no treats, although if you have some yummy treats ON the trailer waiting for the horse, that's fine, but don't use them for coaxing. The horse has to go on because YOU ASKED, not because she wants treats. Also, have a dressage whip for tapping the horse's butt.

Lead the horse towards the trailer. If you think the horse is even thinking about stopping, stop BEFORE the horse does. You need to be in control and tell the horse what you want. If the horse stops quietly, praise and pat. Then, ask the horse to back up. Turn the hind quarters away from you (use light taps with the whip if you need to) then ask the horse to move the hind quarters away from you. Now, depending on the horse, you can either ask the horse to walk forward toward the trailer or walk forward but turn away from the trailer. The worse problem loaders, I usually turn away from the trailer and just do some walking around/backing/turning of HQs before asking the horse to walk towards the trailer again.

Whichever you decide, when you again lead the horse towards the trailer, stop the horse BEFORE the horse thinks about stopping on her own. If the horse will go all the way to the ramp (or step up), stop, praise. Then back the horse up, turn the HQs away, then the other way, etc. Then, lead towards the trailer again. This time see if you can get both front feet on the ramp or a hoof in the trailer before YOU ASK the horse to stop.

Again, back the horse up before she gets all the way on. Repeat the moving around exercises before you approach the trailer again. Usually, after a few times of this most horses are begging to just let them get on the trailer, please! ;-) When you think the horse is ready to go all the way on, just toss the lead line over her neck as she goes up. If you have someone who can help, have that person grab the horse's head once she's up and you can do up the butt bar.

The main idea is that you keep the horse moving, so she can't rest and relax and she can't think about whether or not she wants to go on that trailer. Also, it keeps you in control of the horse's feet and the horse is listening to you.

You can break this up into several lessons. With my gelding, I spent several sessions with just getting him to put two front hooves on the ramp and standin quietly like that as the goal. Then, I upped the ante to two front hooves IN the trailer and standing quietly. Then I did several sessions where I loaded him all the way, but then asked him to back off right away. He never felt trapped and the whole process of loading became no big deal.

It's so good that you're doing this BEFORE you actually have to take the horse somewhere. And, believe me, if I could turn my two problem loaders into self-loaders, you can, too!!

If you have any questions (I just typed this out fast, not sure if it makes sense!) feel free to e-mail me at

Good luck and be safe!


BarnGoddess said...

Im w/ BEC. I would start with a calm seasoned horse loaded into the trailer. I use my Old Guy Scooter. Then I keep the learning horse inside the trailer for at least 30 minutes reassuring them all is okay. repeat the process all over once again.

When I am training youngsters with trailering balks, immediately after lunging/round pen work, I will switch over to the trailer lesson. I already have their attention AND their energy level has lost it's edge (hopefully!)

Easier said than done if ya do NOT have a seasoned horse.

Twinville said...

Whew! I don't have any trailering tips or experience at all, but I was happy to read your post and glean some of your experience from it. I'm just glad you didn't bneak anything this time, or get seriously hurt.

I'm taking away this bit of information: I guess the time to get your horse used to a trailer is not the time when you actually need to go somewhere with it! haha

Thanks again for your terrific blog!!

Rising Rainbow said...

I broke my finger way back when and had to have my rings cut off. Never have gotten them repaired and I don't wear any rings anymore.

Hope your hand heals real soon.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Thanks, everyone, for the ideas. I plan to utilize all of them as soon as I make it through another work week, and will post the results.

Farm Girl said...

Here is a John Lyons Certified Trainers trailer loading lesson. I love this trainers lessons. She is so easy to understand. This lesson is at the bottom of this page.
Hope this helps.

Shirley said...

I agree with farm girl on using the John Lyons method. I have used it sucessfully for many years on even the worst problem loaders. He teaches a SAFE, step by step method that anyone can follow. The good thing is that your horse will learn to back out with each step, so that once it is all the way in, backing out won't be such a mystery. Remember, safety first!

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Farm Girl and Shirley - I have to laugh when you talk about John Lyons' technique, because I have one of his books. I've been reading it for about a year now and am on page 187. "Successful Trailer Loading" is on page 209. If I'm lucky, I might finish the chapter on trailer loading in another 4 months. I've also got books by Parelli and Anderson in the queue. I don't know why my book reading habits have gotten so bad in recent years. Thanks for the link to the shorter explanation.