The day has arrived – you’re off to the horse show, everything is packed, you just need to get your horse into the trailer. Easier said than done! Your horse refuses. He simply won’t budge. As frustrating as it is for you, it is likely to be ten times more stressful for your horse. Not only is he reluctant to go in, he is likely to be sensing your frustration at his behaviour.
So what causes it?
Some horse trainers believe that a horse’s natural ingrained instincts warn them of any situation that may put them in peril – an enclosed space that will confine them and restrict movement is not seen as a positive and inviting scenario! Entering this small space goes against a horse’s instincts. Another factor is the possibility of a stressful experience in the past that the horse does not want to repeat and will avoid at all costs. He may have had a bumpy ride, too many sudden stops, loud noises or an accident in the trailer resulting in psychological trauma. Then there is the issue of mixed signals you may be sending. On one hand if you are too timid and lack confidence your horse may read this as a sign that you are nervous, and give him reason to be afraid. On the other hand if you are too pushy and determined to get him in, he may see this as a battle of wills and take up the challenge of being stubborn.
What can be done? The Do’s and Don’ts:
- Allow your horse to familiarize himself gradually with the trailer – leave it open and nearby, feed your horse on the ramp or near to it.
- Create a comfortable environment for loading – if your horse is bothered by the thud of a ramp, put padding across it. Always leave the front door of the box open so that he can see through it and is not going into a dark closed up space.
- Back up your trailer to a smaller, fenced space – this helps to give the horse no option to bolt.
- Reward – have someone hold out a food bowl with his favourite food in it and gradually retreat into the box as he comes forward, allowing him a small nibble as he goes in. Give him lots of praise and reassurance and a special treat such as apples or carrots when he is in the box
- Be patient – as hard as it sounds, allow plenty of time for boxing
- Be confident - calmly lead him as far as you can without stopping or looking at him.
- Send your horse in a circle around you directly behind the open trailer.
- Lift his foot and place it on the ramp if he is nervous of taking the first step – once he sees that it is stable and feels ok, it should be easier to encourage him to go in.
- Use a lead rope, not a long line, so you can keep your horse fairly close to you.
- Encourage your horse if he stops to smell or look at the trailer - recognize it as a sign that he’s trying.
- Circle in both directions behind the trailer to help him become comfortable with being worked from either side.
- Use nature to help: Chamomile is well suited to horses that seem angry and irritable but still sensitive. This homeopathic ingredient suits symptoms that tend to worsen in the open wind. Kali phos is suited to horses that seem overworked, stressed or anxious disposition, while Cina is a homeopathic remedy suited to horses that cannot bear to be touched or observed, or that show signs of obstinacy. (Particularly useful in addressing deep-rooted issues arising from past abuse or a bad experience).
- Prod, push or shout at him – you want to make this a stress free activity.
- Get flustered, even if you are frustrated – he will pick up on your nervousness
- Make sure that the trailer is hitched up and stable. If a horse steps into a trailer that moves around he'll remember it the next time!