If your horse is a happy loader, you’ll want to keep it that way; if he’s difficult, working out why is the key to his retraining.
We look at what might be on his mind as you lead him to the ramp…
- “I’ve got no faith in your driving!”
This is probably the most common cause of loading problems – if a horse has had a bad ride, it’s not surprising he subsequentlyshows reluctance to go into the vehicle again to repeat the experience.
You simply cannot be too careful; it takes only one bad journey to undermine a horse’s confidence – or to shatter it completely if he’s already somewhat dubious about travelling.
Don’t forget to take into account all those bumpy showgrounds you may visit. If possible, unload before tackling really rough or potholed areas and parking up – and if not, at least slow down.
“I don’t want to go to a show”
Any negative thought connection a horse makes concerning a trailer or lorry will cause him to become awkward about being loaded.
Bad experiences are obvious factors but these associations do not always relate to the actual journey or loading process.
One owner I knew travelled her horse to shows or to clinics almost every weekend – sometimes both days.
While she enjoyed these outings tremendously, her horse was less enthusiastic and soon realised that a journey equalled a hard work session. He became more and more difficult to load for the outward journey, but loaded happily when coming home.
To prevent this happening, or if you suspect your horse may have a similar frame of mind, try boxing him out for some long hacks so that he makes a positive association between the box and a nice day out.
- “I’m not going in with that bully”
Not all horses travel well together so give some thought to compatibility.
Although the presence of a confident horse may give a nervous one reassurance, this can backfire if the poor traveller ends up frightening the good one.
Friction can also arise when horses are placed in such close proximity in a confined space. I heard of one livery owner who agreed to take her friend’s horse along with hers to a competition but was horrified to find on arrival that it had attacked hers over the top of the partition.
It left one side of her horse’s neck cut and bleeding to the extent of needing veterinary attention and for sometime afterwards he was very reluctant to enter the vehicle again.
Obviously this was an extreme example, but various levels of bullying do occur without the driver being aware and lead to unpleasant associations being formed.
High partitions may help stop actual physical contact and injury but doesn’t stop a degree of intimidation from occurring.
- “There’s no room to move in there”
Ensuring your horse has ample spacewould seem an obvious point to make but surprisingly enough it’s not always obvious to everyone.
One horse who was reportedly ‘impossible’ to load was hacked over to a yard I was working at to see if we could do anything to remedy the problem.The first time we tried loading him in our own trailer, we expected the worst.
But although a little anxious, he clumped obediently up the ramp. Subsequent efforts to load him were also trouble-free and we were puzzled.
But when the ownercame to collect him, her difficulties became immediately apparent as she led him up the ramp. Her trailer was far too small for him, both in terms of head height and length.
It’s also vital that the horse has enough room widthways to spread his legs to help balance himself. When tied up inside the leadrope should be neither so slack he can begin to turn himself around or get his head caught under it, or so tight that he is unable to use his head and neck to balance.
- “These boots are bugging me”
Travel boots can be a godsend -they are quick and easy to clean and to pop on and off. But unless comfortable and a really good, secure fit, and the horse is already accustomed to wearing them, they can cause anxiety.
If they are a little stiff he may feel as though his movements are restricted, causing him to become restless.
This in turn can lead to the boots slipping and panicking him still further as he feels some unseen monster flappingaround his legs.
One horse this happened to became so terrified he virtually destroyed the central partition of the trailer, kicking frantically at the loose boot.
“I like my feet on terra firma”
The ramp of the lorry or trailer can itself cause some anxiety especially if it is lightweight and ‘bounces’ slightly under a horse’s weight, giving him the impression that this particular piece of ground is not very safe to stand on.
This feeling of insecurity can also persist once inside and if the horse starts to panic a little and fidget around, this will increase the amount of movement occurring – thereby increasing the horse’s worries, so that it jumps around a little more and so on.
Lorry ramps do tend to be heavier than those on trailers and give a more solid feeling beneath the feet, as does the floor of the vehicle, but they can often be quite steep.
The change in sound as the hooves leave solid ground and move onto a ramp can alsobe alarming for some horses.
While on the subject of noise, it’s also worth thinking about what your horse can hear when you’re in transit.
Don’t tie haynets to the outside as they may bounce around (as well as becoming polluted by exhaust fumes) and try to avoid low over-hanging tree branches or passing too close to hedges in narrow lanes especially when pulling over to allow other vehicles to pass.
The noise made can be extremely loud in the horse’s compartment, not to mention unexpected.
- “I can’t balance when it moves”
Another commonly experienced problem is that of the horse having difficulty in balancing while the vehicle is on the move.
Research has shown that the majority of horsestravel better when they are facing backwards.
While this arrangement isn’t always possible, it’s certainly worth experimenting with other positions, such as standing the horse diagonally, which may be a more comfortable position for him than facing directly forwards.
Partitions can be a source of trouble too in respect of a horse’s need to move his feet apart in order to balance himself. If there is a gap at the bottom, the horse’s feet can slide beneath it and get wedged, causing a major panic.
- “I simply won’t follow you”
Lack of obedience and trust in the handler can lead to problems when loading whereas if your horse does have faith in you, you can use this relationship to encourage him to overcome his doubts.
To increase the bond between you and your horse, try some training in one of the control halters marketed by horse behaviourists such as Kelly Marks and Richard Maxwell.
If you use one of these to load though remember toswap it for a regular headcollar for the journey – never use it to tie him up with on any occasion.
Read more travelling advice:
- Top tips on loading
- Q&A: Travelling a foal
- Coping with a breakdown