Loading 101 – How To Teach Your Horse To Load Happily

Kelly Leading and Loading
Kelly Marks Loading Expert

Happy Loading 101

Prevention Is Better That Cure Series

by Kelly Marks

We would be doing such a favour to horses if we didn’t cause them the problems in the first place. I’ll make this a series so you can look back to it in times of need (and feel free to share) and let’s start with Loading.  We want a horse or pony that loves to load which in fact means they’ll follow us anywhere and are comfortable travelling.

Part 1 – Loading Foals

The foal should load with his mum.  Gently usher the foal just ahead.  Don’t worry – his mum will follow! If you’d like a video of this let me know pop me an email and I’ll ask Stud Manager, Ian, who runs our Foal Handling and Stud Practice weekend course to get one taken!

Don’t use this first loading to wean! That would be in the  ‘how can we traumatise this baby to horseboxes?’ course! And we don’t happen to run that course!

Look at the set up for getting this horse into the horse box.. How can you use tools to your advantage and adapt your environment to avoid a stressful situation?

Part 2 – An Unhandled Horse That Has Never Been In A Horsebox

I’ve had a few of these because people have been known to breed a horse, not touch it and then when it gets to 5 years old and is 16.3hh the farmer wants it out of his field.

Of course, IDEALLY you’d want a horse really well handled but in some cases, ie. Rescue for instance, horses have to be moved in emergency circumstances. I remember way back we advised some of the rescue centres, Redwings was one, about ‘setting up for success’ by making a shute with roundpen panels and gently herding them up as low a ramp as possible. So much depends on circumstances. Can you entice with food left in there? Remember I am talking about untouched horses that have never had a halter on. Is a lead horse an option?

Image: This is not a wild rescue horse!  This is a horse ridden to the demo because he was an unwilling loader. This gives you some idea of the set up with roundpen panels, however it really is a skill to set them up, so do get advice from someone experienced with this way of ‘herding’ a horse in.  Do not set the panels up in a straight line and have them all fall over (horror face).  There are other ways you can set yourself up for success, you may find a natural alleyway or if you keep things very calm perhaps you have a hedge and a gate to help you.  Always be assessing the situation – no fear no force.  You could drop the ramp in a little paddock or arena and have some feed going up the ramp and let the horse load himself.

Part 3 – The Feel Of The Ramp…

Would your horse confidently walk over a board that flexes and shifts beneath them? The sound of their hooves clacking on the hollow surface. If not, how can you expect them to be confident going up the ramp into the horsebox? Prevention is better than cure… get your horse confident walking over different surfaces before you even start to tackle the horse box. Set yourself up for success.

Part 4 – Ditch The Partition

With any very early travelling ie you buy a youngster that hasn’t travelled much, I would strongly suggest the first journey is not in a partitioned trailer.  If you have to pay to hire a lorry it’s likely to be money well spent because you won’t have the horse dangled over the breastbar and possible physically compromised for life.

I can’t tell you how many of those stories we’ve heard.  One owner I know had it happened to one horse she bought one year (never rideable) another horse she bought a couple of years later (never rideable).  Just don’t risk it!

When my sister and I went to pick up 3 year old Blondie from Yorkshire to come down to Berkshire, we had the two stall Marlborough horsebox.  Then I had to make a big decision!  Whether to take Pie up there as company for her or whether to take the partition out and let her learn to balance herself. 

I went with the open stall approach as it would have been a long journey for Pie there and back.  If they learn to balance in the early days they are less likely to get in the ‘into pressure’ habit where they start leaning into the sides – particularly on turns.  It can be hard to get them out of that.  Remember our theme is prevention better than cure!

Part 4 – The Transport Must be Safe!

Let’s say you have followed previous steps and you now have your horse/pony at home or at a yard where you can practise loading.  Maybe I shall surprise you here and say your next step is NOT to practise loading, and if you’re a step ahead, no, it’s not even to practise groundwork! (Clever clogs!)

Your next step is to SCRUTINISE the transport you are planning to use. Seriously Scrutinise.  Whatever it takes – would you travel him in this if he was worth £1,000.000?  Would you travel him in this vehicle if you were going to be shamed on one of those pet abuse programmes?

I’m putting these crazy suggestions out there as So Often I cannot believe what people expect their horses to travel in. Ramps and floors with holes in.  I’m not joking.  Real life responses “Oh it’s OK he knows not to step/stand there”  Horses that have to travel with their ears bent as the roof is so low.  Do you know how much NOISE there is when they are travelling?  Sometimes it’s horrific – what IS all that jangling?  Check it out. Learn the standards for horsebox and trailers and get yours checked out.

Before you even THINK about loading a horse the vehicle must be checked out to ensure it is safe and comfortable.

I understand this can often be a question of how much money you have to spend but I’ll tell you what we did back in the day. Sell the horrible trailer my 13 hh pony didn’t want to load into and hire a lorry for those 6 trips a year when we needed transport. Happy Pony Happy Life. Have you seen terrible trailers and horrible horseboxes? 

Just Getting Started On Your Horsemanship Journey? Why Not Develop Your Skills The ‘Intelligent’ Way with H Membership

7 Tips on Loading a ‘Problem Horse’ You May Not Have Heard Before

“My pony is not frightened of the trailer he’s just stubborn!”. “My horse refuses to go in the horsebox to wind me up!”. I’ve heard every reason possible for a horse not loading!  But just possibly there are some extra factors you haven’t even thought about!

  1. First of all ‘Know Thyself’.  Are you able to describe how you’re feeling?  It’s better to know you’re feeling a little tense, a little nervous, a little hurried than not be aware of any feelings at all.  If you can become self aware you can have a strategy to get yourself in the right state of mind that give out the vibes to give a horse confidence.
  2. Can you tell how the horse is feeling? You need to know if the horse is frightened, apprehensive, distracted because anything that means he is not relaxed means he’s more likely to go INTO any pressure applied rather than move away from it.
  3. Be aware some horses respond best to requests to move forward from in front and some from behind. This is most likely due to previous ‘training’ which taught the opposite to what was intended (Remember ‘It’s not what you’re teaching it’s what they are learning!’)  So if you feel your horse is relaxed but oblivious to what’s being asked be flexible in your approach.
  4. If a request has been given but the horse, pony or human appears ‘stubborn’ possibly the Number One reason is they haven’t been given time to process. None of us are on Infinity Broadband constantly.  Think how you feel if you’re just about to do something and someone tells you to do it – resistant!
  5. Which part of the loading does the horse find most difficult? Going on the ramp?  Going under the trailer or horsebox ceiling?  Turning once in there?  There are so many different ways you can get your horse confident with these things without even going near a horsebox or trailer.  Gain confidence and trust with your horse before even going near a horsebox!
  6. When he’s in the horsebox or trailer is it a pleasant place to be? Is it light and airy?  Is the trailer breast bar padded so it won’t dig into his chest when you brake?  Is it a SAFE place to be?  When did you last have the floor and basics checked?
  7. How’s your driving? Could you drive with a hot cup of coffee on your lap?  If not why not?  Get a camera to see how your horse is travelling.
Grey horse being loaded into a trailer with a Dually Halter

OBVIOUSLY if you’d like to find local help with your horse click here to find your local IH Recommended Trainer. You can also learn the techniques and attitudes for yourself by booking onto one of our courses.  I look forward to meeting you!

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