Sunday, October 22, 2017

Horses with Trailer Confinement Issues

Several people in the last couple of months have sent e-mails with the same basic issue that they are having a hard time resolving - horses who are okay at trailer loading but are anxious when the trailer is stopped. Some just move around and others kick and paw, and when unloading - some try to leave the trailer in a fast manner.  The common question is "should I leave my horse in the trailer until they calm down?"  

Different trailers and different circumstances, such as trailering with or without other horses, are going to affect some horses. A small, two horse straight load trailer may be too confining for horses used to a open stock trailer. Slant loads with the panels may seem too confining to some horses, especially larger horses - you may know horses like this.  If you have the chance to load your horse in different trailers, by all means do so. Doesn't mean you'll resolve problems down the road, just gives you a better chance at it.

Some horses are fine by themselves, or loading with other horses, and others get anxious when in a trailer next to others. The good news is I think you can minimize all these issues by loading and unloading, and/or trailering to some place over and over. I had a three year old Paint horse who took some time getting him to load. I hung a hay net up so he could pick at it once he loaded.  Once I had him loaded, I had him back out. Then I loaded him and kept him in the trailer for increasing amounts of time and we're talking about starting at around 10 seconds once his feet stopped moving.  When he was good with that, standing still for a few minutes, I loaded him and drove a few minutes in a wide circle, stopped, unloaded, mounted and rode for a couple minutes, then dismounted and loaded the horse and did it all over again for almost two hours. After that his first trailer ride was over an hour and I never had another problem with him - but all horses are going to be different. What is the same with all horses is that repetitions loading and unloading are good for all horses.

On a horse who loads good but is anxious about just being in the trailer, increasing the amount of time staying the trailer is also good for him. The first few times you may not get him relaxed, but my rule of thumb is to wait until there is some sign of relaxing, even momentary, and capitalize on that moment - timing is important. If you can safely be in the trailer with the horse and he is comfortable with your presence then sometimes that helps. I did this to my horses, talking to them softly, asking the horse to drop his head, rubbing on him, asking for one step backwards then one step forwards, but these were horses experienced in other trailers.

While you may enter a trailer with the horse, leading him or sending him in order to close a slant load or tie his lead up, please don't loiter in the trailer unless you can do so safely and have a reason to do so. A buddy of mine was loading a fairly bomb proof horse and lost half his finger then tying the horse's lead and the horse spooked and back off quickly, tightening the rope on his finger - and you can imagine the rest.

Another thing common to all horses is that if the horse really isn't broke to lead and can't back off a lead rope then he ain't going to do well backing out of a trailer. Some people I highly respect allow a horse to turn around in the trailer (if it can) and go out head first the first few times. I've done that before and I'm good with that, but eventually he needs to back out, calmly, and the sooner the better.

The trailer - staying quiet in the trailer - has to be a good place for the horse. He has to see and feel it as a place to rest. It's the same process we use when we get a horse to load, making the area outside the trailer work and at/in the trailer a rest spot - or a release from pressure. Many people, and I do this as well, will lunge the horse in a circle where the edge of the circle is close to the trailer, then stop him here and ask him to load. It's kinda like standing tied. Tired horses will stand tied better than fresh ones.

As far as leaving a horse in a trailer until they calm down - I would think they ain't likely to calm down over time if they are too amped up to begin with. That mental pressure is more likely to increase until maybe the horse hurts himself. Remember the horse has a soft spot just forward of his poll and some horse's have hit the trailer roof hard enough to kill or badly injured themselves. They make little padded hats for horses to protect themselves from hitting their head. I have never used one instead relying on having the horse totally comfortable with loading, staying in the trailer, and backing out. This just takes time, that's all.

Make sure your trailer is safe as well.  I was asked to help a gent get his horse loaded.  I told him I would teach him how to do it and showed up only to discover his trailer floor unsafe.  If  person can see that the trailer floor is unsafe, then the horse is certainly going to feel it and this will erode his confidence and will result in him having "trailering" problems when it really is "owner and  maintenance" problems.     

A final note:  If you drive with quick accelerations, fast lane changes and/or hard braking on stops then you are likely to undue much of the trailer work you put in on your horse.  I heard a long time ago that a horse is only has good as his last trailer ride. 

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