Horse Trailers: Loading The Nervous Horse - Part 2By Jeffrey Rolo
At the conclusion of Part One of Horse Trailers: Loading A Nervous Horse we discussed how a fearful horse should be allowed to retreat from the trailer anytime he wishes. This may have left some folks scratching their head wondering how in the heck they'd ever successfully load a horse into a horse trailer if they should let a horse back away from it anytime the horse wants.
This is a fair question, and one that we will address soon. First, though, I'd like to reiterate that the tactics described in these two articles are valid for nervous horses only. If your horse is not afraid, but rather is just being stubborn, using these tactics will indeed lead nowhere. It's your responsibility to correctly determine if the resistance is caused by fear or intentional defiance.
Throughout the loading process you are going to be acting as the horse's alpha leader, which means you will be the one setting the tone for the event. If you are cool, calm and confident at all times, your strength will rub off on your equine partner. On the other hand, if you are irritated and fidgety due to your horse's fear or resistance, your negative vibes will further shaken what little confidence your horse has.
Once you feel that your horse's muscles are no longer so tense, start advancing towards the trailer again. Continue this slow process until you meet with success.
Too often a horse owner will step away from the scared horse, or worse, go towards the hindquarters to tap his legs with a crop. When your horse is afraid of the horse trailer, it is your responsibility to reassure him that everything is fine. You can only do this by remaining in position – right by his shoulder. The further away you move from your horse, the more you're abandoning him.
If your horse is truly terrified of the horse trailer than you might need to tweak the above formula a bit by introducing some other little tricks or temporary distractions that will ease your horse's heightened stress. For example, if your horse backs away furiously from the trailer, you should not only allow him to – you should ask him to. Why? Although you are there to lend him security, you must always remain the boss too. By asking him to rear when he would anyways, you're actually making him meet your request rather than defy your wishes.
When your horse reaches an unhealthy stress level it will become increasingly difficult to convince him to load into the trailer. At this stage you either want to call the trailer lesson to a close or you want to calm him down by performing some familiar maneuvers that will take his mind off the trailer for a bit of time.
Sometimes a horse owner will actually place a horse trailer in the center of a riding arena such that nervous horses can become comfortable with its presence as they work on other tasks such as lunging or riding.
Never use force to load a nervous horse. You might get him into the horse trailer, but you will further imbed his fear and make him all that much worse the next time. A scared horse requires compassion, reassurance and patience – not force or domination.