Trailer loading can be a huge issue for horse people. Why? There are 2 components in trailer loading that play a major role: the horse and the handler.
The horse plays a big role. If he is fearful to go into that little box on wheels, it makes us nervous. Who wants to stand in a small box on wheels, next to 1000 pounds of unpredictable and unwilling animal that is trying to escape instead of willingly walking in?
Fear plays a major role in most trailer loading issues. In this blog I am not talking about the fear in horses. I think they can be trained away the easiest. I am talking about the fear of the handler leading the horse into the trailer.
I know I had trailer loading issues myself. People always thought I was joking when I said:”I have trailer loading issues” or “I have trailer fear”. Most people didn’t take the “I” in my sentence literally, but I really mean it that way.
Here are a few of my biggest worries I had about trailer loading:
– What if my horse gets injured in the trailer, during loading or during the drive.
– What if the trailer or car gets a flat tire on the highway?
– What if I get injured while loading a nervous horse into a very small space? Especially when I was pregnant this was a big fear.
– What will people think of me if I can’t load my horse?
– What will people think if they have to wait for me while I am loading? I don’t want to be a burden, they probably hate waiting, they might think I am doing it wrong, etc.
– What should I say if people want to ‘help’ me load my horse and want to use pressure or force my horse?
– What will they think of me when I decline their help? I don’t want to offend them by saying “Thanks, but no thanks”.
– What if Kyra falls down in the trailer or gets stuck again? It has happened before…
– What if she panics and runs onto a busy street?
There are other factors that can play a roll as well like impatience or stress in the handler. It can be that you’re only worried or afraid when loading your own horse. I have loaded other peoples horses smoothly when the cause was the handler.
With other peoples horses I didn’t have the fears I named above. Part of it was when the horse was in the trailer, it didn’t feel like my responsibility anymore. And I was never in a hurry because I was helping people out that were desperate and ready to take (wait) the time it took to load the horse.
Back to my own situation. The moment I realized part of the problem was me, I was stunned. Was I part of the problem? Really?
Have you ever noticed that what you are focusing on grows? My fears stayed intact because I was repeating them over and over in my mind. It is like a fire and as you keep feeding it, it grows and takes on a life of its own. Instead of being relieved that Kyra got out of the trailer perfectly fine and without any injury whatsoever, I kept telling myself that I was afraid of her being injured and developing a trailer issue.
As soon as I realized this, I started focusing on what went well and on all the improvements I had already achieved. Small improvements like every second ‘building duration standing in the trailer’, ‘standing more relaxed in the trailer’ as well as the big improvements ‘pulling me towards an open trailers to get in’ and ‘she didn’t poop out of stress’.
I also realized that we are in a process. It takes time and every time I could build on the foundations of trailer loading I was building on the solid behaviour I am longing for: a confident horse that loads easily and enjoys the ride.
I don’t get nervous anymore if people are watching or waiting while I load Kyra. I realize that the relationship I have with my horse and my horses feelings are worth much more than what I think other people are thinking. After all, I don’t know what they are thinking… I refuse to stress my horse by pressuring her, because of my (irrational) thoughts. I don’t want to force her anymore. Ever.
What also helped to reduce my fears, is to make the trailer and the ride as comfortable as possible. In this way I can relax better while traveling with my horse. Like a light, roomy trailer, an anti-slip floor, shavings and a hay net so Kyra can nibble away, a experienced driver who drives defensively and so on.
Enjoy the ride!
I hope you never have to deal with issues like this and when you do, I hope you overcome them too. Life is so much more enjoyable now. Taking my horse to places gives me so much joy and satisfaction, without stress and my fears. I really enjoy loading Kyra into a trailer now to go places. Oh, and Kyra does too, she literally pulls me towards a trailer if the ramp is down. Like she want to say: “Let me in. Take me with you. Let’s go!”
We are still working on a self loading horse. I am sure we can tick that off of our list of goals in 2015.
Update: Yes Kyra became a self loading horse. Whenever she sees an open trailer she’s attracted to it and wants to go in!
Sandra Poppema, BSc
I teach horse people to connect with their horse in training, so they get results and the relationship they want with their beloved horse. Make training win-win!