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Forcing horses onto trailers

From: Danie

Dear Jessica, I just want you to know how much I trust all of your advice and how much I love HORSE SENSE. My whole family sits down and listens to me read those posts every week, then we print them out for other people at our barn to read. My great-uncle was a real horseman, and he always taught me to do everything I could for horses and for other people, without looking for any pay, just because it was right. He passed away about four years ago, and I felt so lost without him, because I always took my horse questions to him and he always had wise things to tell me. You have taken his place. Thank you. I just wish that he had still been alive to read HORSE SENSE and to meet you, because he would have loved and respected you as I do.

MY, that was so long! But I hope you include it with my question because it is sincere.

Now my question: is there any circumstance where YOU personally would force a horse to do something -- like get into a trailer? Or do you think that this is always wrong and that there is never a valid reason for it?

Your friend and fan, Danie

Hi Danie! Thank you for the kind words, and I too am sorry that your great-uncle is not here for me to meet. I'm sure that I would like him very much. And that gives us something in common -- I had an absolutely wonderful great-uncle, whom I adored. Family is a wonderful thing, isn't it?

The answer to your question is YES. You bet. NO question. Let me explain: as you know, I believe that force is NOT a valid method of training, and I would never use it for training. If I'm in hurry to get to a show, and I haven't trained my horse to get on the trailer, will I beat him onto it? NO. That's not for HIS benefit, in the short or the long term, it would only be for the benefit of MY ego, and MY ego has no place around horses. If I desperately wanted to get to an organized trail-ride, or if I were on my way to the vet clinic for a non-emergency appointment, then NO I wouldn't force the horse onto the trailer. Every time you work with a horse, you are training not just for the day, but for the next day and all the days to come, so you need to begin as you mean to go on, and treat the horse well from the very beginning.

BUT, as I said, there are circumstances under which I would do whatever it took, regardless of the effect on the horse or its training. Until maybe ten years ago, I might have thought ONLY in terms of training, and thus said "no", but since then I've seen people frantically trying to load horses so that they can get out of the way of an oncoming canyon fire. There is no time to train and no time to explain or apologize if your only options are (a)loading your horse by any means possible or (b) leaving him to burn to death. At that point, I'd be using longe whips, longe lines, two brooms and a winch if that's what it took to save the horse's life, and I'd worry about the other issues later. Similarly, if I have a horse with an acute life-threatening condition, and I have failed to train it to get into the trailer when asked, and I need it to get into that trailer so that it can get to the clinic for surgery before its gut explodes, I'll do whatever it takes to get the job done. (Been there, done that, still have the horse.)

The key question is "What matters most?" If the horse's life and health will NOT be threatened if you don't get him onto that trailer, then you should take your time and put in the training. If the horse's life or health WILL be threatened if you don't get him onto that trailer, then you establish your priorities and do what you need to do. You can apologize to, and train or re-train, a LIVING horse. You can't do anything at all with a dead one.


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