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Loading horse into trailer

From: Kathi

Hi Jessica!

First I would like to tell you that this is a great idea!! I love horse- sense! Thanks for giving us your time here!

I have hit a trailering glitch with my horse. I have been teaching him to "load himself" with me standing outside the trailer and sending him in. He will go in a hundred times... Here is the problem though. As soon as he gets almost all the way in, he lowers his head to stand in front of the chest bar. I am concerned that if I leave the chest bar open he will keep going and get hung up in the front of the trailer but with it closed, he stops too soon (I think he thinks he can't go any more!). How do I get him to pick up his head and take that extra step? If I hit him on the bum (gently-more like a 'get in there' swat) he gets worried and backs out. I can send him right back in again but he lowers his head on that last step and then doesn't want to go any further. If I go to the front of the trailer and pull him forward, he steps right up and I can hook him up but I really want him to walk in *all* the way and by himself!

Any suggestions? Thanks in advance.


Hi Kathi! You're obviously doing a great job of teaching your horse to load, congratulations! Now let's find a way to persuade him to take that last step up toward the chest bar.

I agree with you that swatting him isn't the answer; neither is pulling him in. There are two different ideas I'd like to suggest to you.

First, he may not realize, until you remind him and he lifts his head, that he CAN lift his head and take that additional step. So we'd like him to pick up his head and come forward in the trailer. One time-honoured way to do this is simply to have something there that he likes -- tie up a haynet or hay bag in front of the chest bar, and let your horse figure out that the effort of taking one more step will be worth the trouble. This works well because he will do it for himself, and then when he is in the habit of doing it, he will do it whether or not the hay is there.

I would suggest, however, that in addition to this, you focus on teaching him to go forward when asked. If you can teach him to move forward (or backward, or sideways) ONE step at a time, he'll be easy to load, easy to unload, and easy to put into strange stalls, wash stalls, stocks, etc.

One of the easiest methods to teach a horse anything simple like "step forward" is clicker training. Don't be put off by the name: it's simply applied operant conditioning, originally designed for use with dolphins, VERY successful with dogs, and quite useful with horses, especially horses who belong to owners/riders who are new to horses and not very fluent in "horse" language. Using this technique, you'll make a clicker noise as a "bridge" between the horse's action and your praise or reward; you will "click" instantly when the horse shows any sign of doing what you asked. In your horse's case, leaning forward or shifting his weight forward would both be signs of moving forward, and should be rewarded. The instant "click" sound is very simple: it lets the horse know, instantly and very clearly, when it has done what you wanted it to do -- the "click" says "Yes, THAT behaviour, THAT's what I wanted!"

Later, when you and the horse are both familiar with the clicker system of training, you'll be able to replace the "click" sound with a click of your tongue -- that's useful because you may not always have the "clicker" in your pocket, but no matter where you go or what is happening, you'll have your tongue with you. ;-)

You'll find more information on clicker training in Karen Pryor's book "Don't Shoot the Dog". If you think you might like to try this with your horse, look at Alexandra Kurland's website:

Have fun, try it, and see what happens!


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