Tuesday, 20 August 2013

For Humans who have behaviour problems when Loading their Horses!

Horses that are difficult to load seem to bring out the worst in us.  
Often we approach this problem by simply trying to make the horse go into the trailer. Pressure is applied to the horse’s face, mouth, hind end, sides, escape routes are blocked, and often, depending on our level of skill in the questionable art of making horses do stuff they really don’t want to do – we ‘succeed’.

Until the next time..

‘Making’ a horse go into a trailer is sometimes necessary – in an emergency situation you may have no other option. But don’t confuse it with reliable training.

Our goal when dealing with loading problems is for the horse to be relaxed and comfortable about going into the trailer every time we ask him to. If we can ‘make’ him go into the trailer, but he is tense and worried about it, his behaviour will never be consistent.

This brings up a very important point in all horse training – if the horse is worried, he will be looking for ways to feel better, and that will probably be his main focus. He won’t learn well, and he will be unpredictable as he tries to make himself feel better. His efforts could include rearing, running away, planting, backing up, kicking, barging – you name it.  

So, often what goes wrong during training is that we focus on the ‘into the trailer’ bit and forget about the essential ‘relaxed and comfortable’ bit.

The first loading case I ever handled is a classic example. By the time I got involved, 5 other professionals had been out to work with this horse, and the owner had just about given up hope. All had got the horse into the trailer, some had repeated the loading several times. All had provoked some pretty extreme behaviour from the horse, but, if you like, had won the argument and made the horse load. Unfortunately, once the owner was left alone, the problem was no better than before.

Despite this lack of success, it took quite a bit of effort to convince the owner that short, calm sessions, in which the horse took a step or two more towards the trailer was rewarded for his progress would work – she wanted to see him in the trailer during every training session. Fortunately she gave it a try and within about 10 days he was loading perfectly, and has done so ever since.

So, when training, we need to be very clear about what progress towards the goal is. A session which consists of having a big fight with your horse, and ending up with a sweaty, anxious horse inside a box, is most probably not progress.
A session during which everyone (human and equine) keeps calm, and the horse gets closer to the trailer, or further up the ramp, than he has before without getting worried is progress – and is safer for you and your horse, good for his welfare, and good for your relationship with him.

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