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Loading advice needed
 Moderated by: DrDeb  
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Joined: Wed Sep 3rd, 2008
Location: Cape Town, South Africa
Posts: 21
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 Posted: Tue Nov 3rd, 2009 07:24 am
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Hi Dr Deb

This weekend, I'm moving my Thb gelding to a new yard. Considering our last loading experience, 4 years ago, I am anticipating possible problems, and I hope you might be able to offer a few pointers that would make the experience easier for him.

The few times I've had to load him over the years, he's always been a bit hesitant..., I have cheated by using food to coax him in, all wrong I know...! The last time however, he planted his feet and refused. He doesn't look too obviously fearful, no flickering ears, he just looks tense and shut down.

I'm going to spend time practising with him before we have to move, luckily the owner of the horsebox doesn't mind leaving it with me for half the day or so.

So... how to approach this, and I'd really appreciate it if you could tell me if I'm on the right track - I understand that his birdie needs to be loaded into the box first.

I will try work with him first a little around the box, try get him hooked onto me and focus less on the box. Then I could ask for one step on the ramp, ask him to back off and reward by releasing all pressure and just let him stand for a while. Should I do this in increments, slowly asking for more progress up the ramp, whilst walking around the box inbetween tries?

If he appears tense and is looking anywhere but in the box, should I be applying some pressure with the rope halter, maybe a litle tapping on the rump with the whip, and as soon as he looks in box, 'loading' his birdie, should I instantly release all pressure and stand quietly?

If he backs down the ramp, should I maybe get him to move sideways when off the ramp instead of trying to stop him... just thinking of Harry Whitney's exercise to teach a horse to tie by using the flag for lateral movement instead of pulling back?

I know this is not something that can really be comprehensively advised on over the net, but if you have general guidelines/exercises I can use to help with loading, I'd be very grateful for any advice.





Super Moderator

Joined: Fri Mar 30th, 2007
Posts: 3309
Status:  Offline
 Posted: Tue Nov 3rd, 2009 06:44 pm
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Kathy, half a day of practice will not do. The basic reason that any horse does not load into a float or truck is that he does not understand HOW to do it, and that he believes that if he goes in, he may get stuck in there and not be able to come out again without injuring himself. In other words, he is not confident.

Loading is not a "given". Sometimes, Kathy, when I teach horsemanship seminars, I show some clips from the old "Lone Ranger" TV show. The episode I have the students view is where Tonto and the Lone Ranger go to the Valley of Wild Horses, where they find the stallion Silver locked in a fierce battle with a buffalo. They kill the buffalo and then nurse the wounded horse back to health.

Of course this is amazing fantasy, suitable for little children. Unfortunately when I was 5 years old, I watched this episode and, like all little children, I took it for gospel truth. I mistook it for reality. So the next thing that happens on-screen is that you hear the booming voice of the narrator saying, "Now skill and nature have done all they can to heal the wounded stallion. Will he be able to rise?" And the horse gets up. Then he starts to run away and, using "hero power" -- in other words, complete fantasy magic -- the Lone Ranger calls, "here Silver! Come here boy. If you only knew how much we need you!" And by God what the children see is that the horse pauses in mid-flight, slowly turns as if caught in a tractor-beam, and comes back!

Then what happens! Tonto says, "horse come back! Me get bridle now?" and the Lone Ranger says, "no, Tonto, that would be too much for him. We'll start with a hackamore...." And then -- you can time this on your watch! -- the children see the Lone Ranger put a hackamore (a war bridle actually) on the horse's head....saddle him....mount him....ride him in the war bridle....ride him in a Visalia-type bit....and perform a good sliding he takes the horse from totally green to broke and fully finished all in a total run-time, on your watch, of 35 seconds!

Where is there any hint that this might be a PROCESS????!

But this is what people integrate, and they believe it blindly -- they believe the horse "just ought to load" or that "he owes it to me to load" or "if you only knew how much I NEED YOU TO LOAD" --  UNTIL THEY WAKE UP.

And your wakeup call, Kathy, is the fact that you have noticed that your horse doesn't know how to load.

Now I am going to ask you: what do YOU think are the things the horse would need to have totally packed away -- be completely confident with -- know letter-perfect -- BEFORE you ask him to get in the trailer? Here is the basic list:

1. He has to be able to back up fluidly, easily, and promptly when asked in-hand, both with the hands-on-halter technique and with the shaking-rope technique (you will need both).

2. He has to be able to go through a narrow gate going forward with 100% total calmness -- no rushing or "squirting"

3. He has to be able to to through the same narrow gate or passageway stepping backwards, with equal ease and confidence.

4. He has to be able to go up a narrow, sloping ramp with confidence (if the float you are using has a narrow, sloping ramp); or else up a wide ramp (if that's the design you're using); or else know how to step up on a low platform with front legs, step up with hind legs; then step off backwards with hind legs, then step off backwards with front legs.

5. He has to know that, when he's on a longe line or long lead rope, he is to go forward no matter what -- promptly and calmly -- when you tell him to. This is how you teach the horse to be driven into the trailer rather than led up into it. There is nothing wrong with having two people to load the horse, one of whom leads the horse in, and there is nothing wrong with using food treats to make the experience better for the horse. But they must not be used as a BRIBE, rather as rewards for correct response; in other words, food treats are part of the total teaching technique.

6. YOU have to know HOW to drive, so that you never drive the horse, or try to drive the horse, if he plants his feet and fails to go forward. You have to know to touch him (and I mean TOUCH) with the whip, or little pebbles, or the free end of the leadrope ONLY WHEN he looks like he might step back. You leave the "actual act of getting in" 100% up to the horse.

7. YOU have to know to keep the horse's head, his Birdie, looking to the inside of the trailer 100% of the time. You just keep the head facing in there no matter what, and you leave the hind end of the horse alone UNLESS he threatens to step back. Once the Birdie loads in there, the body will follow.

8. YOU need to realize that "teaching a horse to load" is not just a matter of getting him to load in there. Equally important is teaching him how to get out of there. Your standards for unloading should be higher than those for loading, because 99% of the time, the reason the horse dislikes to load is that he is afraid of unloading. So you work on stepping down off the back of the trailer -- every time you load him, you leave him in there and let him eat something while he's in there. But after 5 minutes standing in there with the rear of the trailer wide open, then you ask him to back out of there and you PREVENT HIM from getting back in. When you have to prevent him from getting back in, you may know that he has learned how to load.

This is exactly like teaching a horse to go get on his drum, his circus platform. The platform is the only place in the work arena where the horse can expect absolute total peace and good experiences when he is up there. That's what I make the platform into. So that if I want my horse to freeschool in the arena where the platform is located, I have to stand on the platform myself or else the horse will, instead of working, go stand on the platform.

You have not allowed yourself enough time, Kathy; you have not planned this very well. You've had your mind on things other than your horse's best interests.

But perhaps there are some options still open to you. You can, of course, hire a roustabout or professional hauler, who will by God load the horse and haul him. Then, the next time, you can expect the horse to be even worse about it; because that's what you've built, that's what you've set the horse up for.

But maybe you can instead arrange to rent a float for a month. That is what it is going to take. You have the float parked there somewhere (and it needs to be attached either to a cement stanchion or else to a vehicle anytime you are going to work with the horse in it). And then you go to practicing, and you practice every day.

Maybe you can look through the threads in this Forum, and go find Allen Pogue's posts where he shows you various designs for platforms. Maybe you could go to the time and trouble of building a platform, which will convey to the horse 90% of the skills needed in order to be able to load and unload.

Maybe you can find an older man or woman in your neighborhood -- I know there are such in England because I have met them -- an older farmer who has raised horses, or a master of foxhounds, and go to him and beg him to give you one-on-one help. Maybe he would permit you to come to his place to learn to see how he teaches the animal to load, or maybe he would come to your place to give you lessons.

This is how you're going to be able to stop living a "Lone Ranger" fantasy....there is no other way that adequately considers the horse. Good luck, and best wishes -- Dr. Deb



Last edited on Tue Nov 3rd, 2009 06:48 pm by DrDeb


Joined: Wed Sep 3rd, 2008
Location: Cape Town, South Africa
Posts: 21
Status:  Offline
 Posted: Wed Nov 4th, 2009 07:28 am
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Thanks Dr Deb for going into so much detail, what you've said is going to be really helpful.

I'm very aware that the fact he won't load easily is just a small part of the bigger problem, which is my less than perfect horsehandling skills, to make an understatement.....

He is I'm glad to say, very good about reining back, seems to find it easy- we do liberty or in hand work, where he'll rein back at the lightest touch on his chest, halter pressure or rope shaking, as you mentioned. We often do liberty work, practicing leg yield etc, and so far our attempt at spanish walk is pawing the ground if I point at his leg.

Moving through tight/narrow spaces is something we need to work on though.

His driving is not too bad, he moves forward well enough when longeing and long reining, or driving from the hindquarters, often all I need is to raise my leading hand slightly, he understands this is a cue to move forward, so there is no pulling on the head. My main problem is he pushes into my space, especially if he gets overexcited, the head tossing might start, and he pretends to nip my arm. When driving him out onto a circle, he might bend in the wrong direction, his ribcage pushing into the circle towards me. I probably haven't been consistant or firm or quick enough to ask him to respect my space.

The drum or platform exercise is definitely something I'd like to try one day, thanks for suggesting that.

If things really don't go well on Saturday, and I don't believe it will get to this, there is someone I can call on to help with the loading, at huge expense, (BTW I live in South Africa, not England), though she is trained in a certain popular and well known American Natural Horsemanship program, which is definitely not on your 'approved' list. We've had a few lessons with her many years ago, and I'm sure she'll do a good job of loading him.

Thanks again for yor help!


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