A horse who won’t load is stress-inducing at best and downright dangerous at worst. Chances are you’ve tried everything from lunge lines to buckets of feed, but some horses simply won’t play ball. If only you could get inside the mind of your horse to find out what he hates so much about travelling…
We spoke to Kelly Marks, who specialises in horse psychology and behaviour, to help you understand what the problem is and how you can fix it.
- Know thyself – before you can understand your horse, you have to understand how you’re feeling when loading your horse. So be honest. Are you tense, nervous, or anxious? By becoming more self-aware you can ensure you have a plan in place to get yourself in the right state of mind. First of all, make sure you are in a safe environment in a closed off arena, so if you have to let the horse go he won’t come to any harm. If you feel yourself getting anxious, take slow, deep breaths to bring your pulse rate down. This will give positive vibes to your horse, which will help him gain confidence.
- Know your horse – can you tell how your horse is feeling? You need to know if he is frightened, worried or distracted, because if he is not relaxed, he is more likely to lean into any pressure you apply when trying to load him, rather than away from it. If this happens, you need to do groundwork exercises, to get him relaxed. You can then gradually move closer to the lorry before attempting to load him again. For more advice on this watch my latest episode of Top Marks, which premieres on Sky channel 253 and H&C Play at 9pm on Friday 23 December.
Listen to your horse
- Mixed messages – some horses respond best to requests to move forward with the handler in front of them, while others work better with someone behind them. This is most likely due to previous ‘training’ which taught the opposite to what was intended. So if you feel your horse is relaxed, but oblivious to what’s being asked, be flexible in your approach.
- Patience is a virtue – if you have given a request, but your horse seems to stubbornly ignore you, it is likely he hasn’t been given time to process the information. Think how you feel if you’re just about to do something and someone tells you to do it again – resistant! So ask once clearly, and wait for a response.
- Confidence booster – which part of the loading does your horse find most difficult? Going on the ramp? Dropping his head to avoid the low ceiling? Turning once he is inside? There are many things you can do with your horse to improve his confidence and gain his trust, without going near a horsebox or trailer. Groundwork with poles can help you gain more control, ensuring you can ask your horse to calmly step forwards, backwards and sideways. Again, you can see how to do this by watching the loading episode of Top Marks.
Consider his comfort
- Love his lorry – when he’s in the horsebox or trailer is it a pleasant place to be? Is it light and airy? Is the trailer breast bar padded, so it won’t dig into his chest when you brake? Carry out regular checks on your trailer or lorry to make sure it’s comfortable and safe for your horse.
- Dodgy driving – this is probably the most common cause of loading problems. If a horse has a bad experience when travelling you can’t blame him for not wanting to get back in. Drive with extreme care and take lessons if you’re not confident. It’s also a good idea to get a camera to see how your horse is travelling.
For more loading advice from Kelly watch Top Marks: On the Road.