Are you…too P.O.’d to Load?
Trainer/Clinician Lisa Bockholt shares the reason why so many frustrations occur at the trailer, and gives helpful information on how to cure trailer loading trauma.
My biggest pet peeve is trailer loading. I am an absolute stickler on this issue, and cannot comprehend why trailer loading always seems to be such a big deal for so many. I simply cannot fathom how and why people choose to ignore such an important foundational training component in their horse’s training. Furthermore, I cannot understand how people tolerate the constant battles they encounter every time they try to take their horse somewhere. Not to mention the risks they face in the event the horse injures himself in the process.
In teaching trailer loading, observers often tell me I have the patience of a saint. I find that rather humorous, when exactly the opposite is true. An awful lot of folks continue to deal with trailer loading troubles much longer than I ever would. They are the ones with the patience of a saint. After all, I would have never put up with that nonsense for all that time!
Is trailer loading training easy? No, not always. Is it a quick fix? Absolutely not! Like all good training, teaching a horse to load and unload safely and calmly takes time and repetition. But is it worth it? You decide.
MISERY LOVES COMPANY: Easily, the issue of trailer loading training makes up somewhere between eighty five to ninety percent of my business. If that sounds like an exaggeration, it’s not. Does that tell you something? First of all, it says that if you have a problem loading and unloading your horse(s), the good news is that you are not alone.
Trailer loading can be one of the most dangerous things we ever do with our horse. For this reason, it is so important that we teach our horses how to load and unload calmly and safely. Few trainers guarantee their services. It’s a hard thing to do because there are so many variables. But this is one issue that I consider so important that I stand behind my work with a 100% satisfaction guarantee. I am able to do that because the method I teach works, 100% of the time on 100% of the horses it is applied to, in 100% of the situations you will ever encounter. That’s pretty powerful stuff. Best of all, because it’s based on common sense it’s easy, once you understand the concept.
UNDERSTANDING THE PROBLEM: Goals are nice things to have in life. They give us something to shoot for, something by which to measure our progress. But they can also set us up for failure and frustration if we focus entirely on the goal. Normally, when I am asked to help with a trailer loading situation, it’s easy to see that the biggest part of the problem is that the owner is dead-set on getting the horse into the trailer no matter what. Okay, so that’s our goal. Obviously. But what good is it if we get the horse in the trailer only to have them panic, and injure themselves as a result? Our goal should not just be to load the horse into the trailer. Rather, our goal needs to be the process by which we arrive at the end result.
Write this down on a sheet of paper:
MY TRAILER LOADING GOAL: "To be able to load and unload my horse into any trailer, any size trailer, any color trailer, any type trailer, whether it’s a step up or has a ramp, any time of day or night, any time of year, in any type of weather, in any place my trailer is ever parked, and regardless of whether or not the trailer is empty or other horses are already inside the trailer, and to be able to do so safely, calmly, and without incident, injury or panic." Now that’s a goal!
Our trailer loading problems are the result of the fact that we haven’t taught the horse what we want him to do. In other words…a) we don’t have a cue, therefore b) since we don’t have a cue, we have no clue what the cue is, which means c) we can’t give the cue to the horse for which d) we’ve never taught him in the first place? Sound confusing? If you’re confused as you read this, think about how confused your horse is!
WHY DO WE GET P. O’d?: Let’s simplify things. In order to remove the confusion, let’s remove some of the frustration. Where do we get the most frustrated? At the trailer, of course. Therefore, Rule #1 becomes GET THE HECK AWAY FROM THE TRAILER! In order to teach our horse a cue which will eventually tell him to "move forward upon request in the direction I dictate, either into, through, or over whatever I decide" begin by working as far away as you can from the trailer as possible. Teaching our horse to load safely and calmly begins with teaching a cue to move forward on command. This can be done in the barn aisle, in a corral or round pen, in a pasture… where ever you feel safe, and have good control of your horse on the end of the halter / lead rope.
THE METHOD: Our method is as simple as moving something from POINT "A" to POINT "B". Teaching our horse to load is a matter of directional control, combined with our ability to obtain forward movement from the horse. Begin by outfitting your horse in a halter, equipped with a six foot cotton lead rope. A stiff, four foot dressage whip will also be necessary. (No, we are not going to beat the horse into the trailer. The whip is used as an extension of our arm, giving us a way to physically apply pressure to the "cue" spot.) Take a cattle marker and draw a circle, about the size of a fifty cent piece on the top of your horse’s left hip. NOTE: We will teach the cue on both sides of the horse’s body, but for now, let’s focus on just one side – the left, since that is the side where we normally lead the horse from. (If you have a nicely marked Appaloosa, this will eliminate the need to mark a spot with a cattle marker!) Place your left hand on the lead rope, approximately two inches underneath the snap. Point the horse’s nose in the direction you want it to go. Raise the dressage whip towards the "cue" spot. If the horse moves forward from the "pressure" he felt as you thought about the "cue" spot, remove the whip, in effect releasing the pressure. Chances are, when first teaching this exercise, your horse won’t "get it" that easily! So, begin by lightly tickling the "cue" spot. Gradually increase the tickles till they become taps. The taps should be frequent, and should gradually increase in intensity until you begin to get a response from the horse. The correct response, of course, would be for the horse to take a step forward. But if your horse simply leans forward, indicating he is considering forward motion, RELEASE the taps! Pay careful attention to what your horse is doing and thinking. If the horse moves in any direction other than forward, it is important to continue tapping. If you accidentally stop tapping as your horse moves backward or sideways, you have just told him that he got the right answer. This lesson is not just about teaching your horse a "cue" to go forward into a trailer. It’s about going forward period. Once the horse has learned the cue well enough, you can use this cue to load the horse into any trailer no matter what the circumstances. You can also use the cue to get the horse into a stall or wash rack, over a bridge or across a creek. It’s almost like having a button which, when pushed, will result in forward movement when and wherever we need it.
So next time you find yourself becoming p.o.’d at the trailer, STOP! Instead, realize you just simply haven’t taught him what you want him to do! Re-evaluate your goal, and take the time to teach the horse a cue to go forward on command. You will end up being pleased instead of p.o.’d!
Lisa Bockholt’s Synchronicity Horsemanship teaches horses and their owners to operate in unison. Bockholt travels throughout the country training, demonstrating, and lecturing. Bockholt’s programs and services include: private training, clinics, demonstrations, lectures, fund raising for non-profit organizations, foal handling and training courses, internships and certification classes, courses for new horse owners, and her popular "Stall & Strudel" Bed & Breakfast Personal Training Packages. A John Lyons "Select" Certified Trainer, Bockholt specializes in working with new and / or inexperienced horse owners, or, those seeking to improve performance based on trust, respect, and communication. For more information on Bockholt’s programs, including 100% Satisfaction Guaranteed Trailer Loading Services, contact Lisa at (210) 491-6522 6522 or e mail firstname.lastname@example.org. To schedule a clinic in your area and receive FREE TRAINING, call (361) 592-6839!