Travelling Horses

Today was an exciting day for Otis. He had his first outing in our new trailer. It`s a bigger, more modern version of our old one as he grew out of the first trailer.

Otis can be a stressy traveller, and usually sweats, but we thought it might be because he felt claustrophobic in the partitions. Anyway, this afternoon we took a short trip to our dressage lesson in the new trailer with the partitions taken out.

Otis was slightly reluctant to load as it smelt funny, but travelled as well as he ever does and it was an uneventful trip. The trailer was easy to drive and tow, so fingers crossed it is a success.

On the subject of travelling horses, my Mum was telling me about her friends youngster, who is difficult to load. Once, he was being taken to the Winter Fayre Show as a weanling, but it took so long to load him in the morning they missed their class! I don`t think he did anything naughty, but just planted his feet and refused to move. I think the last eighteen months have been spent regularly walking on and off the trailer and going on short journeys. Then last week, in high hopes, my Mum`s friend went to load the now three year old ready to take him to be professionally backed. The gelding loaded fine, but as the ramp went up he went into a full panic. So he had to be brought off again. This went on for a couple of hours and then eventually they gave up.

It`s a nightmare when your horse is difficult to load though; you have to allow plenty of time at either end of the day to load, and you can guarantee that as soon as you`re late, even one minute behind schedule, they won`t load. Or when it`s chucking it down with rain …

My pony used to be horrendous to load; we had a wooden green trailer, and it had a steep ramp and was very dark. Mum and I hated it cos it was heavy but I think my pony hated it too because as soon as we upgraded to an Ifor Williams he walked straight up the ramp! Mum has negligible problems loading now, he occasionally tries it on but otherwise is very reliable.

Otis was brought up to load well and be used to travelling, but when he was five I got a lift with a friend to a competition in her elderly lorry. It juddered terribly and after that Otis was difficult to load. I soon solved this by only using my trailer, and he went back to normal. Nowadays he occasionally goes in a friends trailer, and if it`s been a while he`ll stop and stare. But if you bring out a whip and hold it he practically jumps the ramp! I`ve never hit him with the whip ever!!

I think the horse needs to come to terms with travelling in his own time; and get used to the prospect with the help of a quiet companion. At the same time owners should make sure their transport is the right size for their animal. I`ve seen a 17.3hh horse being squished into a tiny pony trailer before, and then they wonder why he`s reluctant to go on next time! I`m not a fan of the old style trailers which do not have front doors to let light in. It`s basically the same as asking your horse to walk into a cave.

Have a think about how a trailer looks to a horse, a prey species, and you soon understand why horses can take a dislike to loading onto a trailer or lorry.

4 thoughts on “Travelling Horses

  1. Becky May 12, 2014 / 11:28 am

    I’m not an expert, but a lot of what I’ve seen and learned recently has made me decide that I will never be responsible for a horse being termed “difficult to load”. If a horse comes to me in that state in the future, that label is going to be well and truly lost at some point. I went to a talk by an equine behaviourist back in March (it was actually very entertaining as well as informative) and one of the things he pointed out is that, when he explains his method (it can sound incredibly slow) one of the biggest obstacles for an owner is that they’ll immediately say, “I haven’t got time for that!” His instant response (to their face!) is to say, “But you’ve got time to spend six hours loading your horse any time you want to go somewhere?” People think NH is all flowery and about loving your horse, and it is, but it’s also no-nonsense, just not in a whipping and beating type way (obviously those are extremes, and I know that’s the sort of thing good people like you also wouldn’t do!).

    You can stick whatever label or brand (Parelli, Monty Roberts/Intelligent Horsemanship, any of their offshoots) on it that you like, but they all actually work with the same ideology, just in slightly different ways. The Parelli phrase is, “It’s not about the _____”. They’ll say it over and over again: “It’s not about the trailer, it’s not about the farrier, it’s not about the dentist, it’s not about the water jump… it’s about the relationship” – the idea being that owners fixate, they’ll stand and spend hours trying to drag their stubborn animal onto a trailer, when that’s actually the worst thing you can do. If the horse won’t go on the trailer, it’s not because he’s “difficult to load” or “doesn’t like his trailer”, it’s because there’s a bigger problem (the exception being as you mentioned, if it’s genuinely too small for them!). Another Ben Hart (that’s the behaviourist I saw) thing is to say, “Your horse won’t go on the trailer. You think it’s because he doesn’t like small doorways? So tell me, how does your horse feel about walking into his stable?” It’s not about the trailer.

    This is where the groundwork comes in. Whether you choose to play the Parelli games or to use a less formal system, the idea of all of these things is to work on your relationship. Pat Parelli also talks a lot about building a horse’s curiosity and making him confident and responsible for his own decisions and way of going, which made a lot of sense to me when I watched a tutorial. The Parelli concept here matches what Ben Hart would do, and what I saw Monty Roberts do at the demo I went to: start small, get them to touch things with their nose (and touch whatever you ask them to), then it builds to using their front feet (Apollo, I’d wager, is actually quite a confident young horse, because he likes exploring!) and going on from there. It’s not about having horses walk around with tarps on them just for the sake of it, or being able to stand on your horse whilst it’s lying down – I don’t necessarily agree with that stuff as an NH tactic, I think it’s more of a circus thing for entertainment. But if what you’re doing has a purpose, then it’s cool. What Monty Roberts did when I saw him was had a fence set up and gradually decreased the width of the gap that he expected to walk the horse through – forwards and backwards. Again: it’s not about the trailer.

    It may take months to achieve. I’ve seen it done in minutes (though I’m not sure that’s the right way to do it, because for me, it’s about creating a sustainable result, rather than a showy one). But I’d it’s about two things: firstly, is your horse confident enough in himself and you that he’ll do anything you ask, whether you’re on the ground or on his back? Does he know that you wouldn’t ask for anything he couldn’t or shouldn’t do? And the second point is partly a person’s attitude: it’s amazing how much your body language and the attitude you inadvertently give off has an impact – horses read your body, and if you go into a situation expecting it to be difficult and for it to not work, odds are it won’t. Visualisation is really important here, and it again sounds hippyish, but I’ve seen a change in my ability to do certain things massively improve purely because I’ve thought better about them.

    Sorry, that got way longer than I wanted it to!

    • therubbercurrycomb May 12, 2014 / 6:55 pm

      This all makes perfect sense. Both Otis and Apollo are pretty confident- nuzzling the tarpaulins covering some hay, knocking over wheelbarrows etc etc. peering into the cupboards, following me into the tack room, the list is endless.
      It’s also fascinating the difference in behaviour of horses with 2 different handlers. I won’t go into too much detail about this young mare…
      🙂 my friend and her youngster quite likes NH stuff so I’m sure she’ll get there in the end; he definitely knows his own mind and you can’t work against him!!

      • Becky May 12, 2014 / 7:00 pm

        I bet Otis and Apollo would both be great fun to play with and do horse agility with. Might invite myself over for a playdate when I’m back in the autumn 😉

        Oh yes, it’s ridiculous the difference in horses when they’re with one person versus another! Don’t know if you saw it but there was a show on Channel 4 two weeks ago about a boarding school for boys with behavioural problems… they’re the kids my friend works with, and there was a lot of footage of the equine therapy sessions my friend runs with her horses! I was so proud to be able to say I know her and the horses, but they all behave very differently with the kids compared to how they are with us (it’s really annoying, because they’re basically far more amenable with the kids, whereas if it’s me who’s got James the horse on the end of a rope, he stands grinning at me and taunting me with his “you don’t know how to make me do it” face on. But for the kids, he’ll happily piaffe or whatever!).

      • therubbercurrycomb May 12, 2014 / 7:03 pm

        Of course 🙂 come and play! and everyone says that equine therapy is the best – autistic or not! 🙂

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