Once you’ve done all the loading preparation exercises, your horse is ready to approach the box/trailer and begin traveling. Here are my tips to make this a fun and interesting experience for your horse, so that he becomes keen and eager to load.
1. Make the horse box a FUN place to be!
This video shows you some creative ways you can do that for both you and your horse:
2. Closing the Doors
Once your horse is really keen to be around, go into and stand in the box playing games, you can begin to close the partition. It’s often easier to have a helper at this point, so you can stand at your horse’s head playing a game, such as targeting, ‘smiling’ or head-down, while your friend starts to move the partition towards your horse. Move it a tiny amount to begin with, as this often causes horses to get anxious, play until your horse is calm, then take your horse out of the box.
Gradually build it up, always ensuring your horse is calm and happy, until you can shut the partition and the doors and your horse is happy to be left to for minutes at a time (you can do the leaving in the same way as I described to teach your horse to stand tied in Loading Tips and Tricks Part 1). You can also switch the engine on here, too.
If your horse isn’t happy standing still in the box in their yard where they feel safe, how will they feel about it in a strange place, if you break down or in a traffic jam? It’s a really great exercise to prepare your horse for easy travelling (and this exercise is often much harder for the human than the horse!).
3. On the Move
The first journey I tend to do will be very short – just a few meters down the yard – and very very slow, so the horse gets the idea of moving. Then, when you open the doors again, they’re still in their yard, which is comforting. I’ll do this a few times in a session, as well as loading and unloading again, too.
After that, I find they need a long journey to get their balance and learn how to travel, so I’ll take them out for an hour or 2, always finishing up at home for the first few journeys. This gives them the comfort and security of travelling before having to deal with the excitement and anxiety of being in a new place added into the mix.
4. Keeping it Up
When you start travelling your horse for real, the most important thing you can do is make travelling a good experience. So, firstly, drive slowly and carefully, especially with new travellers, so that they don’t get thrown around trying to keep their balance. Secondly, make sure most of your destinations are nice places to be – so meeting up for a relaxed horsey time with friends, for example. If most of your trips are to competitions and your horse finds these stressful (some horses love them, but others get really worried), or are mainly trips to the vet, these negative emotions will get associated with the box and your horse won’t want to load. So, keep the majority of travelling experiences fun and interesting for your horse and keep playing games around the box, too, so that it maintains good feelings and emotions for your horse.
These tips will help you on your way to an easy, willing loader!