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Trailering frustration [long vent]

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  • Trailering frustration [long vent]

    My horse and I both love trail riding, and she has never put a foot wrong out on the trail. However.....

    Yesterday, she got on the trailer with maybe 10 minutes of fun and games (she'll march right on behind me, then pop off before I can get the butt bar up. We haven't gotten to self-loading). She isn't scared, her trailer is bright and cool and quiet; she's just yanking my chain. Anyway, several rounds of calm but firm "I am the lead mare and you will put your feet where I tell you and keep them there," and she gave up and parked in the trailer and stood there pretending it was her idea, while I walked around the trailer, fussed with tack, etc. with her standing at liberty in the trailer and not moving. Fine. Off we go to the local town forest. Uneventful trailer ride -- horse is calm and cool upon arrival (and it's only 15 minutes away). We have a wonderful trail ride. We get back to the parking lot. Two hours later, we are still in the parking lot. I am beginning to worry about sunset, my husband divorcing me, my children rotting their brains in front of whatever hubby is letting them watch on TV for hours on end, etc. Numerous hikers, mountain bikers, and even the town police have tried to help. Horse is just more and more dead set against getting in. I am in tears, hot, tired, and angry. Entire barn staff is away at a show, and no answer at barn. I put tack back on, button trailer up and ride home on two-lane roads with light evening traffic. Stupid horse [whom I really do love beyond measure] who would not get on stupid trailer for stupid 15-minute drive home to nice dinner and pasture, happily trots down roads in a lovely dressage frame with gorgeous impulsion (Mommy was very angry, and if we were going to ride home, horse was damn well going to work). Man in silver Porsche convertible can't take his eyes off her. If only he knew. Anyway, horse is happy as a clam. We ride through the center of town - brightly colored flags flapping, narrow sidewalks with lots of parked cars, manhole covers, decorated sidewalks, people on the other side of windows, store windows full of merchandise and reflections, motorcycles, noisy landscaping trucks pulling trailers full of weird machinery, etc. Horse eats it all up. Perfectly happy.

    Get back to barn just before sunset, put horse away, kind barnmate drives me back to trailhead, collect trailer, go home (where foster dog, stressed by changed in day's routine, bites other dog and then bites me). Not a good day for interactions with animals! :-)

    So, what now? I could do more groundwork, but her groundwork is perfectly lovely -- she yields to pressure, yields her hind end or backs up with a change in your body position, etc. She did all that perfectly smartly yesterday, but it didn't get her on the trailer. I'm sure it would be easier with another horse, but, if I relied on other people to go with, I'd never get to go. And, besides, we have ridden alone so much, my horse now gets resentful of another horse-- she seems to be saying "What's wrong with just us?" What's wrong is that she needs to get her butt on the trailer, is what's wrong with just us. :-)

    I am feeling discouraged. What good does it do for her to get on the trailer in the barn parking lot if she isn't going to get back on at the other end? Right now, I am feeling about ready to sell my trailer and forget it. There are nice trails from our barn, though they get boring after a while as they aren't limitless. I know I don't really want to give up, but, the practical aspects of life (time, frustration, etc.) being what they are.....

  • #2
    Your mare sounds lovely, and I'm sure this is just a bump in the road. My gelding, who is normally a good loader (he self loads), did this to me once, when he took hours to get back in the trailer. I have no idea why he didn't want to go home either, after a long training ride at the forestry. What finally worked was taking one of those white temporary plastic fence posts (there happened to be one in the trailer tack room) and very gently tapping him rhythmically just above the hock. Tap, tap, tap, tap, .... without stopping. People who were helping wanted to tap, tap, tap, stop then tap, tap, tap. But what works is just repetitive tapping without any stops. It was gentle, didn't hurt him, but he finally moved away from the annoyance and onto the trailer. It works like a charm whenever he gets balky, which isn't too often. I don't even have to touch him with it anymore. I just show it to him if he gets balky, and he jumps right on the trailer.

    It even worked when he didn't want to get on a strange trailer that had a huge step up into it. I went to get the stick while my friends held him. It was their trailer, and they tried to load him while they waited for me. He had a major refusal and pulled back for them (they were strangers). I wasn't too happy with them, as they should have waited for me. However, I just showed my horse the fencepost, and he jumped on. Again, he has never been struck with it, only tapped repeatedly in a consistent rhythm right above the hock.

    Its like Chinese water torture. It is gentle and repetitive and become intolerable over time.

    Good luck with your girl! And I’m sorry about the dog bite.


    • #3
      Been there, done that more times than I care to admit. Like ToiRider, I have found that a combination of RELENTLESS patience and tapping get the job done. But it takes a supreme level of emotional control. You must have the thought firmly in your mind that you have all the time in the universe and are willing to use it FOREVER with the tapping. The horse must believe that the issue of loading is never going to go away and that getting on the trailer is the only solution. Once they truly believe, they load.

      "Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit."
      - Desiderata, (c) Max Ehrman, 1926


      • #4
        Sometimes, it is better to pay a professional. We had similar trailering issues when my horse was a 4 year old. A few sessions with a pro were wonderful. She rode him hard for about 20 minutes, told him he was wonderful, then asked him to load. After the first few successful loading sessions with lots of praise, he balked while loading and she screamed at him. That was it. He has loaded well since those sessions. On occasion, he will hesitate as he starts to self load. Then, I can see the memory of being yelled at come back and he rushes into the trailer.

        I will never be an authority figure to my horse. I adore him and he seems quite fond of me. However, if someone has to be an authority figure, I am not the one. Therefore, I am happy to pay a good trainer to teach my big boy necessary skills like loading.


        • #5
          Have someone meet you with your rig at trail...and Ride the Dam mare there. If she wants to go home to eat its in the trailer..
          spend the day do it early, make sure her breakfast and water are in the trailer...mares!!!!!!!!!!!!!


          • #6
            Oh do I feel your pain...

            Went to the first show the "big horse" and I have been to in 2 years. He marched right on the trailer, and truthfully, it was a miserable hour and a half on the hottest day of the year, traffic, wrecks, really bad directions, you name it. He came off the trailer ringing wet. Showed in two easy, intro classes early next morning. He would not get back in the big metal box. I've taken out the center divider in a warmblood sized straight load two horse and made a custom butt bar to go all the way across the back. He put two feet on the ramp, reared up, whirled away while on two legs and ran off to the outdoor arena, where fortunately, there was no one warming up and it was fenced with a gate. Onlookers ooohhhed and ahhhed over his gorgeous "big" trot. I was not amused. We backed the trailer up to the barn aisle, the BNT and took him a lap with a chain over his nose, then walked him right on while the judge (oh yeah, he'll remember us next time) closed the butt bar and the ramp.

            I always have to have a second person at least as he won't stand in the trailer, and I hate it. The slant load was lovely til he outgrew it. Odd thing is, that he will stand like a statue in his stall for tacking up and stand like a statue in the aisle, not in cross ties, as long as I want while untacking, and not move a toe til I tell him he can. But the trailer??? Nope, I do think he's a bit claustrophobic, he hauls well in the mare/foal box stall type or in a six horse where he has head hang out room.

            I'm trying to find a 4h head to head, so I can swing the box stall gate behind me and load myself from the side ramp, which he seems to like.

            I've sold horses that were bad loaders.

            Hate it.


            • #7
              LOVE IT!

              Yeah, if she can ride all the way thru town happy as a lark, I think having her do it without breakfast, and then to have it on the trailer waiting for her is brilliant! Just THINK how she'll come to love that trailer!
              "Indecision may or may not be my problem"
              --Jimmy Buffett


              • #8
                John Lyons says a trailering problem has nothing to do with the trailer - it's a leading problem. The horse does not have enough trust and respect in the handler to go where they lead. They might lead great down the driveway or out to the paddock, but those are usually drilled and drilled by default because horse HAS to walk from stall to paddock every single day. Horse knows the routine, horse does it. But when trailering happens only 4x a year, or once a month, or even once a week, it just isn't drilled enough to become a conditioned response. There haven't been enough situations of you asking the horse to follow your lead through unfamiliar or undesirable locations.

                Thankfully I have never had one of my horses refuse to load, but then I do so much weird stuff with them around the barn that they know to follow, regardless of where I'm going. I make them walk through skinny man-sized doors, over tarps, through puddles, step over hay bales, walk through tires. Anything you can think of to get their feet going over or through (that's SAFE obviously).

                When Sweets was a baby I would set up a maze of obstacles in the barn aisle before sending her through to her stall. She had to negotiate around and over safe items to get into the stall where the feed was. I also hung a huge tarp from the rafters in the arena and when she longed, she had to go under the tarp and out the other side. She'd hit that tarp at a trot, and the tarp would fly up in the air and she'd go under it and out the other side. We have a steep ditch near our house and I'd practice sending her up and down the ditch.

                I do believe John Lyons when he says the trailer is not the problem. The problem is the horse not having respect and trust in its leader. He says to forget the trailer, take that right out of the picture. Do so many leading challenges with your horse that he's absolutely bored with having to walk through, around, and over stuff. The horse expects you to point him at different things and he will be expected to negotiate it. Period!

                Only when the horse will follow you ANYWHERE through anything, over anything, do you add the trailer back to the equation.

                Pouring down rain in the dark, in 90 degree heat, doesn't matter. Those are just petty details. When you point the horse at the trailer, they go, and that's the end of it.

                (Obviously if the horse has ever had a freak out in the trailer or other really bad experience, then it probably *is* truly about the trailer, but it doesn't sound like your mare's situation.)

                My big Monster mare can have a bit of an attitude and on occasion she's flipped me the finger when I told her to get in. A hearty whallop on the @ss with the rope fixes that. That mare will go anywhere, do anything, and I know when it's just attitude. Sometimes with mares, you have to make it clear that you have the power to snuff out their candle. But you have to know your own horse and know when it's a pissy attitude, or fear, or lack of training on your part.

                One time after literally 4 hours of trying to get a 17 hand Hanoverian mare in a trailer, my mother and I tied a sweatshirt around her eyes in a blindfold, and 30 seconds later she was on the trailer and tied up. Too bad it took 4 hours to figure it out. In the future, I'd go to that much quicker if I HAD to get a horse in a trailer and there was no other option. This horse was moving to a different state and she HAD to get in. There was no option to work on more training first. She had already missed the first trailer headed south because she wouldn't get on. So this was her 2nd and final chance.

                And yay, good for you for making Miss Priss WORK on her ride home I would have too!


                • #9
                  Sounds just like my mare. It's not "I'm scared", it's not "I don't feel confident in a trailer", it's not, "I don't know where we're going", it's, "I don't WANT to, and you can't make me".

                  What we ended up doing, is backing the trailer into the arena (thank goodness it fit!), and longing her in front of the trailer. Try and load her, and if she refused, back on the longe. Her only options were..

                  1, work.
                  2, rest in the trailer.

                  It did work, but only after 3 hours of trying every other option.
                  Tell a Gelding. Ask a Stallion. Discuss it with a Mare... Pray if it's a Pony!


                  • #10
                    It's true it's fundamentally a leading and respect problem (but pulleeze, John Lyons is hardly the first to come to this revelation).

                    Regardless of gender, horses do instantly pick up on your mood and emotions- I expect most everyone here has experienced the normal good loader who balks when handlers are 'in a hurry,' usually running late for the show. So, for starters, 'every' time I load a horse I convey the ho-hum, leisurely let's get on the trailer now, if you were to choose to delay, horse, well, I've got all day...

                    I would suggest that you pick a day when you aren't stressed, in a hurry, whatever, load your mare, (yes, even if it does take hours- but it typically won't if you aren't in a hurry!) go to trail head, get on, ride briefly, and be prepared to devote however long it takes to get her to load. Outlast her. Expressing your frustrations not allowed! Keep the tack on, if she plants, simply get on and work her at trot/canter for 10-15 minutes, dismount, ask for load, rinse and repeat. Once she has the brilliant idea to get on, an appropriate reward- good girl, carrot, hay in the manger, whatever, and head home.

                    My little mare always loaded great for me, I did have to lead her in initially but got to self loading pretty quickly. Until the day a friend borrowed her for a trail ride with me. I loaded my gelding at the end of the day, she went to load my mare and missed the ramp. Mare, being clever, had an aha moment- I don't have to go straight in if I don't want to? She did load right away when I loaded her, but since then, every now and then, she'll plant at bottom of ramp (like you, after the trail ride!) and 'think about it.' I would bet I could hit her or jerk her or spin her under the theory 'make the wrong thing hard and the right thing easy,' without success- she is very smart and would happily take a beating and then just stand there some more. So, I don't go there. I simply convey the impression that she can load now or load later, but she will load. I run the lead rope up through the stall and out the escape door and just lean nonchalantly against the trailer, watching her watching me. Because I've got all day. After, oh, 10 seconds, maybe 15, her little thought balloon says 'gee, I think I'll load now,' and away we go.


                    • #11
                      while I can agree in this poster's situation, it may? be a 'leading' issue, I only wanted to add that is NOT always the case.
                      My gelding is 13 this year....( 13 !!!! ) We've been trailering the whole time....backyard shows, national shows, trail rides, judged trail rides, overnight and longer trips, etc, etc, etc....and he walks on like a champ, first time, every time. Never a hesitation. He's never had a dangerous/bad situation in a trailer.

                      but as soon as he's on...he begins to stress. No kicking/rearing, obviously (!) but piaff...snort....head toss.... dance, dance, dance. (I insist if I had a 'Fred Flintstone' bottomless trailer, he could run himself there) Calling, calling.... Total body sweat, veined out in no time.

                      Yes, another horse 'helps' a great deal....but doesn't solve it.

                      I'm the one sinking into the truck seat at the stop lights...because my trailer is dancing wheel to wheel behind me....

                      I'm a very good and cautious hauler. I've tried ear plugs, variety of trailers, different hay bags, calming supplements (when not at a judged event) yada...yada...yada....

                      Its not always a leading problem. And I really didn't post this for advice, because in past years, I've heard it all, and tried just about everything...really (!) He is who he is...and he's not going to outgrow it...it was just an input that some trust the leader completely, to the point of never questioning the request... but still (!!) hate the trailer!
                      "Indecision may or may not be my problem"
                      --Jimmy Buffett


                      • #12
                        I would find a pro to assess the mare in person.

                        My pal P used to haul her mare R over here to ride the road. One day R wouldn't load to leave. P did the whole make 'em work in circles a la Clinton Anderson, but failed to notice that R was HAPPILY sashaying around in the yard, whilst my peanut gallery of geldings admired her. With each change of direction, R crept closer and closer to the fence. I was about to bite my tongue in two. I did finally say work her on the boring side of the trailer, not over here with an audience. 2-3 circles later, R was on the trailer, the party was over.


                        • #13
                          I don't know if this is the case but look at how you drive and the route you take. Are you taking the shortest route there but it has hills, is bumpy or has lots of curves.
                          A friends horse always loaded well. I knew the horse for years with two prior owners. Suddenly the horse started to not load. Like 2 plus hours to go home. It was how the owners husband was driving. He changed how he drives and now the horse loads.

                          I know I always load a single horse on the drivers side. But maybe try to load on the other side for one trip. I know of some horses that really have a preference on which side of the trailer they ride on.

                          Like another poster I find that if I go with the attitude that I have ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD to load that seems to help. The tap, tap, tap, tap, tap on the hip. You never get frustrated and have all the patience in the world. Think ZEN.
                          Oh, well, clearly you're not thoroughly indoctrinated to COTH yet, because finger pointing and drawing conclusions are the cornerstones of this great online community. (Tidy Rabbit)


                          • Original Poster

                            Thanks -- now give me the patience. :-)

                            Thanks everyone for the tips! I think the thing that will work best is the tapping. Inexhaustible patience is usually what works when she balks at something on the trail -- I just sit deep and calmly tell her we will stand facing whatever it is until she's ready to go past it, and in a few moments and after a few tries at scooting in other directions, she sighs and we move on (this is when she is just doing the "I don't wanna!" -- not when she is genuinely scared. We all know the difference. :-) ).

                            I drive like a little old lady with that trailer; not to worry. A filled wine glass wouldn't tip over, the way I drive when loaded (yes, scientific research has been conducted).

                            Excluding the trailer, she already will follow me through pretty much anything. If I'm leading her on the trail, she pretty much just dumps the responsibility on me and enjoys the view. She will follow me through thigh-deep water that you can't see the bottom of, etc.

                            I can't see yelling doing much good -- she's a 20yo Arab mare who has had two children of her own, and I don't think she'd be impressed. And, working her hard outside the trailer didn't seem to fuss her much either. She was fine with it. She had made her decision and anything was fine except getting on the trailer. I do have very wonderful professional trainers at the barn, but there's only so much they can do. :-) We will try tapping. I can tap with one hand and drink an iced tea with the other. Heck, I can drink an iced tea all day long.


                            • #15
                              Tapping is a good technique (go forward cue), but make sure the horse knows what the tap means without the trailer first. Train the horse to step up at the tap on the hip. You don't want to start tapping and end up drinking 9 gallons of iced tea over a 3 day period while the horse simply ignores you. Train the cue first really really well so the horse responds to it immediately every single time before adding the trailer.

                              I watched a tappy tap game go south on an Oldenburg/QH mare. My friend was stuck in my driveway until well after dark playing the tap game while the mare told her to go to hell. She would "increase the pressure" (harshness of the tap) until she was really whacking the mare, at which point the mare would run backwards frantically and pop up off the ground on the front end. Horse would be walked back up to the trailer, tapping would start, horse would ignore, pressure would increase, mare would run backwards dragging owner off her feet, rinse repeat, over and over for hours. If pressure wasn't increased, and tap maintained at a gentle, annoying tap tap tap, then mare would completely ignore her, cock a hind foot and not budge a muscle.

                              So don't start something you aren't prepared to finish. If it means you stand there for 17 hours, then you have to be willing to do it.

                              And be aware of the fact that some horses - especially old/wise mares, might take exception to you annoying the crud out of them for hours on end, and take measures to stop your annoying tapping. That could mean bolting and running you over, spinning hindquarters to you and double barrel firing, or pulling the leadrope away and taking off.

                              I just heard a story yesterday at a barn where I was trimming. A farrier was trimming a gelding and the gelding kept pulling a foot away. Every time the gelding pulled the foot, the farrier would slap him on the shoulder. Pull, slap. Pull, slap. Pull, slap. Apparently the farrier thought when the horse gets sick of being slapped, he'll quit pulling his leg. Finally the horse said eff you and charged the man, throwing him up against a gate and going after him with teeth.

                              Personally, I'm not willing to take that kind of chance, and that's why I train the horse without the trailer first to lead wherever I say, when I say, without question. Incessantly tapping a horse and annoying the crap out of them is not a training technique. Horses understand training but they don't understand being badgered for hours on end with no correct answer, and no release.

                              Train the go forward cue very thoroughly in a neutral setting (no trailer!) first. Get a handler if needed to help the horse understand. You tap on hip, handler asks horse to step up with lead rope. As soon as horse steps up, reward lavishly with hugs and pets, and a carrot. Make it fun. Make the horse understand that stepping up when the cue is given is the correct release from pressure.

                              When you're in front of a trailer doing this, the horse has two options - step up into the big black box that she clearly hates, or stand there and endure the badgering by your whip. There is no "correct answer" in the horse's mind. There is no reward. There are only 2 options - both equally sucky.


                              • #16
                                I've always taught mine to self load and for the first two or three weeks we would have them the trailer was their stall. Which works wonderful when you are at the house. However doesn't always work when you are away from home. For that I adore apples, carrots, mints & alfalfa cubes. I would have a bucket with that horse's treats in the front of the trailer and on they loaded. Instant reward of food and if you are in the trailer with them gives you a chance to get out and get the door closed. If said horse gets smart to that trick and eat fast enough and back out I would work on ground tying. But it is the mindset of we can do this all day if you want but either way you are getting on that trailer. We did have a mare that would not load in the dark, that's an interesting issue that took forever to resolve until we rigged a flashlight in the front of the trailer. As long as the flashlight was on she was good, no flashlight no load. Had to keep extra batteries in the truck for that lovely.
                                Adoring fan of A Fine Romance
                                Originally Posted by alicen:
                                What serious breeder would think that a horse at that performance level is push button? Even so, that's still a lot of buttons to push.


                                • #17
                                  I have a gelding that loaded beautifully the first time I put him in a trailer. I loaded him several times since then and each time he just walked right up into the trailer. Then one day he decided that he didn't have to get into the trailer if he didn't want to. It wasn't fear or anything like that he just found that in a test of strength he wins. Every horse is different and we found that driving from behind does NOT work on this horse and makes things much worse so that was the day he met the dreaded red rope! I took a red nylon tape lunge line replaced the cheap easily broken clip with a large bull snap and snapped to his halter. The other end I wrapped one time around the supports in the trailer. He could pull all he wanted but he wasn't going to pull me out of the trailer. Soon he gave up and walked right up onto the trailer. It took one more lesson and now when he balks at loading all I have to do is show him the red lunge tape and his whole demeanor changes. He lowers his head and walks right into the trailer. Your mare is having a great time defeating you....it is all about outsmarting her now.
                                  "My biggest fear is that when I die my husband is going to try to sell all my horses and tack for what I told him they cost."


                                  • #18
                                    I guess not everyone is a John Lyons fan, but I am !! I think you should try his trailer loading method. I have used it on young and old with the same result--they load. No force, fear or intimidation. It just takes "TIME" and so many people don't think they have time to waste. How much precious time was wasted in fighting with the mare, then riding her home, then going to get the trailer. What if you were too far from home to ride back? Look up an article on line. He has a magazine called " perfect horse" and you should be able to find it there. I also make trailer loading a permanent part of my horses routine. I keep it parked near the barn and secured. After my horses are exercised I load them up( a few times a week) before putting them away. They think it's no big deal. Good luck


                                    • #19
                                      I have a gelding that I've taught numerous ways to get on the trailer.

                                      As it turns out, he didn't feel good physically. So he didn't want to suffer the ride, much less suffer through a show or other work (lesson) when we got where we were going. Then he was tire and sore and didn't want to get back on to go home.

                                      I'm not saying that's your mare's problem. I'm just saying that it could be something else you don't know about.

                                      Anyway, I've got several day-by-day videos on YouTube regarding my training a boarder's horse to self load in the trailer. Go to YouTube and search for Laurie57 and Roo Trailer Loading Clicker Training.

                                      Best wishes to you and your mare.
                                      Laurie Higgins
                                      "Expectation is premeditated disappointment."


                                      • #20
                                        Originally posted by judybigredpony View Post
                                        Have someone meet you with your rig at trail...and Ride the Dam mare there. If she wants to go home to eat its in the trailer..
                                        spend the day do it early, make sure her breakfast and water are in the trailer...mares!!!!!!!!!!!!!
                                        this is sheer genius.
                                        The journey is the destination.