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Serious loading problem - HELP

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  • Serious loading problem - HELP

    I sincerely hope someone can help....even if it is with a grain of advice. Or comfort. Here goes....long post, apologies in advance...

    I have a 6 year old WB sport horse, whom I have owned since 2 years of age. Personality and temperament wise - a lap dog, labrador. But a leader, not a follower. A quirky, keen and very brave boy. Very talented. Loved by everyone at the yard, especially by the small kids. And spoiled by his mom, very. All he knows I taught him, the good and the bad. I backed him myself when he turned 4, had a year of fun, and then turned on the more serious-work-odometer when he turned 5....only dressage and english showing, no jumping yet as I am very careful bringing him on too quickly - daddy only matured at 8 years of age. Careful of those precious legs. Popped him over a cavaletti or two, and the ears prick and the bum bucks - he loves it. My goal is making an all-rounder of him, he's got it in his blood.

    That is if I can get him in a trailer. To go to places where he, we, can have fun.

    So, my problem. Long story short.... I trained him to load as a baby, and he loaded FINE. No problems, I could take him to shows and show him off. Cause he is a beaut. Then we went through the backing process, obviously laying off the outings. When the time came, we entered a few shows, so we could get out there, get show fit and give him some exposure (when I say "we" that is my steed, me, my hubby, 3yo son, family, friends, fellow competitors). He loaded perfectly....until one show day we entirely missed our show. Because special pony wouldn't get in the trailer. And then two other shows were paid for, and we never got there to compete. I was told that he has a "pull-push-back pressure" problem - the moment he sees the trailer closing (2-berth straight load) or ANY movement behind him, he charges out. With force. A danger to both himself and the people with him.

    I went through an extensive 8 week training period with a loading expert with him, mainly using the Monty Roberts principles and tools (like the Dually halter), after which he loaded, got on, never quite relaxed, and we managed to get to exactly two shows. Thereafter, without warning, we had the same issue again. Not loading, missing shows, being very nervous. PLEASE NOTE: he travels alone, even loading my other horse (his "brother" which he stands with in a paddock during the day) or any other horse for that matter, makes a difference in him getting in. The trailer is spacious, without a stallion partition. I ALWAYS drive slow and carefully. And I always make sure he has the freshest and most luscious grass & lucern available to him while we travel. Not mentioning the treats and carrots. Which we run out of after a while.

    So, after the expert's methods didn't work, I did a LOT of research in terms of videos, articles, methods etc - and began to apply them. Knowing him so well, I could determine quite quickly what was going to work and what not. So we tried. And tried - trail and error. These sessions took place at the yard, with the stationary trailer hooked onto my car, so we could practice. And during one of those sessions, we had such a power struggle, he became so dangerous and ended up injuring not only me, but himself. To such and extent that he had to undergo surgery to save his eye which he bumped so badly that he lacerated the cornea. Very VERY traumatic experience for both of us. I still cry. He came out of the trailer after the horrific event, out of the theatre, out of the hospital - a lap dog. No bad behavior. Not towards me, or any of the vet staff. Thanks to our good and gracious Lord, we are on the mend.

    What to do? Where did it go wrong? I am unfortunately not in a position to truck or load him in a float. In our country, we each have our own 2-berth straight load trailer, hooked up to our cars, and that is how we get to shows. He is PERFECT, in every sense of the word. Except if I want to take him anywhere. He is as good as gold when he is in the trailer (eventually), travels quiet and very well. And when we stop and take him out, he backs out quietly with no issues. And when we get to the warm-up arena, he tells me "sit back Mom, I've got this". Mostly ending with the first place ribbon in all the classes.

    I am at my wits end. He is my, and my family's absolute dream horse, in every sense of the word. Now the trucking ghost is an even bigger issue. I. Don't. Know. What. To. Do. HELP? Any advice?

  • #2
    nothing is more scarey than a horse who struggles and fight when loading. You lost him when it reached that point.

    For a horse like this, in my opinion, you can not force him on if he's fighting or struggling. You have to only use

    single, steps TOWARDS getting on. If he decides NO and wants to quietly back off, that's OK, let him. If it takes

    100 tries that's OK. It's step by step, one step at a time. Let him know it's safe. One step towards trailer, praise and

    praise. Is this a stepup or ramp? Some horses hate step up.

    This will take much time and patience. You are re-wiring his brain to accept the scarey box. step by step.

    Also keep in mind, he may have decided he hates going to shows. Maybe too many classes, too much stress.

    Something major happened to sour him on the trailer. Maybe he bumped his head or his mouth or scrambled on

    a quick turn or stop. I have a hard loader who showed as a baby (before he came to me) but then lost 2 front

    teeth in some kind of mishap in the trailer. After that he hated trailers. The step by step procedure helped sometimes

    and other times we had to use gentle urging, but never let it get to the point of a fight. Once it does, someone will

    get hurt.

    "There is no fundamental difference between man and animals in their ability to feel pleasure and pain, happiness, and misery." - Charles Darwin


    • #3
      Someone recently posted a trailer loading video by TRT that seemed like it was really effective with a horse who was clearly pulling every trick in the book to not get on, and not stay on. Handler was no-nonsense, calm etc. Was being more of a nuisance to the horse when it answered "wrong" than forceful or fluffy.

      Can anyone find that link? I thought it was really well done.


      • #4
        1. Years ago, the horse I had raised from birth turned out to be claustrophobic in a 2-horse trailer.

        It took some thinking but I finally remembered my grandfather had come up to our farm to check on him while I was in school. Grandfather found the then several mo this old colt upside down in the cattle hay manger. How the cold got thru to the cow side in the first place will forever remain a mystery. How he ended up upside down in the hay manger is the second never solved mystery.

        The upside down business happened in 1960. Discovering he was claustrophobic in a 2-horse didn't happen until around 1970 when I started hauling out for big trail rides.

        i am in the U.S. I already had a 3/4 ton truck for the farm so I bought a 4-horse OPEN STOCK trailer and that forever solved all my loading issues with him.

        2. Have someone who knows what to look for check your floor boards and frailer frame. Three years ago, one of my well seasoned-loads-himself-senior horses suddenly refused to load. DH smirked when I said check the floorboards but he did anyway, to shut me up. The boards were only five years old but the trailer has to sit outside. Well, whaddaya know, some of the floor boards were rotting, and my seasoned horse sensed that. DH put in two new floors (my trailer is double-floored), and my horse again started loading by himself, after he spent 15 minutes sniffing the trailer and putting his front legs in/out several times to be sure it was safe.

        3. The trainer could have done something you will never know about.


        I am sorry I have no advice as to solving your problem because my advice would be to buy a bigger and more open trailer, which you can't do. I truly hope you can find a solution


        • #5
          Are you SURE that there are NO other options in trailers available in your country? The post above is the solution... a different sort of trailer. Higher roof. No partitions. Loose in a box stall. A "stock trailer" where a horse can walk into an open space, turn around and have a big door closed to secure the stall. Remove the source of the claustrophobic response, that "closed in" feeling. Some horses are just like that, being "closed in" and unable to move at all just doesn't suit them, and never will. They are "good" horses who try to do what is asked of them, but the meaning of the word "phobia" is "an irrational fear". It can not be "rationalized" away for them. Phobias in humans, who speak the same language as the psychologist working with them, and have (perhaps) a larger brain capacity than horses and pride themselves with "rationality", still have great difficulty in overcoming true phobias successfully. Because the fear is irrational.

          My point is... horse trailers ARE imported and exported by other countries, to other countries. Probably even to yours, if you look. Somebody else may have already imported such a trailer, and is now selling it. Or, perhaps YOU could do this yourself. An open "horse box" on a one ton (or bigger) truck chassis can be home built, either by you or by a manufacturing company. Years ago, many "problem loaders and shippers" were transported in my area by a fella who had just this, an open box, no roof at all, with three or four horses crammed in there, forelocks blowing in the wind as they were transported down the highway happily together. These were the local horses who refused to load into the horse trailers of the 1960s, or threw wrecks in these trailers, kicking them apart. They loaded and rode perfectly quietly and happily in an open truck. Pre-existing horse trailers can be modified at a welding shop, partitions and mangers ripped out, things changed to suit you and your horse. Horse trailers CAN be built to your personal specifications by welding/fabrication shops, anything you want. It's not inexpensive, but it is possible. Without partitions, in a situation "other" than a straight haul, you can turn the horse around so he is looking out, and close the door in FRONT of him rather than behind him.

          Good luck!


          • #6
            I imagine my story will be unpopular or unworkable, and I'm not necessarily advocating it. Just sharing for thought.

            I had a similar scenario with one of mine (couple of decades ago). After trying everything else we could think up, we gave him acepromazine (prescription sedative in the U.S.) for a few times in the trailer. Apparently the calming effect it had broke the association he had built up with "trailer" equals "time to panic." Again, not saying try this - but in my case with this particular horse, it was like magic. He went from a scarily thrashing horse to a horse I felt perfectly comfortable taking anywhere and everywhere by myself, with no drugs or anything else.

            Good luck. Sounds like you've got a nearly perfect horse!


            • #7
              I second the poster who said to check the floor boards. I had a similar experience with my sweet mare - suddenly she wouldn't load - and upon inspection the ramp was starting to rot. Got that fixed and she returned to being a steady loader.

              If the floor is FOR SURE sound then it may be claustrophobia and you need a bigger trailer as others have said.

              Just to note there are a lot of handler injuries with horses who will not load or shoot back/sideways so be careful !
              Forward...go forward


              • #8
                Have you tried feeding him his grain in the trailer for a few weeks? Make the trailer a space where only good things happen.

                I would start by feeding him next to the trailer, on a lead. Then once he's calm, feed him from the ramp or at the end of the trailer if its a step up and slowly move him further in until he loads happily to eat. When he's doing that calmly you can start taking him for short rides around the block while he eats his grain until the whole thing is comfortable experience


                • #9

                  Most horses that refuse to load after originally loading, do so because of what is happening while they are travelling. Simething like a piece of wire jingling near their face or bits of hay whirling around their face from the wind.

                  Remove all hay, feed etc when travelling. It can cause it being swirled around their face. It can cause choke and I would wish that on anyone.

                  Put the trailer with a solid fence behind so he can't go far. Teach him to walk forward with a click. Halt when you say halt and go back with a thumb not doing anything resting on his chest and the word back. Always 2 signals for back.

                  Teach him to come when called. Teach him that being with you is safe. Ask him to walk towards the trailer. Praise. Ask him to back. Praise. Ask him to halt. Praise.

                  Rinse and repeat. If he goes back. Go back jiggling the lead rope until he stops or comes towards you. The fence will help with that. Take him back to the trailer. Commiserate with him. What nasty thing happened to him over near the fence? Isn't it nice here with the trailer? Praise and stroke.

                  Ask for 2 hooves on the ramp. Halt. Praise. Ask to back. Halt praise.

                  Rinse and repeat until 4 hooves on. Praise. Back. Praise.

                  Rinse and repeat until in trailer. Eventually you should be able to put on back 2 strides, go in back 4 strides, forward 2 strides whatever you want.

                  Good luck.

                  If you do feed in the float, do not let him decide when to back out. He only backs out when told, which later can be the word back and a gentle tug on the tail.
                  It is better to ride 5 minutes a day than it is to ride 35 minutes on a Sunday.


                  • #10
                    I had one similar. He developed a fear of 2 horse straight loads to the point of issues walking past one open for loading.

                    The key to him was getting him able to back out one or two steps and stop still partway in the trailer. It sounds like insane advice when you have one flying back at high speed, but in the beginning I just held a bit of tension on the lead rope until he stopped. That was many feet away from the trailer at first because once he started backing off, he was going all the way and then some! Gradually the stop got closer and closer to the trailer, and finally happened on the trailer.

                    The pre work was all about teaching him to respond to tension on the lead. I stood and put come forward pressure on the rope, vibrating it but not increasing it until he moved a foot forward. The instant any foot moved forward I dropped the rope (from my tension hand, the other hand still held the tail) releasing the pressure.

                    The other half was teaching back up one step at a time and using the forward pressure on the lead to stop the backing up. These can be done simultaneously with 2-5 steps forward then back, then forward, then back, with appropriate halt time to think about it (the horse, not you). Do this everywhere you can, not just in an open yard or ring. Going into the barn, a stall, a puddle, over a pole, between poles...


                    • #11
                      I had a pony who was a terrible loader. We decided to hook up the trailer and ride around in it without the pony in it to see why he did not like it. It turned out that part of the manger was loose and making scary sounds. We fixed the issue, and made suuuper thick pads along each side of the trailer so the little pony had a way to spread his feet for balance but still get side support from the pads. The floors and electrical had already been checked but we did upgrade him to thicker softer mats underfoot.

                      After all the upgrades we fed him in the trailer every night for weeks without going anywhere. He went from being a pony who took three hours to load to one who would self load when you tossed the lead roap over his back and pointed him at the trailer. I do not think this sounds like your issue but I second all the other posters who encourage looking for reasons that bad associations have occurred.


                      • #12
                        My gelding was always difficult to load, and after being humiliated when it took pretty much the entire vet tech staff to get him back on the trailer at the vet hospital one day, I decided to deal with the problem.

                        He also would get on the trailer, but then back out before I could go around and close the trailer. Of course having someone close it behind him is A) dangerous to that person, and B) not always possible. I want to be able to load my horses by myself for convenience, and if there's ever an emergency that requires it.

                        So I ended up getting an old lariat with a quick release on it. My trailer is a 2-horse straight load with a big escape door and no mangers. Once he was walking in and backing out nicely, I started running the lariat through the tie ring. The end would run along the outside to the back of the trailer, and I could walk him in, hook up the quick release to his halter, and then proceed out the back or escape door, holding onto the rope. If he decided to back out, I would just feed the line a little so he didn't panic, but also couldn't fly out backwards and think he was free. Eventually he learned to stay standing nicely while I went around the back and put up the butt bar. He is to this day a nervous loader, but he's retired, so this is good enough for the rare time he needs to go to the vet. I always keep that lariat in the trailer. It's better than a lunge line because it is stiff, so it doesn't flop and tangle if there is some slack in it.

                        I also used it on a mare I had who did similar backing out routine, and the lariat trick worked well with her too. The quick release is key because one pull and it unhooks in an emergency, even with tension on it, unlike a regular lead snap.

                        With both horses, I was able to pull my trailer into the arena, next to a fence, so they couldn't dodge out one side. This also allowed me to work them when they decided on their own to fly back out of the trailer. The idea was to make the trailer a more pleasant place than outside of the trailer.

                        Working on walking in, I'd always try to stop and back them out before it became their idea. I wanted to decide exactly how much horse should be in the trailer. No jumping in or jumping out.

                        With the mare, I found that what she could see out of the escape door was important. If she could see other horses once she was in the trailer, she would be much happier that if there was just a view of the side of the barn.

                        Also, I would just put up the butt bar only the first several times that they loaded and stood nicely. Keep both big escape doors open, and only start closing doors one by one over time to avoid the claustrophobia.


                        • #13
                          I can't think of much that hasn't been said here, but would this horse possibly self-load better than he leads in? Push pressure vs pull pressure to load on the trailer.

                          My mare was trained as a baby to self-load. I did not know this, and ended up in a bad situation because I was trying to lead her in, because that was all I knew how to do. I talked to her breeders, got their exact routine (including grain**) and applied it. Over and Over. She was not easy to load, but she didn't flip out over pressure from behind (a push) the way she did over pressure from the front (a pull.) Occasionally, someone would lead her in, with a fight, and then she'd be squirrely about self-loading for a while. And I'd start over. (This was worst at a barn where the BO completely forbade self-loading because she was worried about the horse getting away.)

                          She now loads easily, about 95% of the time, with a very precise routine. She's very food-motivated, which helps. I will admit to being a far from perfect "leader" for her, and occasionally I need help, usually when loading her to go back to the barn. She's never refused to load when there were no other horses around (herdbound critter). It bothers me that she's not 100% reliable, but at 21 I am not asking her to change a lot.

                          She also self-unloads, though she can start to come out pretty quickly. A hand on her butt (more "push" pressure) slows her down. Someone holding her by the leadrope in front of her while she backs off can get very ugly, so I just don't do it

                          ** Loading was the *only* time her breeders used treats. They maintained that loading into a trailer is such an unnatural behavior that using *something* to get the horse's mind off how scary it is was OK.
                          You have to have experiences to gain experience.

                          1998 Morgan mare Mythic Feronia "More Valley Girl Than Girl Scout!"


                          • #14
                            I agree with the posters who suggest there may be an issue with the trailer.

                            I bought a used 2-horse bumper pull trailer for my mare when she was 3yrs old. Practiced loading and unloading, and short hauls. She was great. The summer of her 4yr old year we went to a handful of shows, all about 1-1/2 hrs away. It took four people half an hour and a lot of patience to get her on the trailer to come home from our last show of the season. I spent that autumn working with her to get her to get on, but she would fly off as soon as all four feet were in. On our last effort she ended up stepping on my foot trying to avoid getting on altogether and broke a toe. I gave up and decided to sell the trailer.

                            The following spring I upgraded to brand new trailer, still a 2-horse bumper pull, but bigger all around for her. She was self loading into the new trailer within 15mins the first day I had it, and 8yrs later still has no hesitation. She also willingly climbed in to all other trailers I have faced her with.

                            Not sure what it was about my original trailer, but she definitely DID NOT like it.


                            • #15
                              Nothing to really add but I just remembered a story about trailer loading. I was working at barn on weekends and one weekend, this one trainer's client had entered a show and when I got to the barn they were attempting to load her horse. They tried everything and I mean everything. It went from the lunge line to the treats to loading another horse first, nothing worked, they even tried building a chute to drive her in. Nope. They were still trying to load her when I left for the day about 5 hours later even though the show was probably over by then. I tell you what, since that escapade I made sure every horse I owned was a good loader.

                              You'll get there, lots of good suggestions here. Go over your trailer with a fine toothed comb, there's got to be a reason he's not getting in. I had to bribe one horse for a while to get him in. After he got used to loading and unloading he'd get in without the bribe.


                              • #16
                                I had a gelding who was a horrible and dangerous loader. His go-to was rearing. I don't know what his history was before I had him but we went to two shoes and both times it was a multi-hour effort to load up and go home. Same with trying to move barns... had a professional come out and work with him but it was still an ordeal and as such, traumatic for him.

                                Once at new barn the BO allowed me to park her trailer in the ring and that's where he was fed. If he wanted his grain, it was in the trailer. Start with baby steps of course... put the feed bucket a few feet from the trailer, once he comfortably accepts that, put it on the edge of the ramp (or edge of the step). After several days, once he was fine with that, I would move it to 3/4 up the ramp so he had to step on the ramp to get the grain. Continue process slowly moving bucket further inside the trailer until he is all the way in. Then, work on moving behind him, and eventually, closing him in.

                                Doing this twice a day for two months, the horse then loaded like a pro even on different trailers.
                                "People ask me 'will I remember them if I make it'. I ask them 'will you remember me if I don't?'"


                                • #17
                                  Oh, I'll add, I am another one whose horse refused to load into what turned out to be an unsafe trailer. It was cramped and dark as well. I upgraded to a big airy Hawk trailer and that helped a lot.
                                  You have to have experiences to gain experience.

                                  1998 Morgan mare Mythic Feronia "More Valley Girl Than Girl Scout!"


                                  • #18
                                    My horse developed a problem loading. And I tried all of the above suggestions and was beyond frustrated and baffled.

                                    One day, I decided to ride in the trailer with him to see what was going on. Turns out that my horse was slipping on the hard rubber mats because he was shod. I figured out he didn't slip when barefoot so I pulled his shoes and went barefoot/hoofboots.

                                    It was too easy. He got over his loading problem.


                                    • #19
                                      I have often wondered if the reason that some horses prefer a stock trailer to a regular horse trailer is that stock trailers are more open and allow more light in.

                                      A lot of horses don't like going into dark spaces; their eyes don't adjust quickly and they can't see where they're going. It might be worth experimenting if there's anyway to rig up a light safely in the trailer for loading purposes. I do think that the horse probably also now has enough negative experiences with loading that you'll have to go through much of the desensitization process again anyway.

                                      Good luck; I know it's beyond frustrating as well as dangerous.
                                      "The formula 'Two and two make five' is not without its attractions." --Dostoevsky


                                      • #20
                                        I had a stock trailer and when I bought my Arab he was an easy loader. Over time he became anxious and got to the point where he didn't want to load. I hooked up and had a friend pull the trailer while I rode alone in the back and OMG the sound was HORRIBLE. Loud metal banging! Now, my QH mare was fine in that trailer. Some horses are OK with whatever.

                                        I promised my Arab I would never ask him to load in that trailer again and bought a big, white, lots of windows, Trail-Et and do you know he quickly went back to self loading, happy and relaxed. And I mean, drop the ramp and he would almost run in and stand there. Of course, we were hauling out to the local parks to hack and it's like taking your dog to the park. Makes for easy loading when they love where you are going.
                                        Last edited by PaddockWood; Apr. 10, 2019, 03:02 PM.