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training to load on the trailer

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  • training to load on the trailer

    I have an 18 month old colt that I bred, my one and only go at breeding with a very nice, good temperament and mover mare I own. So he has not left the farm yet. The below is all with a 2 horse straight load with a ramp.

    I waited until a couple months ago to load him on the trailer for the first time, next to his mom. No issues loading, he got right on and ate the grain we had waiting for him. Then backing up to go off, he threw up his head and scrapped the hair off a couple inches above his eye right at the edge of the back of the trailer. On the inside. There is a pad there, but it was enough to take the hair. So then it took longer again to get him back on, but we did, and I started walking him back off holding bits of carrot down so he head would stay down. Did that every day for a week. Got to the point where I could throw the rope over his neck and he would walk on by himself. Continued though to back him up myself off.

    Tonight, which is about a month later, I thought I would load him again, see what he remembered, as I had come home from a lesson off the farm so had the trailer hooked up. Threw the rope over his neck, he walked right on, ate an apple, and I went again, to walk him back off, still with the carrot down a bit so his head was lower, and again, he threw up his head right at the back end where the ramp meets the trailer, and scrapped hair again off above his eye! It's as if as soon as his back feet step of the ramp onto the ground, it scares him or something. So then I spent 30 minutes walking him at least mostly up the ramp, a couple steps into the trailer, and then back off eating the carrot keeping his head down. Sometimes he keeps it down, sometimes he doesn't but he didn't hit his head again, just jerked and raised it up.

    This is all on level ground, and the ramp really is not that steep. It's not a short ramp or anything. The end of the ramp to the ground is maybe 3-4 inches. Equispirit trailer.

    It pains me that he is so good about loading, but then has this happen. And he really has a good temperament like his mom and has been great at learning everything else (clipping, bathing, feet trimming, etc). So my two questions are:

    1) any ideas on how else to prevent this, as it pains me because he has been such a good boy about loading, or do I keep trying what I am doing and over time he will become accustomed to the whole process and
    2) I want to get a head bumper, but ideally I'd like one with some length in the it's like halfway between his eyes and ears where he is hitting to scrape the hair, and they all just seem to just protect the pole and not any part of the front flat part of their head--any particular brand someone has found that has a bigger coverage in front?

  • #2
    This is why I like a TALL trailer. I grew up with saddlebreds, and with those upright necks need the vertical space. Now I’ve got a giant 2yo Irish Draught colt that I’m hauling back and forth to the trainer I’m loving the extra tall trailer again.

    Mine also has a ramp, and that exact spot where your boy is making contact is really a pinch point. My colt has gotten close, and he would have banged himself by now but for the extra height.

    No real help or advice unfortunately that doesn’t involve getting a different trailer. You might borrow a step down and see how he does with that? You can always craft a custom head bumper out of a Pilates mat and duct tape, but bumping his head might still be upsetting. Let us know what ends up working for you. I doubt we are the only ones to see this issue.


    • Original Poster

      Thanks for the idea on the Pilates mat...I ordered a head bumper this that seemed by the pics to have the most length in the front. And I was thinking that I could extend it with duct tape, but didn't know what to use...and the mat idea is perfect! That is the right thickness and can be cut easily and shaped, etc. Thank you for that!

      I think a step down would really freak him out, since that is a really big drop. And yes, a taller trailer is in my future. The good news is I was planning to get a new trailer in the next year anyway.

      But until then, I may just need to try and plan for unloading where the ground level changes, such that maybe I can get the ramp to basically lay straight out and not have any slope down.

      But yes, I posted here as I thought breeders training babies, etc probably would have the best ideas for these situations. My last couple horses were young when I bought them (3-4 yr olds), but I never had this issue. Worse thing was earlier on just backing off way too fast...but never with their head up in the air!


      • #4
        My young guy, almost the same age, sometimes does the same thing, but without the ramp. We have also been saved by the extra height on the trailer(extra wide/extra tall 2 horse straight). My only thought would be to turn him around and walk him out, if there is enough room to do so, until he gets less fussy with his head. While it doesn't solve the head throwing issue, it may keep him from losing his skin and getting more fractious about backing out. We just recently graduated to hauling straight and backing out versus hauling loose and walking straight out. But, I don't have much experience with ramped trailers. At the Clyde farm, all their trailers had ramps, but personally I've only ever owned step-up trailers.


        • #5
          Have you tried swinging the center partition or to the other side to give him a little more leeway backing up? Or perhaps removing the partition entirely for your practice sessions.

          Another approach is similar to something you said - walk partway on/back off, walk on/back partway off, etcetera.

          Also, have you worked on backing in other "tight" places? You could set something up with jump standards and poles, perhaps with tarps hanging over (after he's good without them).

          Seems like an opportunity to get creative with groundwork both at and away from the trailer. Have fun with your nice baby!


          • #6
            You could train him to drop his head, a la John Lyons. My OTTB threw his head up and whacked it on the top of the door, scaring himself, coming in from the wash stall. The next time through, he wanted to flip his head up and rush. I taught him to drop his head, and to take one step at a time when asked. When we have to go through that door, I ask him to go slow and drop his head. No more rushing or head flipping.


            • #7
              Try backing the trailer up to a bank/slope and drop the ramp so that it is level with the floor ?
              ... _. ._ .._. .._


              • Original Poster

                My wash rack is pretty narrow in the barn, just wide enough to turn him around in there. The trailer without the partition is still too small at this point, for him to turn around in. He is about 16 hands now. And I don't think the narrow is bothering him, since he walked right on again yesterday. It's the change from the ramp to the ground it seems.

                Originally posted by Equibrit View Post
                Try backing the trailer up to a bank/slope and drop the ramp so that it is level with the floor ?
                This is what I am going to try tonight. I'm hoping this is the key, at least until he gets more experienced, since I'm sure I will not always be able to find this set up taking him somewhere. But I have plenty of places in my pasture with the right slope to do this.

                And in terms of the dropping head, move one step at a time process--I have tried this a bit a month ago when working on loading, and it helped. Practiced both unloading and just in barn aisle. I was able to get to the point where I could slowly back him off, keeping his head down, still using carrot pieces. And all was good. But then yesterday, it's as if he remembered the loading part great, but then completely forgot the whole backing off process, as I was following the same steps as before to keep his head down.

                Thank you again for the ideas...I just love him! I don't have kids, and honestly, I don't know how people manage the stress of that. Baby horses are enough!


                • #9
                  I would teach him to teach himself if you know what I mean. You can keep giving him treats to keep his head down, but long term he needs to learn to keep his head down himself.
                  Can you just put some extra padding where he scrapes himself?
                  I get that it he scares you when he throws his head up. And he gets scrapes and that's where you want to get out the bubble wrap.
                  I think he may throw his head up when he backs to keep his balance.
                  He is young after all. He's still trying to figure all this out.
                  Maybe you could do some in hand work not involving the trailer. Just teach him to back without throwing his head up each time you work with him. Just a few steps until he understands what you want
                  He sounds like a good tempered good natured horse who wants to please.
                  If you need some visual guides, I recommend Warwick Schiller. He has some videos on YouTube about teaching a horse to load and unload.
                  Hope this helps.
                  Remember to relax and breathe!
                  Good luck.

                  Certified Guacophobe


                  • #10
                    Also a Warwick Schiller fan, and in addition Tristan Tucker has some good trailer loading videos available for free.

                    I was just re-watching this one...

                    Keep in mind that this is *after* he was doing groundwork with her, so the respecting your space and moving the feet parts are already reasonably okay.

                    ... with Patrick and Henry


                    • #11
                      Trailer loading is first about solid leading, and backing in hand. If all he does is follow you because you've got a halter and lead on, that's not leading. He needs to be able to back up in hand, 1 step at a time, not taking 10 steps because you asked for 1. So if that's not at least pretty solid, go there first.

                      Lead into and back out of doorways, then over poles. He has to get comfortable with the idea of backing up, and with the idea that he waits for you.

                      When you progress to the trailer, 2 steps up the ramp, then back off the ramp. Or front feet on the step up, then back off, over and over until he waits for you patiently.

                      Trailer loading training should never be about getting on, then getting off. It needs to come in increments so they learn to work their feet properly and get comfortable with the elevation changes.

                      If it's a ramp, then "load" him 1-2 steps at a time, then back off. Only when he waits for you, should you take another 1-2 steps into the trailer and repeat the process.

                      I use a tail tug to ask them to back out, so that's something you can work on without the trailer as well.
                      The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances. - ET


                      • Original Poster

                        Thank you all for the you tube links. I'm going to watch this week.

                        I did work with him before starting loading...actually long ago when we were first teaching him how to lead, we worked on stepping back one step at a time, and also moving away sideways each direction, I lead him from both the left and right sides every day coming in and out to eat. I have worked with him just walking over poles, but only forward. He just ignored what he learned backing up the first time I asked him to back off the trailer, and just kept going on his own! That work in the barn, in his stall, out in the pasture, just did not carry over to the trailer.

                        I was thinking some this weekend too about just laying a sheet of plywood on the ground level, and walking over that, and also backing up over it. Just something different under his feet, and taking only one step back as I ask him too.

                        I did order a head bumper that will be here Wed, and then I'm going to take the suggestion of another responder, and duck tape an additional piece of thick yoga mat, to come just above his eyes. This way if he does raise his head up too much, he should not feel it as much, and certainly not scrape his hair off. The last couple times I loaded and unloaded him he did still raise up his head, but not as high.