Friday, March 20, 2009

Trailer Training 101

My friend and I are taking our horses to the beach on Monday. Her horse is relatively new to her and doesn't load into the trailer well. She asked me for more details about the method I use, so I invited her to bring her trailer to my place so I could work with Zephyr to show her the method. Her trailer is quite different from mine, so I thought it would take some work. It went very well, and I was asked to write an explanation of it, which I am now posting below:
It's Clinton Anderson's method. Maybe others too but he explains it the best. I've been unable to find the trailer-loading video online for free anywhere, but he does have it for sale and sometimes you can find it on EBay.

However... my lame attempt to explain:

"Sending" is pointing with the hand that is holding the end of the rope that attaches to the horse's halter (ie "I want you to go that way"), while spinning the loose end of the rope RHYTHMICALLY in the other hand at the shoulder (ie "I want you to have forward movement"). Don't swing the rope at the butt, that may encourage him to move his butt away.
The point is not to lunge in circles, but rather to change directions frequently to prove to him that YOU have control of his feet. To change directions, switch hands on the rope. With the hand that is now pointing, bump if necessary to get his head pointed the way you want him to go. Then swing the rope at his shoulder. You may need to be forceful... but it's important to first be rhythmic and persistent.

The neat thing about this method is that the trailer is JUST ANOTHER OBSTACLE. The point of the lesson is NOT to get on the trailer, it is to be able to send the horse wherever you want it to go... regardless of whether there are treats or hay waiting for him there. (Don't put any hay or grain inside.)

As such, failed attempts are really not a big deal... either keep asking, ask in a different way, or ask for something the horse CAN do at that moment in time. Sometimes all the horse can do is stand still and let you fling the end of the rope all over him. That's OK. Sometimes, if he's really frustrated, all he can do is willingly walk at your side.

Whatever you do, never get mad. Talk to him if you need to... tell him "I know you're mad at me, but just because you're mad doesn't mean I am. I forgive you. We can do this all day. We're not here to get on the trailer anyway, we're just playing around." Smile a lot. Sing. Take breaks now and then to just love on him... but make sure you time it so you're not rewarding bad behavior.
If you do need to discipline him for something truly naughty, like biting or kicking, do it WITHOUT EMOTION. Make the punishment quick and fair, then let it be over... go back to what you were doing.

The preliminary steps are to send him around/between/over anything you can think of. Around trees, down the bank to the creek, over platforms, etc etc. Each time you move to a new obstacle, wait until he can do it properly (if he wants to rush, wait until he's slow and calm... if he's a deadhead, wait until you can get him to put some energy into it) before you move to the next obstacle. Remember to throw some backing up into the mix, especially backing down from a platform (a pallet with plywood nailed on top works great).

Then introduce the trailer as 'just another obstacle'. Each of the following steps is its own obstacle:

  • Stand behind it with the ramp up / back doors closed, facing away from the trailer, and send him around one side of the trailer and then the other.
  • Stand behind it, facing the trailer, and send him between you and the trailer.
  • Put the ramp down (or open the doors if it's a step-up... remember to secure the doors!) and send him between you and the ramp (with you still on the ground facing the trailer).
  • If there's a ramp, stand a little closer and send him over the ramp from side to side.
  • Then finally, nonchalantly, stand on the ground next to the corner of the trailer and send him around you and up the ramp. If he gets on, great. At first he probably won't, so try this same thing a few times (rewarding with rest and rubs when he makes progress), then take a break and go back to something he's successful at before trying again.

Once you get him on, rub him and love on him, then just before he decides to back out on his own, back him off yourself. You have a choice here, you can either back him off a few steps and send him on again, or if he won't do that for you, you can back him off all the way and start over.
Sometimes he will be more amenable to being sent on if he has a straight-line approach, so if you're having trouble standing next to the trailer and sending him around you and on, try walking him towards it from 15' behind it.

Some tips...

When you get to 'the moment of truth', make sure you look INTO the trailer, not at your horse.

I like to use the verbal cue "GET UP" once he's on the ramp (or once he's about to step into a step-up)... it's the only place I use it.

Some horses need shavings on the floor so it doesn't look like a black hole of death. Some horses need the window or access door open. Humor them, especially when they're learning.

Hope this helps. For those who are truly 100% new to the sending technique, I recommend Clinton's "Lunging for Respect" video as well as the trailering video.

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