Armin Arnolt of Dreamscape Farm in Langley, BC, has to ships foals, mares, and stallions on a regular basis to attend breed shows and inspections. They have to get there – if you miss an inspection, you might miss the only chance to get your horse registered. “I’d rather have a green horse that has never been in the trailer than an older horse who has issues,” admits Armin. Here, he offers tried-and-true methods for introducing horses to that scary, horse-eating box on wheels.
“You will need a trailer that is safe and tall enough for the horse. It sounds like basic common sense, but I have seen a lot of people try to put horses – especially big warmbloods – into trailers that are too small. Trying to cram an 18-hand horse into a quarter horse trailer is just not going to work, and it’s not safe.
Open the side doors to make the trailer look as inviting as possible. Move parti- tions, whatever it takes to make it look wider. We ask a lot of a horse to go into a small space, and some are more claus- trophobic than others. You want to make sure you have some food in the trailer. With a really food-driven horse, a treat will go a long way, too. If you can mimic the look of walking into a stall, you’ve won. If it looks like their stall, there’s water like their stall, there’s even treats like their stall – that’s pretty appealing to most horses. A bright trailer that’s open and inviting and not a small, dark space is much easier to teach loading into than a black hole.
The horse should be used to a halter and lead, of course. Our stallions have chains (over the nose) all the time, but don’t use one if your horse has never had one on – you don’t know what he’ll do. You have to know your horse.
If you’re training a horse to load, or whenever you’re trailering, you need a minimum of two people in case of an emergency. If there are multiple horses on the trailer and you’re alone, what are you going to do? Even with one horse it can be a problem.
The person handling the horse should be a ‘friend’ of the horse (i.e., the owner or groom); the person behind the horse should be be a more ‘encouraging’ person (such as his handler or trainer).
As far as shipping boots, bandages and crash helmets go, I don’t usually use them. If you have a really big horse, you might want to put a crash helmet on. I’ve found that shipping boots – anything you put on their legs – can come off. Especially with younger horses, if some-thing comes loose, they’re more likely to try to kick it off and get into more trouble than it’s worth.
Wearing shipping boots or bandages is something you have to train in the stall – put them on in the stall and monitor them while they get a feel for it. Shipping boots go over the hock and are a very unnatural feeling for the young horse, so they need to get used to them. If you have horses with shoes, you can use reg- ular tendon boots and bell boots, which work just as well.
And finally, make sure you have the time and the patience. We go to a lot of breed shows and people sometimes say, “we couldn’t bring our horse because we couldn’t get him into the trailer.” Well, that’s too late – you don’t start training to load that morning.
RAMP VS. STEP-UP
I have a trailer that has both. I find that young horses in general have an easier time with the step-up. If the horse is standing in front of a trailer with a ramp, he’s three feet away and the ramp just seems like an extension of the trailer. But with a step-up, his head is already in the trailer and then it’s just a step up and he’s in.
I’ve had older horses that won’t go in without a ramp. It depends on the horse; they make their mind up, ‘if it doesn’t have a ramp, I’m not going in there.’
People also worry about a step-up trailer when they have to back the horse out. Horses are smart, and their peripheral vision is very good; they can turn their head a little bit and see there is a ledge there. They will test with one leg, find the ground and step right out.
With a young horse you should train with both types of trailers. We ship our young stock all over the place, and most of the commercial haulers have ramps, so eventually they may have to go up one.
START ‘EM YOUNG
With moms that trailer well, 99 per cent of the time if the mom goes in, the foal goes in. They see mom quiet in the trailer, eating, and it’s no big deal. If you can do that you’re three-quarters of the way training a horse to the trailer.
With young stock that may live outside a lot of the time, we confine them in the barn the night before their first trailering lesson. You have more control in the confines of the stall, and they will not have just been running around in a field. If you can park the trailer very close to the barn, that’s beneficial. If you can back it up right into the aisleway, that’s even better. A lot of horses will sidle one way or the other to the side of the trailer, step off the side of the ramp, whatever. If you can restrict that movement, you’re already halfway there.
It goes back to simply leading a horse – the horse should know it’s “forward’ time. The horse that leads forward when I cluck at it will also go forward into a trailer because it trusts me, the handler. It’s a natural progression – I’m walking outside with my horse in a good forward walk, and should be able to go directly into the trailer. If your horse leads well, you’ve done your homework and your horse trusts you, he will follow you.
If you get him halfway in the trailer, spend some time there, show him around, let him sniff. Once you get him all the way in, let him stand in the trailer for a few minutes, take him out … and then put him back in again.
With two or three young ones we will take out all the partitions in a trailer and leave them loose with it in a paddock or arena (supervised). They are braver in a group; one will go in and the others just follow. I have seen people put a trailer in a paddock and feed their horse in it for a week. The horse knew there was food in the trailer and would run for it! It seems a bit unsafe, because they can get hung up on the outside, and I would only do it if it was supervised. I prefer a controlled situation.
Backing up is usually no big deal – as long as they have been trained to back up properly on the ground! If they will back in their stall or while you’re leading them, they shouldn’t have a problem backing out of the trailer.
For horses that are a bit sticky about going into the trailer I have a long buggy whip that I attach a plastic bag to. I use it – never to hit – just to touch. I touch the croup, touch a hock, and see if I get a reaction. With a horse who doesn’t want to load their initial reaction may be to freeze – they won’t go backward or forward. Tap a front leg; if they lift it, place it forward, then tap the other leg. If the horse is not happy with that, practice it without the trailer until they understand what you are trying to do.
It’s low-pressure, low-stress. If you spend 10 minutes like that with a horse that has no idea, he’ll likely just walk in all of a sudden. He’ll get bored with you tapping and say “okay, I’ve had enough of the tapping, I’m going in.”
If you have a youngster who hesitates, and you have a Steady Eddie kind of horse that will just go in the trailer and stand there quietly, use him. A horse who’s happy with a flake of hay in front of him, that’s your best babysitter!
With a weanling or yearling, if you have two strong people locking arms behind him that’s fine, you can muscle them in – as long as you know your horse, because you can get kicked. The next time, they’ll probably just walk in. I would never do that with a grown horse wearing shoes. You can use a bum rope on an older horse, attached to the trailer and then around the bum, which will give them the aspect of that forward movement. But be careful if they go backward that you let go so that they don’t get cut or tangled in it. The more equipment you have, the more you have to worry about.
If you have a horse that is prone to dancing around, again you are better to back your trailer into the barn aisle which restricts the side-to-side movement, so it’s like a tunnel.
Everyone has been at a show at the end of the weekend when everyone is clearing out you see a few horses that just don’t want to go into the trailer. Normally it’s the horses that did not go forward in the ring either – they’ve never been taught to go forward.
The most dangerous mistake you can make is hitting or pushing a horse when standing behind it. At the worst, it will fire out at you or rear up and fall on top of you. Try to do everything from the side, and never lose your temper.
With horses that don’t want to go into the trailer with their own owner, it could be because they sense the owner is nervous. If you’re afraid, nervous, or just not comfortable loading your horse, there’s no shame in that, just have someone else do it for you.
I always expect the horse to flip over, run me down, whatever, even if he’s never done anything. If you expect it, it doesn’t happen. Don’t let your guard down, be on your phone, talking to your friend, etc. Pay attention – it’s common sense.
Once they’re loaded in the trailer and you decide to go for a drive, make sure it’s for more than half an hour. We live in Canada and our drives are longer than five minutes! The horse has a good memory and will think, “So I’m in the trailer for five minutes, and now it’s time to come out.” You want them to think, “I’m in the trailer and I’m not sure when I’ll get out, but I’m fine with that.”
If a horse has a really traumatic experi- ence in a trailer, for some, that’s it, they’ll never go back in the trailer again. Some people are just not skilled drivers. For example, turn the trailer around before you load the horse. Don’t drive like a maniac, no racing around corners, no slamming on the brakes, no gassing it so the horses are on the back gate holding on for dear life. I’ve followed horse trailers that are doing that, slamming from one side to the other.
For the first 15 minutes drive really smoothly – the horses need to get their ‘sea legs.’ Once you’re on the highway, you shouldn’t need to touch your brakes unless there’s a problem. If you just roll along and leave lots of space between you and the car in front, your horse will be happy.”
Dreamscape Farm in Langley, BC, is owned by Armin and Jennifer Arnoldt and is the home of over a dozen licensed Westfalian, Oldenburg, Hanoverian and Dutch Warmblood stallions, including Freestyle, Farscape DSF and Banderas. Visit their website at www.dreamscapefarm.com.