Loading can be a huge source of stress for horses and a common cause of injury to both horses and their handlers. Horses who don’t load or travel well can be dangerous, so it’s really important to get them used to loading, travelling and unloading safely and calmly.There aren’t any shortcuts to training a horse to load– time, practice and patience really are key, but this will really pay off. Alana Chapman,World Horse Welfare Research and Education Officer has this essential advice
It’s best to practise a lot of the skills a horse needs to load and travel safely without using a vehicle – they need to be able to lead nicely, stand when asked and be used to being tied up calmly. Once your horse has these skills, you can move on to practising over different surfaces – and this could start with something as simple as walking over a pole on the ground, before moving on to something like a tarpaulin (ensuring this is secured down if you choose to do this). Throughout this initial process it’s important to observe your horse’s behaviour and make sure they’re within their comfort zone at each stage, keeping them calm and relaxed. Stress is cumulative – and a stressed or frightened horse can’t learn! Lots of short sessions is much better, so aim to do a little bit every day over a week (or a few weeks if your horse needs it).This investment in time can save a huge amount of time in the long run.
Once the horse is relaxed with these initial stages, you can then begin to introduce the lorry or trailer.Again, don’t rush these sessions and don’t force your horse to load – our ultimate aim is to get the horse to confidently walk on to the box and contently stand still. As always, try to ensure the horse has a positive experience throughout this process, keeping sessions short and ending them on a good note.
Only when the horse is consistently walking on and off the lorry or trailer confidently and is calm about being shut in should they start to be taken for short journeys. Don’t be afraid to take an experienced travel buddy with them at this stage if they need one as long as they get on well; it’s much better to ensure your horse has a positive experience from the start and then start to introduce the idea of travelling solo once they’re confident going on short journeys with a friend. Remember that a horse that has not travelled for a while may well need a bit of refresher training before being taken out again.
Hopefully, your horse is now ready to travel, so make sure in the hours before a journey that they are well-rested, fed and fully hydrated – even in cold weather.Give your horse a thorough inspection for any signs of injury or illness, ideally making sure you check their temperature as well.It really is important that both you and your horse have positive experiences with loading and travelling and never be afraid to enlist expert help if you need it, there is a lot of help out there.
If you’d like further advice on travelling your horse – or even how you should begin loading practice with them – do give World Horse Welfare’s Advice Line a call during office hours on +441983 497238 and our team will be very happy to help.