Young Horse Series – Trailer Loading

Trailer loading is an exercise that once all the other fundamentals are in place should be relatively easy. In this series of articles on handling young horses we have covered touching and catching. This teaches your horse to be comfortable handled. He has learned to lead and should be willing to follow a soft feel. He has learned to tie which will help him deal with being restrained. He can have his feet handled which enable him to deal with his ability to run being taken away from him. He needs to be comfortable with all of these things before he will feel safe to climb into a horse trailer. He has also learned that our personal space should be respected which is the aspect of trailer loading that is necessary to ensure our own safety.

Horse trailers are scary places for many horses, especially young green horses. Being in a horse trailer effectively disables the horses’ natural instinct for survival. This is why all the previous lessons are so important. If your horse does not trust you enough to let you remove his built in survival mechanisms he simply will not get in. Trying to bribe him with hay or grain is not going to get you consistent results, although having hay in the trailer as a reward after the horse has decided to get in is fine.

When ready to start loading I will ask the horse to lead past me a few times to re establish a space boundary. This will also remind him that when I tap him on the ribs with my flag he should walk forward past me.

When he will do this I will then repeat the same exercise as I stand inside the open trailer door. If the trailer has a ramp the exercise will need to start at the ramp, and in a straight haul stand on the opposite side of where you plan to load the horse.
It is important to give him lots of time to think about what you want. Any and every attempt to move closer to the trailer must be rewarded. After he has moved a step closer pet him and walk out of the trailer leading him away and then back to the same position. By taking him away from the trailer it re enforces that he did what you asked of him. Each time he approaches and is taken away he will realize that the trailer is not a scary place and he will get a little closer each time. I want to increase his comfort zone one step at a time. If he is curious give him time to analyze the trailer. Some horses will paw at the floor he may want to smell it and have a good look around. If he is curious he is less likely to be afraid. Ask him to put one foot in. Do not pull on him but push him in with the flag on his ribs. If he pulls back to escape go back with him but push him forward harder with the flag on his ribs until he stops backing up. Then approach and ask again.
There will be a lot of approach and retreat. When he will put one foot in he will be more comfortable putting two feet in. Each time remove him and start over. Once he will stand with both front feet in I like to have him stand there for a minute before asking him to back out. I initially have them back out because getting out can be just as scary as getting in especially if you have a step up trailer. Asking for one foot at a time will teach him to get in and get out at the same time.

Getting three feet in will be the most difficult but it is also the most important. The horse needs to learn to get in slowly and deliberately. Horses will often jump in and put both back feet in at once. This can be dangerous for the handler if not prepared and it can scare the horse. When he jumps in the trailer will sway and he may feel that he need to escape.

I do not like a horse to turn around in the trailer until he will get in all the way and back out quietly. When I do let him turn around I will let him face the door and then turn him back around to face the front and have him back out. I do this because I do not ever want him to think about bolting out the door. When he is ready to walk out forward I will have him unload just as he loaded, one foot at a time slowly and deliberately. I also think it is important for a horse to learn to balance himself in a trailer. I like to pick up his feet when he is standing inside. I also like to push him until he will move his feet over. This help his get comfortable moving and correcting himself which he will need to do once the trailer starts moving.

Once he will get in stand quietly and back out it is time to increase the difficulty. Now I will not get in with him. I will stand just outside the trailer and have him load in the same way, one foot at a time. I might load and unload a horse twenty or more times throughout the process. Each time will make the next time easier. If he starts to back out before he gets all the way in just tap him with your flag until he goes back in. When he does go back in ask him to come out before he tries again.

It is important to know the difference between a horse that will get in the trailer and a horse that loads well. A horse that will just get in is inconsistent and will always need coaxing. A horse that loads well will only need directed into the trailer and he will take care of the loading by himself.
© 2004 Will Clinging

Young Horse Series – Establishing Space Boundaries

Your young horse has progressed through being caught and handled, he leads well, he is comfortable with his feet being picked up and he can stand tied. The next lesson is establishing a personal space boundary. This will help keep your horse from pushing on you or walking over you. This lesson is also important for the trailer loading lesson that will come next.

For this lesson you will need a halter, a long lead rope and a small whip or flag.
The focus of this exercise is to teach your horse to respect you personal space. We will establish an invisible line between you and your horse that should not be crossed by your horse without an invitation. This line is established and adjusted by blocking your horse when they have reached the line.
How pushy your horse is will dictate how firm you will need to be to enforce this line. There may be times when quite a bit of pressure is needed to convince your horse that crossing the line uninvited will get him in trouble. When reprimanding a horse I believe that it is better to be firm and only correct him once than it is to be too soft and correct him constantly. With constant corrections your horse will learn to ignore you and possibly become pushier.
When starting this exercise it is important to have “intention and focus”. Know what you want him to do and concentrate mentally and physically until it happens.
Hold both hands directly out to the sides of your body with the lead rope in one hand and your flag in the other. Ask him to start to follow the feel you are offering with the lead rope. Use the flag directed towards his rib to push him forward into the feel of the lead rope. If your horse is confused and moves backwards DO NOT STOP asking for forward until he moves his feet forward or at least sideways. If he is going sideways make sure you are still offering him a feel to follow. If your horse takes even one step forward stop pushing and pet him as a reward. If you reward small efforts your horse will be encouraged to try harder the next time you ask. Ask and reward until your horse is comfortably moving forward.
If he refuses to move forward increase the pressure you are using directed at his ribs. Do not be afraid to tap your horse with the flag. We push on his ribs because that is the same area that your legs will bump him when we start to ride. It is a forward motion cue that we will transfer to the saddle.
As your horse moves forward into the feel you offer pay attention to where he moves his feet. Do they walk out and around you or do they walk towards you pushing you out of the way? This is when we will start to establish our space boundary. As you push your horse forward your flag is at his ribs, if he walks out and around you move the flag to his shoulder to keep him out. If he walks into you use your flag much more firmly to swat him on the shoulder to push him out. How pushy your horse is will dictate how much pressure you apply to his shoulder. To effectively establish that you will not be pushed you must always meet the amount of pressure your horse is using and EXCEED it slightly. When your horse is pushy you will be pushier. When your horse is giving to pressure you will decrease the amount of pressure so you are softer that he is.

When your horse will walk forward out and around you it is time to have him change directions. Slowly bring your hands down in front of you and change hands with your flag and lead rope. Bring your arms straight out from your body which effectively changes the direction of your feel and blocks the movement of your horse. When he stops his feet direct your flag back to the ribs to have him follow through with the transition. Do this slowly the first few times, each time pay attention to where his feet move. The same corrections apply if he enters your space with his feet.
If your horse is extremely pushy raise the flag up higher towards his neck to push him out. The higher your flag is the more assertive it becomes. Have him change directions until he is starting to become consistent about moving his feet out and around you.

Make sure you take the time to reward him for his efforts even if his form is not that good. Horses need encouragement to learn comfortably.
This lesson should help to establish that you are in control of your horses movement. The more subtle you can be in asking for movement the stronger your horse will think you are. Make it a personal challenge to see how light you can be. You should be as heavy as you need to be but as soft as you can be.
© 2004 Will Clinging

Young Horse Series – Teaching to Tie

If you have an older horse that ties, tie him up first. Then tie your young horse near by. The rope should be tied short and high. If the rope is too long and/or too low he could get a foot over the lead rope and get hurt.
When you first tie him up do not leave him alone. Many horses will pull initially when they realize that they are tied up. The degree to which they pull varies greatly. If he does pull you need to be prepared to untie him if he gets into a wreck or falls down but do not untie him until he is in danger. He needs to learn that pulling is futile. If you release him when he is pulling he will learn that when he pulls you will untie him. This is what he wants so he will quickly put two and two together. If you wait until he stops pulling on his own then untie him he will also figure out that he was rewarded for not pulling.

Do not tie him for long periods. A few minutes at a time is enough. Try to make the time he is tied enjoyable for him. It is a good time for grooming or to be fed a little grain. Increase the time he spends tied as he becomes comfortable with it.
Do not always tie another horse beside him. He needs to know he is still ok to stand even though he may be alone. If he paws or paces initially do not worry about it. He is just trying to deal with a stressful situation. If you scold him for this it could be enough to push him into a scared tantrum. Over time most horses will just learn to stand quietly. Especially if you tie him up after a training session rather than before.

It is important not to introduce scary new things to your horse when it is standing tied. This could be overwhelming to him and you may be teaching him that when he is tied he gets scared. He is much more likely to start pulling when he is scared. Things should be introduced when he is free to move around. You can then re introduce things that he is comfortable with when he is tied.

Learning to stand tied is fundamental training that all horses should be comfortable with. The success you have teaching you horse this lesson will depend on the preparation you do. At some point you will need to tie your horse up, whether for the vet or farrier or there is no one around to hold him for you if you need to leave him. Do not take this lesson lightly as you are establishing now whether your horse will be safe to tie. If your horse is not safe to tie he could be a threat to himself and those around him.
© 2004 Will Clinging

Young Horse Series – Picking up Feet

Since we have covered touching, catching and leading we are now ready to move on to preparing your young horse to have his feet picked up. The earlier we can prepare a horse to have his feet handled the better. Your horse and your farrier will both appreciate this lesson. If you take the time to teach your horse to be well mannered with his feet, it will stand by him later in life (bad pun). Your horse will be much less stressed at trimming/shoeing time and it will save the shoer potential injury. If you are not comfortable handling his feet for the first time call a farrier and be up front about how much handling your young horse has had. Some farriers are not interested in training your horse to pick up his feet but many are willing to help. Do not spring it on the shoer after he has arrived. This will earn you no favours. Expect to pay your farrier for the extra work he will have to do.

Some horses are very uncomfortable having their feet handled. Even the gentlest horse can kick, rear up or bolt when we try to touch their legs and feet. This exercise can be traumatic to horse and handler if things go wrong. If you get off on the wrong foot (another bad pun) stop and put him away. Do not try to force this lesson on him. Handling his feet should never be a bad experience. This is when a horse is taught to be good to shoe or become the farrier’s nightmare. Always try to quit on a positive note. It is always better to stop when things are going well. If you only get to his elbow on day one that is ok. Each time you will get a little farther. If you keep at it until he gets frustrated and starts to get worse, you have gone too long.

It is important for your horse to understand earlier lesson of touching and leading before he is ready to have his feet picked up. For equipment you will need a halter and lead, a short whip 4’ or 5’ long. Having someone to hold the horse is optional. Do not tie the horse when you are working on his feet for the first time.
Face the rear of the horse so it is easier to see what the horse is doing. You are in a better position to get out of the way if needed and you have more control once you are holding the foot. When working on touching a horse’s foot use the hand that is closest to the horse when you are facing the rear of the horse (inside hand). If you use your outside hand your body is facing his. If you need to get away from him for any reason you have to turn before you can escape. If you are using the wrong hand, you are more likely to get hit should he try to kick at you.

If you have a handler holding the horse, they should be on the same side as you when you are touching his legs or feet. That way if your horse jumps or moves forward the handler can turn him in a circle away from you and you are less likely to be knocked down. If they are on the opposite side and he jumps they will pull him into a circle around them and you will be in danger of being knocked over or kicked as the horses hind quarters come around. If you are alone hold the lead rope in the hand you are not using to touch your horse. Let the lead rope come behind your back to your hand so a pull forward with your hand will pull his head toward you and his body away from you.

To get started find a safe place away from other horses with good footing. If you have an older horse, it will help to tie it near by. Face the horse’s hind quarters with a relatively loose hold on the horse. If you have a handler they are facing the same direction. Using your inside hand start rubbing the horse from the neck to the shoulder. As you continue to do this, your hand will travel farther each time down the leg. If he picks up his foot when you are touching any part of his leg stop and pet him. Every time he picks it up on his own he should be rewarded. Do not try yet to pick up the foot. We want him to pick it up for us. When your hand gets below the knee, run your thumb along the tendon squeezing gently. At this point, if you want to add a verbal cue it would be a good time. If he picks his foot up you should immediately stop and pet him. If he does not pick it up continue to rub and handle the foot. This will only increase his comfort level having his feet touched. Repeat the process repeatedly until he consistently picks his foot up. You have not yet tried to hold the foot.

When you are ready to try to hold the foot it is extremely important to give it back to him BEFORE he takes it back. If he gets it away from you he will continue to try and take it from you and it will get harder and harder to hang on. If he never gets away from you, in the first place he will learn that it is ok for you to hold his foot because he knows you will give it back and he will not get hurt. If he gets away from you do not panic. You will need to be prepared the next time because he will try again. Do not get in a pulling match with him; hold on only as hard as you need to. Any excess pressure from you will cause him to resist even more. This needs to be a comfortable exercise for him or he will anticipate a fight every time you try to work with his feet.

If he does try to pull it from you or he tries to slam it down where you are holding the foot may make the difference in your favour. Hold to toe of the foot with your fingers on the front of the hoof wall and your palm on the sole of his foot. Keep his fetlock joint bent and he will not have as much power to take it from you. If he tries to move off on three feet just walk with him and keep him in a small circle around you. The instant he stops moving and relaxes his leg give it back and pet him. Do not expect to hold the foot for more than a couple of seconds before letting him have it back.

Repeat the process on the hind foot on the same side. If he is prone to kick, use the short whip instead of your hand to rub his leg as you work closer to his hind foot. When he is comfortable with the flag or whip replace it with your hand.

An alternative to using a flag to touch his hind feet is to hold his front foot with your inside hand while you work your way down his hind leg with your outside hand. He can not kick unless he pulls his front foot away from you. This in itself is warning that he may kick. So be ready to escape at all times. Otherwise, the process is the same for the back feet as it was for the front.

The first time you handle his feet, do not try to put his foot between your legs the way the farrier will when his feet get trimmed. The squeezing pressure on his leg is almost always too much for them to handle and he will try to get away. Rather you can kneel down and rest his foot on your knee.
Go through this process on all four feet; always remember to use caution as even little horses can kick hard. It may take several sessions before he accepts you picking up his feet. Do not rush it. It is fundamental training that should not be taken lightly.
© 2004 Will Clinging

Young Horse Series – Leading

Last month I gave a few pointers on how to touch and catch your weanling or yearling. Now that he is caught, he needs to learn to lead.
There are a couple of things to consider before you start.
It is not natural for a horse to be pulled on. The halter rope is simply to guide him not to pull on him. Pulling on the halter too hard may cause him to resist by pulling against you. This can cause your horse to rear up or to bolt and try to pull away from you. If this happens you may be simply applying too much pressure.
Leading, like touching and catching will take time to learn. Do not expect him to lead very well for the first few days. Remember to keep your training sessions short. You should always try to stop before he wants you to stop.
For the sake of this article, I will concentrate on basic leading. Only when your young horse will lead confidently is he ready for more advanced leading techniques. Things like stopping, backing and leading past you on a loose lead will be covered in future articles.
For equipment, I use a halter, lead rope and a second, longer lead rope. The second lead rope is not so two people can pull harder. It will be used as a bum rope. Snap the lead back onto itself to form a loop. The loop should be large enough to drop over your horse’s bum. The rope should not hang below his hocks and it should not be directly under his tail. The snap should be over the middle of his back. Run the tail end of the bum rope through the halter.
This rope is used to urge him to walk forward while you guide him with the rope attached to his halter.
Do not be too particular where you go initially. Any forward movement should be rewarded. Simply stop pulling on the bum rope to do this. Try not to pull on the halter rope. This will often upset them and cause him to become confused. Confusion could make him want to escape from you. If he does try to get away keep the halter rope short so he is traveling around you. If he gets turned away from you, it is much more difficult to stop him from getting away.
Keep him pointed where you want him to go. If he turns away from you softly pull his head back. If his head is where you want it, soften your feel so his head does not feel too restrained. When asking him to move keep a gentle contact with the halter ropes. If you lead him slightly to the side, it will put him off balance and he will have to move his feet. Pulling straight could cause him to brace and simply start a tug of war.
With his head where you want it, pull on the bum rope. It is better to maintain a gentle pressure and give him time to respond. Start slowly and expect him to move only a step forward. If he does this release to reward. If you continue to pull after he responded by moving forward, he will learn to ignore your pull. Remember he does not have a clue what you want him to do. There needs to be release at some point or he will learn nothing. Releasing at the wrong time will teach him the wrong thing. Your timing is very important.
If you reward one small step, he will know that his effort is in the right direction. He will continue to improve because he is constantly finding a consistent reward.
If he backs up when you pull on the bum rope just maintain your pull until he stops and leans forward. It could take some time until he is comfortable moving away from pressure like a bum rope.
When he is moving fairly well, start asking with the halter rope, now the bum rope can be used only as a backup to the feel you are offering. You will still not pull his head to lead him but there can been more of a feel in the direction you want to go. If he braces then reinforce with the bum rope.
Keep the bum rope employed for a few days until you do not need it for added incentive for him to lead. Never get into a pulling match. Do not be afraid to go back to the bum rope if he decides not to lead.

If you have another horse, it will help to have someone help you. If they lead the older horse beside you, your youngster will want to follow. He will get some confidence and comfort by knowing he is not alone. At the same time, he is following the older horse; you will be leading him. Occasionally turn him in a small circle to help him learn to follow the halter rope. Then catch up to the older horse. See if he will lead in front of another horse. If he stalls just let the other horse catch up and start again.
A few days of this and another horse shouldn’t be needed. You can then start to take him on walks farther from the other horses so he will learn that he does not always need equine company to be lead.

Teaching your young horse to lead properly is essential to a solid foundation. Without good leading habits you, horse will be a handful to take anywhere. If your horse leads well, he will have a better chance of learning to stand tied; he will load in a trailer with less effort and eventually be easier to direct when you start to ride him. Take the time at an early age and it will pay off during future training.

Future articles on training the young horse will include : picking up and handling feet : teaching to tie : advanced leading and trailer loading.
© 2004 Will Clinging