Saturday, December 17, 2016

update on the state of trailer training

Yup I'm talking about trailer loading. Again. Sorry (but kinda not sorry) haha. Posting on Saturday tho so those of you bored senseless by my endless droning on this subject (specific posts on Charlie + trailer training here and here. for the full monty click here) can skip right on by.

Not sure if that leaves anyone who actually is interested... but whatever. My blog, my rules, and trailer loading is a subject of interest to me.

Why? Well. Let me tell you: In case it hasn't been clear, neither my current nor former horse lives at the same farms as our longtime trainers (jump trainer P at OF, and dressage trainer C at TM). And as a lesson junkie, I aim for at least 1 but sometimes 2 lessons each week.

Which means: I am typically hauling my horse 1-2x per week (thanks Captain Obvious!). This number has been known to climb to 3x per week during certain periods, tho I try not to make that a regular thing for the horse to endure.

poor charlie already endures so much
So it's pretty damn important to me that all aspects of the trailer feel routine, safe, and well established. I mean. Let's think about it. Whenever we hear of a person or horse injured in a loading/unloading accident, we kinda just know it's gonna be bad, right?

Just the pure mechanics of horses in confined spaces going up and down ramps and steps and what not, with us moving around them / behind them / at a lower level relative to their hooves.... there's just a heightened degree of risk and I often think folks are a little too blasé about it. 

That may seem a little soapbox-rant-y, and it is. Sorry lol. And obviously thousands of horses across the country get in and out of trailers every day without issue. I'm just saying that when there is an issue.... well. It can be bad. And I'd rather not go there, thanks. 

chillin at the trailer with his hay and water. already a champ at this!
None of this to say that I'm a total zealot and safety freak about the trailer either, tho. Because... I'm definitely not, as further pictures in this post demonstrate beyond the shadow of a doubt lol.

All I'm saying is... it's about risk mitigation. And my preferred method for mitigating risk around the trailer is to make the on/off loading process as smooth, calm, and relaxed as possible. While also doing my best to make it reliable and confirmed in the horse, rather than a question mark.

Obviously tho it's horses and shit happens. We all already know that!

"she's goin back in the tuna can again.... but idk. i might just chill out here for a while!" - noncommittal charlie
ANYWAY. Now that I've gone through so much effort to be all scary about the horrors of trailer accidents.... and lecture on the importance of doing your homework and blah blah blah so that trailering is easy, seamless, and your horse should be a perfectly trained mystical majikal self loading red arabian unicorn (*ahem*)......

Anyway. Now that I've done all that.... Let's talk about where things are currently at with Charlie's trailer loading training. Behold:

.....not pony club approved
(and yea there's a fuck load of junk in my trailer right now bc my life coach Brita has not had a chance to work her organizational magic on the truck/trailer storage situation since i moved barns and had to downsize)
So...... Yea. Charlie isn't at a place in his training where I would call him "confirmed" haha. In case that picture isn't clear enough, that's a feed bucket rigged up inside the trailer. And Charlie is going to fucking town on it lol.

Charlie is shockingly similar to Isabel in one very important dimension: He has never met a bucket he doesn't like. Any bucket could potentially hold food, no matter how unlikely the size, shape or location. Lol remember that story from when I first met him and he got a bucket stuck over his nose and was totally cool with it?

Yea. The bucket love is strong with this guy. It's endearingly adorable. And it's our current go-to method for getting Charlie to "Self Load" (bunny ears very intentional there haha).

"give me my bucket, woman. i was promised a bucket"
He'll get on the trailer without the bucket too... but I have to lead him in and he doesn't stay on long enough for me to move behind him and close the butt bar. So without the bucket, it continues to be a 2 person job. With the bucket? He basically "self loads" (again with the bunny ears).

This doesn't feel like a long term solution to me. He doesn't load onto the trailer bc I ask him, he loads bc food. Therefore the conditioned response to my "ask" is not reliable, not confirmed. And should the bucket fail to entice (or, god forbid, should I forget or run out of goodies to put in said bucket), we're gonna be up shit's creek without the proverbial paddle if I'm alone.

So..... long story short, there's still work to do here haha. We're at a point where I'm not particularly concerned by the prospect of going anywhere with Charlie by myself. But I also just kinda know that if I leave it at this, one day it'll bite me in the ass.

Hopefully another session with my local horsemanship and trailer loading guru will help, especially as a check in on Charlie's general ground work skills, like giving to pressure (as covered in that first session). Unfortunately Jim had a mishap not long after that first session and was off his feet for a bit. But he's getting back at it now so perhaps we'll schedule something this winter?

In the meantime, tho. Cross your fingers that the bucket keeps working its magic on Charlie lol. Have you ever had to resort to .... creative tactics to get the job done? Or let your impatience lead you to skipping training steps like this haha? Are you an expert bucket rigger like me? Or is this all just kinda par for the course for you?

49 comments:

  1. Ah the bucket. this is my method with Carmen at the moment. My other trailer had a manger and I just threw a carrot in there with Irish but mostly he didn't need it.

    Carmen goes on with the bucket there. She also goes on without the bucket but might back off again. I will probably keep it as back up for when I'm off property. Interestingly enough Royce (the horse trainer) is perfectly fine with a reward for going on a trailer and he hates treats for anything else.

    With Irish and now with Carmen I use the 'tap tap' of the whip on the hind end and 'walk in' to walk forward so if they back up I just repeat. I also taught them that in areas NOT involving trailers so that it's an engrained response.

    I do not think Carmen is confirmed at any level but she's getting closer.

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    1. Ha yup sounds familiar! My horsemanship guy is cool with food on the trailer too - and has used feeding the horse it's dinner there regularly as a way to help make the horse more comfortable. I haven't done that with Charlie bc he seems plenty comfortable... Just not very interested lol.

      Also agreed on doing the ground work and making the "ask" elsewhere. And I feel like actually Charlie has made great strides there. But it still isn't as engrained as I would like. And when the pressure rises he starts swinging away from the whip again and gets defensive about being driven forward. So.... Still more work to do haha. Always more!!

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  2. My trailering is on easy mode compared to yours -- it's currently a 3 horse slant so da Bird goes on, ties, and then I close the divider thingie. I, er, lead him on and he's small enough to kinda turn and walk out forward.

    He could probably do a straight trailer (he knows how to back off a step-down trailer because we have practiced it and I guarantee that he will get on one because that boy leads where I lead him) but we don't have one. I'm not sure he would stand there while I went 'round to get the butt bar but he does ground-tie, so I think I could teach it. But, again, that's hard mode and not where we are in the trailering world.

    I didn't teach his trailer skills (such as they are) via shortcuts. Standard rope halter groundwork, step forward in response to my ask. If horse steps backward or sideways or tries to go up in air then it will not go well for the horse. (Depending on how rude the not-correct-effort is, the 'not go well' might just be a redirect to the back of the trailer or it might be a loud and assertive "do not take your front feet off the ground in my presence like that EVER AGAIN" correction in which I advance strongly and the horse scrambles backward for ten feet or so. The amount of not-go-well depends on the sort of "no" and how rude it is.) Regardless of the correction, it's short, typically non-contact, and when it's over, it's all the way over and we're all friends again. We regroup, I take a deep breath, and re-ask, politely, again, and see if the horse does better. Obviously, on a horse that does not understand the basics of leading you have to fix that part first. I started with da Bird when he was 2, so we did A LOT of groundwork before he got to be riding size. I think that helped us a lot.

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    1. haha fun fact: charlie totally managed to turn around in my tiny calico when i had the divider pushed to the side to give him more room. watching him come jumping out head first was..... not my happiest moment lol. he didn't go anywhere tho bc... charlie

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  3. Both of mine load fairly easily and haul great, but both would like to let it be known trailers are not their preferred space. Ginger will try to opt out if someone she doesn't have a good relationship tries to load her. B is more like Charlie and is in it mostly for the snacks:) Both go no matter what, but I like to make it as easy/fun as I can as often as possible so they stay good about it.

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    1. ha yup that sounds pretty much like my philosophy too. i want them to be good and happy about it!

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  4. Remus self loads now that he has that huge trailer all to himself (NOTE: a 15 hand QH does NOT need extra high, extra wide Kingston 2 horse but boy does he like it!) I walk him in and walk around to the back while he waits. He has hay in there but no treats. He just stands there. NOW to be fair he was never like that with his other trailers i needed help but this one i just always acted he would stand and he does. THANK GOODNESS since i haul by myself most times. He can be balky at some things (SEE ABOVE he is a QH) :)but he quite likes going places :) I am sure the more you haul Charlie the more he will get used to it all and i bet soon you wont need the bucket! Love your loading posts so keep on posting!

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    1. ha Remus sounds like he knows what he likes! what a good boy for just standing there. nice that he just stands there too haha - i've known so many who go in politely, and just as politely back right back off again without being asked lol. like, "noooo, stay pony, stay!"

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  5. I'll stand firmly on the opinion the trailering is the most dangerous thing we do with horses.

    Ben self loads without any issues (and he's a nervous dude in the trailer) because he has a go forward/send on cue. I totally take it for granted but I know he's a really good boy because he'll cram himself into really small trailers if I ask.

    Aria goes in but has to be lead in. I've gotten her in a two horse straight before but she's definitely not solid. Her reliability in a slant load is better but when she comes back from the trainers I'll be working on her self loading cue.

    Valeria doesn't go into the trailer unless another horse is also in the trailer and this hurts my brain because we get crazy wildfires and I know when the pressure is on to move she will definitely be my problem child.

    I have used a ton of methods when there's a time crunch. I don't recommend any of them. Butt ropes and homemade loading chutes are all really dangerous if the horse freaks out. I also hate using food because 1. I think a horse should do what I ask because we have that kind of solid training and 2. Because food isn't a motivator when horses are scared. But there's nothing wrong with using food to create good experiences in the trailer as long as they don't expect it as a condition to load.

    Sorry! I love talking trailer loading.

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    1. i have a method that i've used with a lot of success, and it's probably pretty similar to the 'go forward/send' cue that you reference. and that's definitely the ultimate end game for charlie bc i agree 100% that this bucket method absolutely will not work when the stakes are high and if the horse is stressed or scared.

      the bucket is very much a bandaid right now.... it's patching up the hole so we can keep doing our thing until my horsemanship guy is healthy enough to come help us get to the next step.

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  6. I'm at a loss for helping Savvy out with this. We have done years of ground work and yielding is not an issue. She will go where ever I ask her. But the trailer makes her scared as hell (shaking all over type scared). She will go in but wants the hell out. The open stock trailer and now the new closed in more quiet two-horse trailer, always slow driving and super careful turns, tons of food and treats, tons of trailer loading practice. I really have done everything I can think of but calming her down in there just doesn't happen. It is better now that I took the divider out of the straight load. Safety-wise I can get her out a bit more safely for myself. I am very much like you - eliminate variables of risk - so this one really drives me nuts.

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    1. oy, see i can't even imagine having to deal with that level of fear and anxiety in the horse on top of just the typical 'training for the response' type work. poor Savvy :( i'm grateful that charlie is pretty subdued about the whole thing. he's not happy to be on and alone when all the doors are shut, but he travels more or less fine, and comes off the trailer calmly enough, even when i'm dumb and let him get tangled up in his sheet lol

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  7. We had a racehorse in college that you had to blindfold and then beat on with a broom. Needless to say he wasn't secure in his ground work. Also he's one of the few horses I've met who I genuinely would consider mentally retarded, sooo...might have had something to do with it.

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    1. omg haha. that just sounds..... stressful lol

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  8. Sounds like you've got a good plan going! Some horses definitely pick it up easier than others and surprisingly for how untrusting he can be, Brantley has become a pro. He still has an issue backing out down a straight load but he's definitely getting better. Keep up the good work.

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    1. it's so funny how trusting these horses can be about the trailer, despite how unnatural it is lol. like, 'here horsey, get into this small metal box. and when you come off it, you'll be somewhere else entirely new!' like they just totally accept that haha

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  9. I think trailer loading is super important! I am excited to have my own rig to work on this skill more with my horses. Honestly for me and I'm often paying a hauler or borrowing a trailer... I try to make the loading/hauling process go as quickly as possible so sometimes there are short cuts... ie bribery wins over horsemanship haha. I think it's so awesome you are making good trailering skills a priority for Charlie! I can't wait to do the same :)

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    1. you're definitely not alone in trying to make it go quickly and taking shortcuts. i do that too (obvi) haha, as do many many others. my instinct says tho that eventually, short cuts catch up and you end up spending all that saved time plus some when things go badly... but eh maybe not idk lol

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  10. Trailering skills are so important- definitely worth taking the time to install them well!

    Moe has never, ever met a trailer he didn't feel perfectly fine about. Trailers mean going places, and going places means having a good time! Seriously, he whinnies when he sees the trailer getting hitched up, even if he hasn't gone anywhere in months.

    Gina has been sporadically terrible about trailering. She'll trailer perfectly well many consecutive trips, then suddenly be balky about getting in, or fly out when unloading, or generally act like she has never seen a trailer before. She's such a weirdo.

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    1. omg i just love Moe haha. and Gina sounds in some ways similar to isabel. isabel was obviously a trained up pro re: self loading on the trailer. especially when she had company. but by herself? especially when she was newer to the routine? she could definitely be balky.

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  11. It took years for Mikey and I to get our loading procedure down (mostly because I didn't have my own trailer and I was stuffing him wherever I could). I could lead him up the ramp, stop at the top, he'd continue past me, and then I'd hook up the butt bar. Unloading was easy- he'd stand there until I patted him on the butt, and then he'd back out. Penn is on his way to that, but he won't walk past me (my divider swings so if I walk halfway in with him, he will stay) and he's incredibly rude about unloading about 50% of the time. I figure he will get there eventually.

    Hauling Charlie so often will help him so much! I've never done the food route, unless it was hay. We always worked on going forward on the ground so going into the trailer was forward thinking. A side note I found that works on horses that have raced for when they back out too soon- grab their tail bone and when they go to back out, shove it between their butt cheeks (kind of like how the guys load them in the starting gate). Worked like a charm to break Mikey of his habit of backing out too soon.

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    1. my goal is for Charlie to get to where Mikey was. he's there now -- with the bucket. i accompany him up the ramp and send him in, then close the butt bar behind him. coming off the trailer he's always been fine (even when his sheet got tangled that one time lol). without the bucket tho, he's more like Penn. won't walk past me, and won't stay on if i move away from his head. and you've mentioned the tail thing before but i'm a little hesitant to get into anything resembling a show of force with charlie, just based on his behaviors on the ground. not ruling out trying that tho!

      really tho, what you say about the 'going forward on the ground' is what we want to do too. and we're definitely working on that in ground work usually about once a week. it's just not confirmed yet, le sigh.

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  12. Have you thought about starting an unreliable reward in the bucket? The unreliable reward can make a confirmed response even stronger (classic "maybe I'll get a million bucks THIS TIME" at the slots). It can also decrease the frequency of a correct response in the beginning of unreliable reward training, which you may not want with trailer loading. But obviously you are willing to put in the time and practice to make it work! However, the goal of unreliable reward training is to get a cue super reliable even WITHOUT the reward at the end.

    Just one possible thought!

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    1. yea idk.... i don't see the bucket as part of our training at all. all the work i'm doing in establishing a response is in that 'send forward' cue that i've written about. the bucket is just a hold over until that response is better confirmed, so i'm not going to devote any training time to working with the bucket

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  13. It sounds like you are making some good progress. I'm not much help with advice- Prince couldn't jump on a trailer fast enough, and Hero only needed one hard core training session of "moving towards the trailer = happy place and moving away from trailer = work" before he decided it was easier to get on the first time we ask. I've never rewarded him with anything more than having some nice alfalfa hay waiting on the trailer for him if we are going farther than 20 mins away.

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    1. ha Hero sounds like my kinda guy!! and yea that's basically a high-level version of the method i use too. negative reinforcement: the unpleasantness (work) goes away when the right response (getting on the trailer) is achieved. alas, charlie is having a slower time here bc he's got some resistances and pressure issues with the 'work' part. if he doesn't accept that part of it... the whole method fails. we're working (ha puns) on it tho!

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  14. I'm lucky in that Val raced for years and years, and someone definitely took the time to teach him good trailer manners, so I haven't had to teach him any skills. In a new trailer,, especially if it's a step up, I'll usually just lead him on and have a cookie on hand as encouragement. He likes to go new places though so he goes on without any other outside assistance, and stands very politely while he gets fastened in.

    With the babies though, my mom has done a lot of work to make sure they load easily and will stand on the trailer until they're told to get off, and she's done a lot of work like you have with practicing on and off and never even going anywhere. It's just really helpful to know that getting on/off the trainer won't be an issue in any part of traveling.

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    1. well.... i'm not sure if it was his racing for years and years that makes the difference bc charlie did that too. but yea, charlie gets on much like val - lead him on and stand with him and he's totally fine. if there's a second person to close the butt bar, you're golden. but if there's NOT a second person, charlie's gonna back right off with you (politely but with determination) when you try to move back there. so we do all that same kind of practice your mother does too. it's so so worth it.

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  15. I don't do buckets or food but I swear by a lunge line looped through the head of the trailer. It has worked magic for me with several horses all varying personalities and reasons for not wanting to politely load.

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    1. This is what finally did it for my hard loader. At first, I used my (large) father to lean on said line and winch her in while I had a lunge whip behind, but we've slowly progressed to the point where the line just kind of steers and keeps her from avoiding the door and half the time I don't even get the whip picked up before she's in. Coming home has always been easier, but lately I hardly get the line snapped on before she's in. I'm pretty proud, because she used to get explosive and rope burned the shit out of my hand (and nearly keelhauled me through the trailer window). She also would seem to purposely try to hit her head coming out or would try to sit down enough to get under the butt bar like she was TRYING to have a good enough reason to never get into the trailer again. Red mares, man. They're crazy.

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    2. yeaaaa....... i just don't see winching a horse in, or using any variation of force to be a sustainable method for weekly hauling. like, that's basically what i view as a last resort.

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  16. Mine will all self-load for me. I don't remember specifically teaching them to it, but none of them are nervous about floating & they are all good on the ground so they just.... do it. Mind you, Lou likes to violently protest at first, then on the second ask she'll go on sweet as. It's like a little ritual of hers!

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    1. ha isabel preferred being asked twice too!!

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  17. I'm sure your method is better, but I definitely don't wait for training to be 100% before going places. I couldn't load Levi by myself so I put him on, turned him to face the doors (slant load) while I shut them, then bribed him to the window with a treat and tied him by reaching through the window. Probably not a great method, but we got there.

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    1. yea.... i mean. getting there is half the battle. obvi that's kinda what i'm doing with the feed bucket. it just doesn't feel sustainable. that's horses tho, right?

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  18. Houston was never a super fun traveler. In the early days you never knew if he was going to get back on the trailer. More recently he would get on but if there was any activity going on I wouldn't be able to get the butt bar up fast enough.

    Annie has always been pretty good about getting on the trailer and then I started working with her to get her to wait while I go around for the butt bar. Now I can pretty much put the rope over her neck and she hops on without me. Having hay on the trailer waiting seems to help.

    I much prefer that as I get a little claustrophobic in the trailer front with some horses. Thankfully Annie has really good ground manners and is a pro traveler at this point.

    Safety wise I try to make sure the ramp is always up. Annie has been known to try to hop back on the trailer if it is down and it removes the risk of one more thing to try to step on, fall off, etc or otherwise maim themselves on :)

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    1. i definitely agree about preferring to send the horse in from the ground. self loading is where it's at!! that's what charlie does when the bucket is in there. without the bucket he needs me to walk in with him (tho my trailer is super spacious up front so claustrophobia isn't an issue), and a second person is needed to close the butt bar.

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  19. Fingers crossed that with more practice it'll start becoming second nature and the bucket may or may not be needed. Either that or put it there on random days so he starts anticipating it but not expecting it

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    1. well we don't practice with the bucket - we use a more specific method that's based on actually training a confirmed 'go forward' response totally independent of food. right now tho, that button doesn't really work yet haha

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  20. It took 3 of us to load Cosmo for his last show. Until then it was just me with a stud chain and "yes, for reals I mean it when I say get on the trailer." This last time though, it took me and my stud chain, our trailer buddy to hold the divid open, and a third with a crop at his hind end. He marched right on at that point, but come on dude. You know how to trailer, the trailer is warmblood size, I promise you will fit.

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    1. yeaaa..... i know that feeling. and i have a strong suspicion that some similar experience might be waiting for me and charlie one of these days lol, which is possibly why i'm so preoccupied with figuring out how to get him more confirmed lol

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  21. Oh man I wish the bucket method was an option for us.

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    1. yea.... it's definitely not a magic bullet for every horse, unfortunately

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  22. Ah trailer loading. For 10+ years, App required to be pulley roped onto the trailer and it took a good hour to get it accomplished. After we moved to our first english barn, a friend worked with us for HOURS with the tap method to retrain him how to load. I felt badly, bc we had to be really hard on him at times, but in the end he would load as long as there was a stud chain over his nose.

    I continue to use the tap method to train and it works wonderfully for me. Someone taps from the rear when you ask them to go forward. If they go forward, you stop tapping. If they back up, they get their nose yanked on as punishment for not going forward. Simply increase the tapping intensity if they are adamant they will not go forward more before backing off as soon as they take a step
    forward.
    I can now do it myself, pointing them forward and tapping the hindquarters with a dressage whip until they go forward. If they decide to run me over, they get a very strong correction as humans are squishy. Good luck, trailer training is so important IMO.

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    1. my method is similar... except there are no punishments and no corrections. just basic negative reinforcement.

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  23. Ramone always preferred t turn, we were used a step up trailer, so we'd load him in first so he could unload himself last.

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  24. I am glad Suzie self-loads. With Spud, I have to go in with him, otherwise he just turns around... and since he is just a mini I feel pretty safe being in the trailer with him lol

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  25. Time and repetition helped Q (the worst trailerer I've ever dealt with) get better. Some grain on the trailer helped, but definitely didn't sway her. I think the ultimate thing that helped her was a little two-fold: 1 - having a trailer buddy to convince her it's totally cool, and 2 - going to places that didn't suck (read: receiving grain immediately after disembarking). I did do crazy baby steps once I did have her loading that involved doing a lap around the driveway and getting her back off, or driving down the road and back up, or taking a quick tour of town and then coming back. Not all trailer rides suck, mare! And now, remarkably, she's my most reliable trailerer who is helping me convince Stan that getting on the trailer is an OK thing. I NEVER would have guessed that she'd do that!

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  26. My trainer always uses a bucket to coax horses anywhere. Trailering is so important for my baby horse to learn though. Ries isn't even confirmed and it drives me crazy.

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