Whether you enter shows and competitions with your horse, like the odd day riding at the beach or need to move your horse to a new area, most horse and pony owners will need to transport their horse or pony by road at some point, using a horse box or lorry.
Many horses and ponies can be boxed and transported without incident, but for horses not used to the experience, or that have possibly had a fright or bad experience being transported in the past, the experience can be frightening. If your horse or pony is a nightmare to transport, won’t walk into the horsebox or lorry, or becomes unduly stressed during the procedure, it can be both frustrating and worrying- but don’t worry, help is at hand! Read on for our essential tips on loading and transporting your reluctant horse or pony successfully.
Preparation and protection
If your horse has had a fright or suffered a bad experience while being transported in the past, the worst thing that could happen is for that experience to be repeated the first time you successfully load them after the event.
So it’s important that before you begin, you make sure your horse or pony is adequately protected with boots or bandages, a poll guard, sufficient padding and bedding in the lorry or trailer itself, and no sharp or dangerous edges which your horse could catch on. Similarly, the trailer or lorry you are using should be sturdy and in a good state of repair- not wobbly or shaky when your horse steps aboard.
How loading should work- in a perfect world!
When all goes to plan and assuming your horse or pony is calm and happy with being transported, you should have your lorry or trailer set up ready for your horse or pony, with both of the back doors open, the ramp down, the guide rails set up, and the partitions ready for use.
Your suitably booted and protected horse or pony should have enough room to be walked briskly up to the ramp in a straight line, and walk straight on board and be secured, with partitions and safety devices put into place quickly after loading and your horse kept calm and reassured at all times.
The lorry or trailer (which should already be hooked up to the car, tested and ready to go) can then be closed up, and you’re ready for the off.
Tips to encourage reluctant loaders
If you’re one of the many horse or pony owners for which the above description seems like a distant dream, don’t get too disheartened- you’re by no means alone! The good news about that, however, is that over time, horse and pony owners have formulated many different tricks and approaches to loading a reluctant horse or pony, which should go some way to helping you out.
You may need to try any or all of the following to load your horse or pony successfully!
- As any rider knows, horses are very empathic and can sense our moods with ease. Stress, fear, frustration, annoyance- all perfectly natural emotions to experience, particularly if you’re expecting problems with loading, but it’s important to keep your horse from picking up on this, and to stay calm and positive at all times.
- If you own or have access to another horse or pony which is perfectly happy to be loaded and transported, this can be a great help. Let your horse or pony see the other horse being led into the box and secured with the minimum of fuss, then attempt to follow suit with your own animal. Don’t be prepared for failure- it’s vital to let your horse believe that you know they are going to walk onto the ramp without any fuss and that it’s just an everyday occurrence.
- Bribery with food is surprisingly effective with horses... Encouraging your horse or pony to load by using treats or a bowl of food may prove to be a simple fix, or provide some extra encouragement.
- Blinkers or a visor can be useful in keeping outside stimulus and stress to a minimum- your horse may be much more compliant and willing to be led onto the loading ramp while wearing them.
- Consider using boards (and a few willing helpers) to direct your horse into the lorry or trailer, by minimising the alternative directions they can go in, effectively slowly ‘herding’ them onboard.
- Make sure the inside of the trailer or lorry is light and bright. Horses are often reluctant to walk into darkness or into a situation where they cannot see what’s going on. If you have a jockey door or side ramp at the front of the lorry or trailer, having this open can be helpful, as your horse can see a way out and therefore may be more willing to go in!
- Reward and praise your horse or pony lavishly for any advancement they make to loading, even if you don’t get all the way there the first time. While it’s important not to let your horse misbehave or think they are being rewarded for non-compliance, if your horse is getting overly stressed, you are getting frustrated or the situation is getting fraught, stop and try again another day. The last thing you want to do is build new negative associations with being loaded for your horse.
- Be prepared to practice- It’s relatively unlikely that you will manage to load your problematic horse or pony the first time you try something new. Don’t try loading a problem horse for the first time on the day itself that it’s vital you transport your horse- keep practising, building up gradually. This can take weeks, or even months.
- When you get to the point that your horse will load and stand to be secured happily, don’t take them out right away. Let them get used to the lorry or trailer, perhaps feeding them or giving them a hay net while inside. Then unload them, and repeat the process a few times over the coming days.
- When your horse is perfectly happy being loaded and standing in he lorry or trailer while stationary, it’s time to try your first journey. Make it short, slow and uneventful, and your horse will forget he ever had a problem in the first place!
Special considerations when driving a lorry or towing a horsebox
While the loading and unloading process itself can be the root cause of fear or unwillingness to load for transportation, the vast majority of horses and ponies which are unwilling to load are reluctant due to previous bad experiences when on the road.
Avoid undoing all of your good work and causing a repeat of past problems by making sure that every journey is a good experience for your horse.
- Make sure that the suspension in the trailer or lorry is adequate, and that the walls and floor are shock absorbent and well padded.
- Always drive slowly and carefully.
- Brake gently- do everything in your power to avoid having to brake suddenly or stop in a hurry.
- Take corners slow and wide.
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