Have you ever heard the old adage, it’s not the will to win, but the will to prepare to win that sets one up for success? Well, with that in mind, we here at the ResqRanch decided that the time is now to practice trailer loading, so that we are ready to go when we find our new, permanent facility.
First things first, we had to dig the trailer out of the snow. Be aware of this fact when you park your horse trailer. Where you park it before winter can make a big difference, should you happen to need to get the trailer out when you least expect it, such as in any kind of emergency.
So pro tip #1, have your trailer ready to go any time of the day or night. Your horse’s life may depend on it.
Think about the fact a trailer sitting on snow may be higher than your ball hitch, so keep that in mind, as well as the footing at the entrance to the trailer. Personally, I like the trailer backed up to a little snow mound, as that makes for less of a step up for the horses to get in and out. I like to keep a snow shovel in my trailer at all times, makes for a perfect manure scoop any time of year, and makes it handy to keep the tires free of snow and ice in winter. Also don’t lodge those tire chocks in too tight, as they can be harder to get out of there with some snow and ice.
Pro tip #2, before unhooking your trailer next time, put a block behind your back truck tire. That way the next time you go to back up, you will know exactly how far to go.
Pro tip #3, don’t start trailer loading practice until the horse(s) has had a little turn out time, preferably in a spot where they can observe you hooking up the trailer. They will definitely be watching (and probably getting anxious).
For practice sessions with our bumper pull, we hook up the truck to the trailer, move the trailer just to the best spot for the horse’s footing at the entrance to the trailer, then move the truck (only just enough to unhook the trailer), and lower the trailer hitch down again as far as possible. In this way it gives the horse the illusion of a connected truck and trailer, but allows the trailer to be in the best, safest, most stable position for animals getting in and out.
Pro tip #4, while the horse is turned out, and watching you make this big production with the truck and trailer, be sure to get the horses most favorite feed bucket, fill with tasty treats, and make sure to pick it up and set it down, and pick it up and set it down, shaking it around a lot the whole time, to get the horse as focused on what’s in that bucket as they are worrying about what all this trailer moving might mean. You can even periodically stop, look at your horse, shake the bucket, and say “Mm, Mm, Mmm! Cain’t wait to give you the chance to take a sample of the amazingly tasty treats in this bucket!”. The whole idea is to change the horse’s emotions around the trailer. For most horses (who are universally claustrophobic), getting in a trailer is a very, very scary experience and only associated with negative things, like going to the vet, moving to a new barn, or simply being separated from your home and friends, even if it’s for a short time. It takes a LOT to get a horse even remotely comfortable with getting in and being locked in a trailer. Think of it like having to ride in a closed casket with a small window to get to the state fair, because that is similar to how it affects most horses. Horses that willingly get in and out have had lot’s of correct practice, and few learn to actually associate it with something happy and joyful, they just learn to master their fear. Something like us, who for example, might learn to master our fear of heights to climb a ladder, but that’s not exactly the same as looking forward to, or really enjoying the experience of having to climb and be up on that ladder. So be kind, gentle, and patient with your horses when it comes to trailer loading. It’s one of the hardest tasks they will ever have to master in their life. And helping them overcome fears takes patience and grace.
Now that we have set the stage, it’s time to halter our horse(s) and practice! Stay tuned for the next installment on exactly how to do that, coming soon! And if you haven’t already, sign up for our newsletter, and subscribe to our YouTube channel, so you will get the next installment delivered right to your inbox as soon as it’s released! Thanks for reading, and God bless!