In our new series, we're tapping the experts in horse transportation to get the answers to your real-life shipping questions. Here, Brook Ledge Horse Transportation's Andrea Gotwals Boone weighs-in.
"My four-year-old has only been off the farm a couple of times, but in both instances, he's been difficult to load and unload from our trailer. Do you have any driver-approved tips for making shipping a positive experience for young horses, so that (hopefully!) my guy can grow up to be a well-behaved, well-shipping adult?"
-Sara F. Davis, CA
(c) Courtesy of Brook Ledge Horse Transportation
A: I wish there was a magic bullet, here, Sara, but the secret to success, in our experience, is pretty simple: practice, practice, practice!
You can think about getting your young horse prepared for a happy trailering experience in the same way that you would think about setting yourself up for a good riding lesson. You'd never end a lesson on a low-note, and you'd never rush a green horse from one phase of training to another—say, hurrying through flatwork so you can get to jumping. The same principles apply to teaching a young horse to load and stand comfortably on the trailer. Even if the steps you're taking are small—say, in the beginning, just walking forward toward the ramp and voluntarily sniffing—don't rush your horse, and don't put him away until he's feeling positive about the experience he's just had.
Here's something else that might help: use treats! Like people, most animals, horses included, are highly motivated by food rewards. Once you have your horse on the trailer, come prepared to feed him his favorite treat right away. Eventually, consider working up to doing an evening feeding inside the trailer. The idea is that, once your horse is inside, he's thinking about staying inside, and finding a sense of security and comfort there.
If you have the option, you can also work with a friend to load a trusty old-timer first, one who already knows the ropes and can set the example and provide your young horse with a sense of companionship and confidence. Let your young horse see his friend load, and then keep the older horse on the trailer while you work with your youngster to do the same.
The bottom line: most young horses can and will learn to load with confidence. The key is always being prepared to make the experience a positive one for him or her, and not getting flustered about how long the process might take.
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