I have been saving this blog to co-ordinate it with a video loading the horses, to have a look at that click here. However, before you even think about travelling your horse you must think about the safety and suitability of the vehicle you wish to use. If you are using a trailer then the towing vehicle must be serviced regularly and checked before use. This also applies to a horse box which must be roadworthy. However, in addition to the safety of the vehicle you must also consider the safety of the horse transport section. I wrote a blog about Trailer Safety back in March which will give you a good idea about the checks you should make before each journey and on a regular basis.
If using a trailer be absolutely certain it is hitched properly before you load the horse, reversing is often a good way of checking this. Ensure the electric cable is attached and the lights working and that the safety chain is attached correctly. Also, put the partitions (and breach bars) in the correct place for the horse or pony that will be travelling.
Single horses travel better near the front of a lorry and on trailers should always be in the space towards the centre of the road. This is due to the camber of the road (ie: roads generally dip away towards the kerb). This is also true if travelling horses of different weights or sizes, the bigger or heavier horse should be travelled in the space towards the middle of the road.
Don't forget to load all your equipment on to the lorry or car before you load the horse. As you don't want them to be on there longer than necessary. What you need will depend on where you are going and what will be available there. Remember to take some water and a bucket for the horse too as some will not drink water away from home as it tastes different to what they are used to!
Horses also often load more happily if the front ramp is down and the trailer appears more open and light (as in my video).
Getting your horse ready for travelling will depend on a number of things so have a look at my blog on Dressing your Horse for Travel for ideas about that.
Ensure the partition and breaching bars are positioned correctly.
The horse should also wear a bridle over the headcollar if you don't know him or he may be difficult. This will give you more control. Having it over the headcollar will allow you to secure the horse before removing the bridle, once in the lorry or trailer.
Lead from the side of the horse which will ensure you can safely get into the trailer or lorry too. Make sure that the horse walks up the middle of the ramp, look forward and be positive, if the horse hesitates don't pull on the leadrope as he is likely to pull back!
Once in place you will ideally have an assistant who will position the partition (in a lorry) or attach the breach bar (in a trailer) they should always stand to the side to do this so they are not able to be kicked. When lifting the ramp the assistant should again stand to the side and NOT behind and underneath the ramp. I have heard terrible stories of horse's panicking and knocking the ramp back down as they exit - crushing someone underneath the ramp.
The horse should be tied up so he is not able to turn his head around or nip his neighbour! You can then exit through the groom's door.
Ideally the horse can be led down a front ramp in the trailer. To do this, untie the horse and hold the horse in position (enter through the groom's door) whilst an assistant gently opens the ramp (standing to the side) and then moves the partition or lowers the breach bar. Again, ensure the horse is walking down the centre of the ramp and you must not stand or walk in front of him.
If you are unable to use a front ramp and must reverse the horse then it is useful to have taught him the 'back' command before on a level surface. Don't rush the horse and give him time to think about where he is putting his feet. An assistant is again useful here to help guide the horse's hindquarters.
Loading Difficult Horses
Many horses are difficult because they have had a bad experience with a trailer or lorry, so always bear this in mind.
Horses can be nervous of different parts of the travelling and loading process. Some don't walk in and out of the trailer (or lorry) well, some don't like having the ramp closed and some don't like the actual journey. You can tackle each of these separately. Basil is not very good at walking on to the trailer and also is not very good at the journey as he tends to kick out at the sides all the way! Don't tackle all the parts of the process at once. In my video all you will see is that we practised walking up the ramp and onto the trailer and then backing out. We didn't go anywhere!
If you can, place the trailer or box close to a wall - to reduce the horse's 'escape' options. It is always an advantage if you have a secure area which means the horse cannot get far if you do let go! As you will see in my video with Basil there is no point in rushing a horse - give him time to think about things. Ensuring that you and the horse do not get too stressed also means that the horse will not become panicked which is when accidents happen! You want the trailer (or lorry) to be a 'positive' place, somewhere they associate with good things and not negative.
If your horse is nervous to walk up the ramp, again lead him positively, when he stops allow this, give him time to think but don't walk back to him! Keep the leadrope loose and he is likely to decide to move towards you - especially if you have treats or he can see a bucket with food in the trailer. As he comes to you then move up the ramp and further into the trailer - you want him to decide to come on his own because it is a 'nice' place to be.
If you need your horse to turn to the side in a lorry you need to practise this in the stable beforehand. Teach your horse to move over at your touch or command so that he understands when you ask the same thing in the lorry.
If your horse is nervous when you close the ramp ensure you do this gently. He may be better if he has access to a small haynet. You may wish to stay with your horse while your assistant shuts the ramp. Ensure you are in a safe place and that he can't injure you and then pat, rub and praise him whilst the ramp is closed. It may be a good idea to practise this, so just shut the ramp for a few seconds to start with and praise him. You can then slowly lengthen the time that the ramp is closed. You will then need to gradually stand further away so that eventually you are outside the groom's door when the ramp is closed.
If your horse is a nervous traveller. Make the journeys short to begin with - maybe just 5 minutes. Make sure you drive carefully and gently approach junctions, corners and proceed around roundabouts with extra care. Think about your horse - he can't see that you will be turning left or stopping ahead so can't prepare. He has to get his legs in the right place and his weight carefully balanced to remain upright when these things happen.
Just remember that this is all unnatural for your horse and that you must think about their safety and wellbeing at ALL times.
Have a look at this week's video 'How to .... load a horse into a trailer'.
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Until next time!