How I Trailered my Horse Sunshine for the First Time

Photo by Teddie ZieglerAs I mentioned in last week's blog, I am going to tell you about lessons I've learned from horses. So here is a another story about my horse Sunshine... I told you last week about my friend and I purchasing Sunshine and about our first visit with her.  This week I want to tell you how we got her into the trailer.

First of all, I did not believe that Sunshine was going to load into the trailer. I had never tried to load a horse that had never been trained to load before. The only way we taught a horse to load in a trailer, at my families ranch, was to use a horse trailer as the feeding station for a month and tie them to the trailer on a regular bases. After that they loaded easily.

I had seen the fights between horses and humans about loading. I had watched the progression of more and more pressure put on to a horse from staring out with trying to lead a horse in easily and then trying bribery and then to using a butt rope and then to a war bridle along with the butt rope and then the whipping and then lunging the horse as a punishment and then picking up the feet and lifting them forward one step at a time. This usually ended up with the horse and/or human getting hurt in the process. In the end the expert that was rounded up after all of this was unable to load the horse.

Photo by Teddie ZieglerThe only chance I would have getting Sunshine into the trailer is to really listen to her and be a strong support for her and not tip her off to the idea that she was going to be put into a perilous situation or would not have a say in the matter. When horses do not have a say that is when you have a problem with them.

Harriet was concerned too. I told her that I was confident that she would load easily. I did not need two of us concerned. I explained that because she was so easy to halter break it would be easy to teach her how to load. Harriet was confident in me because of my background with horses. However, I had no idea at the time what I was going to do.

Whenever I trained a horse the first step was a five day rest and then a walk about to get to meet the new horses and enjoy grazing around the ranch. I got to set the mood, letting the horse know that I was a person to be trusted and someone that would take care of his or her’s needs. Then my approach was to follow a gradual process that was lead by the horse's responding to being trained. Well this just wasn’t going to happen.

I decided to spend the day with her in the field. Hariett and I packed a picnic and brought every kind of treat for Sunshine and off we went in our rented truck and trailer. When we arrived she was in a holding pen in the field so we did not have the herd to be concerned about.

Photo by Teddie ZieglerAs my memory serves me, we brought along lawn chairs and sat by the trailer with Sunshine. I had all the treats in the manger of the trailer. I feed them out in small amounts so that I had to go into the trailer many times to get a treat. Sometimes I would try to lead her in and sometimes she would go in and other times not and sometimes she would go in on her own to get her own snack. At times she chose to cut out the “middle man”, me.

I took her on walks to and from the trailer. I tied her to the trailer with food. We must have spent three hours with her and in the end she loaded easily and traveled well to her new location at Golden Gate Stables. We were prepared to not load her that day if we saw that it was not going to work. I developed a method of loading a horse from that day’s experience with Sunshine. I have used it ever since.

This is the Method:

I walk the horse to the trailer as if I am going to load the horse and when the horse stops from concern I stop and wait for the horse to relax and then I ask for one more step and then I lead the horse away and take the horse on a walk where I have treats stashed and let the horse graze. I reward the horse for the one step by taking the horse away from the trailer. In no time at all the horse will walk right into the trailer. The horse sees that the short distance to the treats is in the trailer. I also did the picnic part as well. The secret is to keep the joy in your heart and to influence the horse to see the joy of learning and connection with you in the training experience. So trailer loading training became fun for me and the horse.

Teddie, Carolyn, AndreeThere are more stories to come about my relationship with Sunshine. My next story will be our adventures in Golden Gate Stables, and there were many, and one you will not believe.

More stories to come next week...

Have a great weekend!  Be on the lookout for new horse and human sightings and may the horse be with you.

Warmly, Carolyn