Loading Masterclass

Understand how to manage a tricky loader with this easy to follow process from Monty Roberts.

A non-loading horse benefits significantly from the process of ‘Join-Up’ (see below), and is far more likely to cooperate with trailer loading if he has consciously chosen to be with you. Perhaps the most useful piece of equipment for helping a non loader is the Dually halter (available from www.intelligenthorsemanship.co.uk). It is imperative however that you understand how this pressure and release device works. It is basically a headcollar with an adjustable double noseband which tightens and loosens according to how much pressure the horse exerts against it. It is extremely effective in creating a light and responsive horse which ultimately will follow your body language with no need for pressure from the halter at all.

LoadingWhile working with the Dually, do not underestimate the power of schooling a horse to willingly back up. A horse that does so willingly is much more likely to load. Before loading any horse you should take great care to provide an acceptable vehicle and equip your horse appropriately to protect against potential injury. You should be diligent and place safety as a priority and also that of the horse’s comfort. Make sure the footing is good and that you help the reluctant loader as much as possible by positioning the vehicle alongside a wall or fence or fashion a loading shoot. It is very useful to have a portable barrier that can be brought in carefully behind the horse to encourage him if necessary.

After you achieve complete cooperation schooling with the Dually, you can approach the truck or trailer. When you are near the ramp, work the horse in a forward and back routine (two steps forward then two steps back). I call this a ‘rocking horse’ motion. During this procedure, you should make no attempt to load the horse until the forward and back motion of the animal can be evoked readily by body communication alone, which should be easy if you have mastered the Dually!

Once your horse is following your body motion (moving forward and back when you move towards or away from him without any tension on the lead) you can turn and walk into the vehicle. In extreme cases, should the animal refuse to come forward, you can place tension on the halter and wait for the slightest motion forward. If forward motion is observed, be quick to reward it with a rub between the eyes. If the horse flies backward, release the pressure and allow him to reach the temporary obstacle placed to his rear. Once the reversing has ceased, you should begin the pressure again on the halter and wait to observe forward motion.

When he negotiates the ramp and enters the trailer, you should consider his work just beginning. The horse should be taken off the trailer and reloaded 10 to 15 times before making any changes. Once the horse is loading with adrenaline down and in complete comfort, you can begin to remove the influence of any wings and walls you may have used to help him.

I believe that these loading procedures should take place on a day when there is no need for travel. Waiting until you must travel usually allows insufficient time to execute these procedures without anxiety. Each procedure should be conducted in a calm, cool and tranquil fashion. It should be your goal to achieve willing loading with the adrenaline level of the horse as low as possible. The horse should walk quietly with his head low and exhibit licking and chewing, which denotes relaxation. If you follow these procedures to the letter, the results are usually incredibly good.

Join-Up Just as with virtually every problem I meet, I recommend you complete the Join-Up process before attempting to work with a non-loading horse. Working in an enclosed space such as a round pen, one begins Join-Up by making large movements and noise as a predator would to drive the horse to run away. By using body language the horse can understand, you ask the horse, ‘Will you pay me the respect due to a herd leader and join and follow me?’ The horse will respond with the predictable behaviour of a herd animal by locking an ear onto you, licking and chewing and dropping his head in a display of trust. At this stage you should adopt passive body language by turning away from your horse and breaking eye contact. This will invite him to come close. Join-Up occurs when he willingly chooses to be with you, walking at your side and thus accepting your leadership and protection. This is a very brief overview of the process of Join-Up. For more, please visit www.montyroberts.com

Monty’s tips

  • Thoroughly study, understand and complete the Join-Up process
  • Thoroughly study and understand the use of the Dually halter (available from www.intelligenthorsemanship.co.uk)
  • Place safety at the top of your priorities
  • Make sure your vehicle is in good repair
  • Ensure safe footing for loading
  • Use appropriate shipping equipment
  • Provide wings or structures in the beginning to aid loading
  • Pick a day without the necessity for transport
  • Work without stress and excitement
  • Take time to repeat the process until the horse easily accepts loading
  • Load without wings or structure
  • Never tie your horse in a trailer while the back gate/ramp is open