Basic steps to help a reluctant loader.
I get called out a lot to help people with horses that are difficult to load. Some are genuinely worried about going in a trailer or box, but most just decide they don’t want to! The first step in the process is gaining good control of the horse on the ground and the ability to step them forwards, backwards and sideways in a rational manner. At this stage I also teach them move forwards by giving them light taps with a schooling whip on their side while maintaining a light pull on the halter. When they step forward, I stop tapping and release the pressure on the halter, so they understand they have done the right thing.
Before you present your horse to the ramp, prepare your truck or trailer to be as welcoming as possible, for example, move the partitions out and park downhill to make the ramp less steep.
When you are ready, lead your horse up to the ramp. When they stop, it is important not to pull. Let them have a look before asking for some forward steps with a light pressure on the halter. As soon as they step forward, it is important to release that pressure so the horse understands they have done the right thing. If they still don’t move, increase the motivation to move forwards by tapping them gently on the side with the schooling whip. Again, when they step forwards, stop tapping! This is the basic process you need to repeat until your horse decides to go up the ramp into the box. The most important thing to remember is to keep looking for the right movements then reward them by letting your horse relax. It is a case of ‘one step at a time,’ and while they look like they are making an effort patience is the order of the day!
Some things to look out for include your horse looking out to the side, which can be corrected by a more assertive pull so your horse’s head is looking straight up the ramp. Your horse may move their hindquarters sideways, which is corrected by using the groundwork that you established at the beginning to move your horse back so they are straight on to the ramp.
Some horses have problems coming off the truck rather than going on. They all display similar behaviour becoming unsettled, looking to rush out and getting very anxious about being shut in. To get a horse to settle on a truck or trailer, the basic theory is to make the truck the ‘nice, easy’ place where they get a rest, and outside where they have to work (I usually make the horse ‘lunge’ round me), with the key being that you never force the horse to stay on the truck. Once they are settled on the truck or trailer, I work on them coming down the ramp calmly. This involves letting them come out how they want, but then I make them work hard to get them back to standing correctly at the bottom of the ramp. In time, they realise that rushing off gets them nowhere and they learn to walk slowly off the ramp at the handler’s request.
Check out the Re-Education course for examples of horses with loading and travelling problems and how I tackle them.