Jenny Pearce

How to solve a float, trailer loading problem

18 hands tall, Oliver had experienced an old floating accident that had caused mental and physical trauma – I chose this photo of him to go with this article, as I could just about burst with pride for his recovery from such a terrible experience.

Before we get into Janet’s question and my answer, here’s a couple of things to think about before you even start float / trailer training.

How’s your attitude? Because if you’re in a hurry to get this job done, you can kiss your butt goodbye.

If you want a happy and confident horse, with very few exceptions, this is a job that CANNOT be rushed. There’s an link to an article about float training Sunny at the bottom of this article that talks about what they are capable of when you REALLY listen to them.

And secondly, how’s your attitude? Because if you make or force your horse into the trailer it is almost impossible to have a relaxed happy horse traveling.

Float and trailer training is about MUCH MORE than just getting on the float. It’s about having a relaxed happy horse traveling. So many so-called floating “accidents” were just waiting to happen because a tight, tense or scared horse with stiff legs was unable to cope with a sudden need to brake or a corner that they weren’t ready for or any other small pressure of something going wrong.

And thirdly, how’s your attitude? Because having a relaxed happy and confident horse TO RIDE, also involves having a relaxed, happy and confident horse TO GET TO the ride.

After a shitful traveling experience, they don’t suddenly relax and say “oh goody, here’s my nice person. Let me give them a lovely ride full of harmony and co-operation.” Yes that IS sarcasm you can hear in my voice… 🙂 They WILL be tight and tense being ridden after any tight and tense traveling experience – and it’s completely unnecessary.

And fourthly, how’s your attitude? Are you prepared TO LISTEN to your horse, to consider their fears and worries and work WITH them to solve them so that you do have a relaxed and happy and confident horse?

Maybe you can tell that I think your attitude is a big deal to the success of float / trailer training?

You’ll hear in Janet’s question that she already has a lovely attitude happening.

Hi Jenny,

I’m slowly working through your Nine Keys of Happiness.

I’m finding the Keys very helpful and am hoping you can offer further advice regarding my float loading issues. I’ve managed to unload my horse by backing down the ramp quietly the last couple of times after only loading him half on with front inside the float and back legs still on the ramp and then backing out again while he could still see where he was going. That exercise gained a lot of confidence. But, now he doesn’t want to load. He will place his front feet and head inside the float, but still have his hind feet off the ramp. He will lick and chew at that point and seems ok (and I feel ok at that point too), but doesn’t want to load any further. I spent 2 hours yesterday afternoon with him just quietly getting to this point but no further. I didn’t persist any further after that as the weather set in.

Kind Regards, Janet


My answer

Gosh that’s an enormous question Janet. You’ve certainly started off the right way. When I am absolutely sure there’s no fear or confusion, I don’t mind using a treat that they can reach OVER the chest bar in the float or maybe some specially nice hay in a hay net.

I don’t like to do that when there’s still fear or confusion though, because the fear will come back and bite you on the bum later and they generally don’t think when they’re focused on a treat, so using a treat too early can make you miss the opportunity for them to get the kind of understanding that will bring real confidence.

So, to eliminate fear and confusion first, think about ALL the bite size pieces are involved in getting on a float or trailer happily and staying on there happily and make sure these elements are happening:

*** You need him coming softly off the pull of a lead rope. We don’t want to be pulling for communication, but with tying up and the added pressure of the trailer, we want our horse to be able to experience a pull and respond to that in a positive way – because sooner or later they WILL experience the pull of a rope in the trailer and we want that to go well! (That’s my Aussie understatement happening there.

*** You need him to be comfortable tying up – i.e. coming off the feel of a the tied up rope happily and in their comfort zone (NEVER tie up in a float without the back actually done up). You need to have worked through his very natural claustrophobia and have him used to – and in his Comfort Zone – in the small space of the float.

*** He needs to be backing up softly, on request, in his Comfort Zone.

*** He needs to be able to back up downhill (which for some arthritic horses is VERY difficult) and you DO NOT want to be pushing this back-up. It needs to be soft, thoughtful and responsive.

*** He needs to be able to keep his head down as he backs up. There’s nothing more scarey to horse or person when a horse throws their head in the air as they go out of the float. It’s a recipe for injury and a traumatized horse. Teaching the combination of back up and head down BEFORE you go to the float is a very good deal.

*** And you want your horse to know where the roof of the float is. I did that with Oliver by using the butt of my whip to make a little sound on the roof above his ears, while he was still on the ramp, before he was even asked to step into the float.

The Seventh Key is a big deal with float loading – for new people reading this, that’s the lesson in the free program The 9 Keys to Happiness with Your Horse that talks about the healing and releasing of old emotional stress when we wait for the lick and chew – tho’ Janet it sounds like you’re using it since you’re already talking about it.

And your FEEL is a very big deal too – because that’s where your horse develops the confidence that you’re listening to them in all the ways that you experience your ability to listen to them. We systematically develop that Feel to the n’th degree on our Fast Track program, plus there’s a bunch of those float loading baby steps in Fast Track as well.

Here’s some more articles about float training:

A nice floating story- this is the one that has Sunny’s story in it

The list of baby steps that I used with Oliver to release his float trauma and have him step up bravely to help another horse



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