Three common horse loading problems solved

There’s nothing more frustrating than a horse that won’t load. You’ve spent hours getting him ready for his journey, but he walks up to your trailer or horsebox and refuses to go in. In this situation it can be tricky to know what to do, but with a little bit of time and patience you can have your horse travelling happily. Specialist trainer, Michael Peace offers his tips and advice on how to overcome three common loading problems, so your horse loads first time, every time.

Time and patience are needed if your horse isn't keen to load

Time and patience are needed if your horse isn't keen to load

Problem: He won’t walk up the ramp

Solution: When your horse plants his feet, don’t walk to where he’s standing as this suggests to him that he’s moving you and not the other way round. Try standing where you want him to move to and wait without any pressure on the lead rope. If you try and get into a fight with him you’ll not win. By simply waiting you’re giving him time to assess the situation and realise it’s easier to stand with you.

Problem: My horse is scared of small spaces

Solution: Some horses will load quite happily, but he’s not so happy when you close the partition. This creates a smaller space for your horse, and as a flight animal, he may find this restricting. Stay calm and patient while he figures out what what you’re asking him to do is ok. Resist the temptation to pull on the rope, wait in the spot you want him to walk to and let him think for himself. Once he moves to you praise him.

Problem: He doesn’t understand where to stand in the box

Giving clear signals to your horse helps him understand what you want

Giving clear signals to your horse helps him understand what you want

Solution: Some horses can’t work out how to position themselves once they’re inside a horsebox. A good technique is to use his head like a rudder. Move his head to the opposite side you want his quarters to go, you’ll find if you do this he’ll swing his quarters round into the position you want. You need to give your horse clear signals and be precise in what you’re asking your horse to do. 

Six easy ways to tackle napping

Napping is often thought of in terms of a horse being naughty. But when he refuses to leave the yard, or goes so far and then tries to whip round and head for home, he shows another example of separation anxiety. If this sounds familiar, follow British Dressage and British Eventing Accredited Coach, Joanna Day’s tips for success:

1. Work him out

If you work your horse hard at home, then take him a short distance away, let him rest and, if possible, graze, you’ll find being near the stables will become less attractive to him, and going away from home will become more so. Repeat, gradually building up the distance.


2. Back to school

In the school, try riding a nappy horse with one other, then taking him away from the other horse while both are rested. Don’t let them stand together, but rest them in different corners for a short time.


3. Ask for help

Don’t cause yourself more problems – and risk having an accident – by trying to cope alone with napping problems. If you’re nervous and lack balance and stability, get help to give your horse confidence, which in turn will help your state of mind, and work on your own riding too.


4. Tough love

Don’t pat a horse to try and reassure him when he’s napping, because by doing so, you’re rewarding the behaviour. Pat him when he moves on, because that’s what you want to reward.


6. Leapfrog!

When you’re ready to ride out, once you’ve done in-hand work and separation exercises in the school you should be able to ride out a short distance and then gradually increase this. If you can go with another horse, try a useful technique called leapfrogging, where one horse overtakes the other and moves off and the one who is left behind is asked to accept this and stay calm. This work can progress to more challenging manoeuvres, including one horse going out of sight of the other. It can be used in-hand as well as ridden.


6. Be clear

Schooling for the right response will reap benefits. If your horse understands and is responsive to your aids in a schooling environment, you should have better communication away from it. 
Even if you prefer to hack, establishing communication will make hacking more enjoyable and safer.

How to deal with bucking

While watching your horse buck and play in the field is lovely, being on-board when he kicks up his heels is quite another matter. Bucking is a behaviour developed to stop predators getting on the horses’ backs. In domestic circumstances, however, it can be triggered by fear, pain, over-excitement, excessive energy, or high spirit and poor riding. Some horses do also seem to have particularly sensitive backs, while others will use the excuse of cold or windy weather!

Dealing with bucking:

1. Have a health check

Get in the experts to check his teeth, back and tack, so you can be sure there is nothing causing him pain. While you’re at it, invest in a lesson or two to be sure you are not inadvertently causing him any discomfort in his back or mouth by your riding.

2. Energy balance

Ask a nutritionist to assess your horse’s diet for his current workload. It can be easy to overfeed, especially if you have good intentions of riding more than you actually manage to. Good quality forage should make up the majority, if not all, of most horses’ rations.

3. Take avoiding action ­

Get to know the times when your horse is likely to buck and what the warning signs are. If his head drops and he slows, sit behind the vertical and take a firm contact to raise his head. Push your legs further forward and get your heels down, then encourage your horse to work forwards.

4. Safe circles

Riding onto a circle can help prevent bucking as your horse will need to use himself properly to balance. It also takes coordination and concentration.

5. What’s the benefit?

If you can either prevent the buck, or work through it and carry on with what you were doing, your horse will gradually realise he can’t get away with it. Be firm and confident, and he’ll realise that bucking doesn’t get him out of any work.

How to deal with Barging

Some horses have a habit of flying out of their stables, through gateways or pushing past their owners, and there can be a number of reasons for this behaviour.
"Very often horses are afraid of moving through narrow gaps because of a past knock or bang to the hips," Sarah Kreutzer advises. "This may have happened in a trailer or walking through a narrow gap and, after this, the horse will attempt to get through any small gaps quickly, resulting in behaviour very much like barging."
This brings us straight to the 'medical'. Make sure your horse isn't in any physical pain from anything, including a previous knock or bang.

Think Nature
Usually in the herd, horses (and especially the unhandled foals) are extremely wary and respectful of our personal space. They don't barge or push, instead they keep their distance, only approaching with caution if they feel secure enough to do so.
"Over-handled, homebred foals can often end up being very pushy. If they aren't given proper boundries as foals, they'll grow up thinking they don't need them, and this can create a horse who will barge," explains Sarah.
"Also, if we put an unhandled foal from the herd in a small space, they'd probably want to get out of there as soon as they can. Being in a confined area isn't normal for horses, so naturally they'll want to get out - and, for them the quicker the better!"

What are the signs that something is wrong?
Barging is a behaviour that happens on the spur of the moment. But that doesn't mean it starts one day out of the blue.
Don't forget that your horse may have been, or may currently be giving you, little signs that he's not happy and spotting them early could prevent him from barging altogether.

For example:
- Reluctance to load, or move through narrow gaps
- You're no longer in control of his feet
- He's losing respect for your personal space

What can you do?
When barging is an issue you need to question - who's moving who here?
"You should be able to lead your horse in a controlled manner without the fear of him rushing past or over you if he becomes scared," say's Sarah.
"Remember, if your horse is moving your feet, then he's in charge."

  • Positioning - Make sure your horse is never made to face or pass something he's frightened of too closely. Position yourself between him and the scary object to show him there's nothing to be afraid of.
  • Move his feet - You need to be able to move your horse's feet. If you do that then you're the leader. You're acting like a mother figure, which will reassure him.
  • Show him it's safe - Your horse could be feeling insecure and his barging might be an attempt to get close to you so he feel's safe. Take little steps towards the thing that's worrying him to show that it's safe for him to move nearer.
  • Remember you contract - Don't forget that by barging and being pushy, your horse is letting down his side of the bargain when it comes to your 'contract'. As one of Sarah's five key concepts, your horse should know that he shouldn't walk over you in return for you not walking all over him. Take back the control by using your body language - not by force. If your communication gets louder, he will only do the same thing in return.
  • Put boundries in place - Don't be tempted to let your foals get away with murder becuase they're small and cute. Put boundries in place early and stick with them from the point on. But don't go to the extreme and treat a horse like a machine - remember they're living, breathing, feeling animals just like us - let them keep their personalities.