Trailer loading, just like any other behaviour we would ask our horses to do, must have had been taught before we can ask, and expect, the horse to perform that behaviour. An even more important question to ask is have the component parts of the behaviour been taught, as this is usually why the ‘behaviour’ falls apart.
So, what are the component parts of ‘trailer loading’ behaviour? What behaviours do we need to teach before even attempting to load a horse onto the trailer? Some of the behaviours needed will depend on the loading history of the horse and also on how you want to go about loading your horse onto the trailer. Do you want to have him load himself or do you want him to follow you on?
I’d like to look at getting a horse to self load. We will also assume that your horse is an ok loader with no huge issues, as these too will need a slightly different set of component behaviours despite the fact that the same end behaviour of ‘loading onto the trailer’ is what we want.
Once again mat work, a form of the foundation behaviour of targeting, is one that works well for trailer loading. We can have the horse target his nose to a target in the trailer. We can also use the foundation lesson of standing on a mat (which is really targeting the feet to the mat) to load onto the trailer.
For this article, I have chosen to explain the process and the component behaviours needed using mat work.
So, the first behaviour, we need to shape is standing on a mat. For a detailed explanation of how to teach this foundation behaviour, please refer to the previous blogs.
When you have done the mat lesson and used high rates of reinforcement to make the mat a ‘very good place to be,’ and your horse will actively seek out the mat to stand on it you are then ready for the next important component part of the trailer loading behavior – generalization. Will your horse seek out and stand on the mat in different places, at different heights, in tight spots? If the answer to these questions is yes then you are ready to move on. If the answer is maybe or no then you need to look at what is causing the issue in the new place?
Are you making the changes too big re what you are expectation? Behaviour will fall apart a bit when we change anything about the behavior be it duration, location etc.
Remember that you can only change one criterion at a time. So, if you choose to change the location you can’t also at the same time increase the duration of the behaviour. So, after the work is solid in different locations you can then add in the criteria of duration, the next component part.
When you horse’s behaviour is solid about finding the mat and standing on it for a period of time , in different locations, then you can introduce the trailer. Some this week work on getting the generalization part solid! No trailer until next week.