Q & A Trailer Loading Headaches

Published in the April 2008, edition of the Western Horse Review.

Joch Nichol Trailer Loading

Josh Nichol offers no-fuss trailer loading advice.

Josh Nichol answers a reader’s question on a common trailer loading issue. Nichol, is a horse trainer and clinician who resides at Eagles Wing Ranch in Meanook Alberta near Edmonton. He once said: “Softness is the ultimate goal in everything we do with our horses, for only through softness can a horse be and give his best.” It’s been said of him that he understands the deeper way and greater way of horsemanship. Visit him online at www.joshnichol.com

Question: We have five horses at home. We purchased a 12-year-old mare two years ago and we used her regularly at gymkhana and team penning events. When we first got her, she would walk in our stock trailer by herself and out (moving forward), without any problems. Then one weekend last summer, we used a slant trailer. She walked in without a fuss but when we asked her to back up, she was out like a sling shot. Following this incident, she panicked at various competitions while being tied to the trailer and even broke three halters. In an attempt to avoid any more episodes, we purchased a pen that attached to our stock trailer. A couple of months ago, we had to use a slant trailer again and just like before she got in without a fuss, but on the back up, she moved out so fast it was dangerous. Now, she is at a point where she is uncomfortable and nervous even getting in our stock trailer. I’ve had to park the trailer at the entrance of the round pen where she would need to get in on her own to get her feed, hay and water. With a lot of probing she finally got in again, but I can sense that she is not like she used to be. What can we do? Teach her that it’s okay to be tied in/out of the stock/slant trailers, and back out without danger out of the slant trailer? Please note, there is no ramp, it’s a step up.

~ Josée Martel, Clarence Creek, ON

Answer: Most of the time when a horse worries as they back out of a trailer, they will hurry. As they hurry the lead rope soon tightens up amplifying the horse’s anxiety, seemingly giving them more to fight against. To fix this problem we must break it down and fix it in parts.

The first part we have to work on is the definition of the lead rope. Most horses will lightly respond to the lead rope when there is nothing to worry about but as soon as a greater worry shows up, the lead rope loses its effect. I would start by seeing if your horse has the ability to soften her head down to the lead. Apply a small amount of pressure to the lead and see what you feel. If there is a large amount of resistance, ease off a little but keep a question of pressure in the lead until she thinks to soften her head down. Remember that there is a difference between lightness and softness; she can quickly throw her head down but this does not mean she is soft.

Next it is extremely important to have your horse understand your space. Take a moment to engage the space making sure she is staying soft. Most often when the horse worries you will then see if they truly understand your leadership. Ask her to stop to your space, back her up with your space, softening her head each time you stop her. Pressure can also be used to help her understand forward is the answer, if that becomes a problem. As soon as she steps forward, stop your pressure. Once this is working, walk her up to the trailer. As you are leading her to the trailer, do you get a sense that the space is no longer clear and/or is she still soft on the lead?

Now that you have your basics you can work in the trailer. You can start in the stock or the slant, which ever you are more comfortable in, although it may be a smaller question for her to start in the stock. When you ask her to step into the trailer see that she brings only her front feet and stop her. At this point ask her to soften her head and wait, then back her out. From here ask her to bring in all four feet and stop her; ask her to soften her head and wait, then back her out. It’s at this stage that she may rush out. If she does, keep only a small amount of pressure on the lead and go with her and ask her to soften her head once she’s out, proceeding back into the trailer.

Often we do not earn each step, we take them the whole way into the trailer. Work towards breaking the problem down into small parts and help her stay soft each step of the way into the trailer. Take her into the trailer two steps and back her out, then three steps and back out. The back feet are usually the big struggle, so once you have gotten the back feet in stop her, get her soft then back out and let her take some time if she needs to figure out her feet.

Usually a pulling problem is a horse that does not understand to soften to the lead. It is the same reason she is pulling backwards in the horse trailer. If you can get her to soften to your lead and your space at each step of the way, as well as getting her to soften under pressure, you will be able to get ahead of this problem.

Friday's Q&A: Bridling Issues

Published in the June 2007 edition of the Western Horse Review. 

Bridling a horse

Photo Credit: Cowgirl Creations


My horse puts his head way up in the air when I bridle him. How can I make him stop?

~ Karen Talmed, Cochrane, AB


Generally the reason a horse’s head is up is an act of self preservation. Regardless of the circumstance, he is trying to escape. Perhaps he had his teeth banged when he was bridled in the past, or someone was rough with his ears.

First, you need to teach him to bring his head down to your level. Put pressure on the halter, pulling directly down. When he gives, even just a little bit, release immediately. Then try again until he is at your level.

If this method isn’t bringing his head down, use the same pressure, but side to side to help him understand the pressure and release.

If he throws his head, try to keep your hands on his face, but keep your hands soft and gentle. If he is flinging his head he generally is saying he doesn’t like his head being touched. Try to make it enjoyable for him by remaining soft and calm.

Ask his head to come down to a workable level when he has grasped the concept. Make sure you can rub his mouth, face, and ears all over, while keeping his head down. If you feel that he is nervous about the bit, try putting a rope in his mouth first, then just a bit, then with the bridle. When you do bridle him, try to be as smooth as possible by not poking him in the eyes accidentally, pulling on his ears or letting the bit hit his teeth. It can help to put the far ear in first.

Every time you bridle, don’t be rushed. Forget the rest of the world, and take the time he needs. He will get better as time goes on and as you remain soft and calm with his head.

~ Stevi Weissbach, natural horsemanship practitioner

Six Tips For A Successful Clinic

In-Hand Trail Class Tips

Horse Fencing Fixes

Published in the June 2007, edition of the Western Horse Review.

Horse Fencing

Does your fence look like this??If so, it may be in need of some tender loving care – this is a prickly affair you’ll have to take seriously.

There are many types of horse fences out there these days, all in various states of repair or disrepair. Fences not only make good neighbors, they also keep your animals safe, protect your property and allow for good pasture and animal management. Having a fence that is strung too loose or too tight is a hazard.

There is an art to tightening a barbed wire fence and not one that can easily be taught with a step-by-step process. It’s a matter of trial and error. Hopefully with this step-by-step process you can eliminate some of the errors that normally occur.

Fence Brace

A sturdy, properly built fence brace.

1. Make sure you have a properly built brace on your fence. In a barbed wire fence, all the tension occurs at the braces. Because of this fact, you must have a 4x4x8 or treated land-tie, or four-inch rail as top board to create a brace for the rest of the fence line. I use eight-foot corner posts for my brace and I might use a 6×8 brace post for strength. A brace is notched between the two posts, not just nailed on top.

2. Look at your terrain. If you have flat land the fence tightening process will be different from hilly terrain. With hilly terrain, check the wire at low spots first, because if they are too tight, posts will pull out of the ground.

3. Know the ground under your fence line. If it’s solid, you can tighten the fence more than with soft ground. If it’s soft, tightening your fence too much will pull posts out of the ground. In the case of an untouched hay field, you’ll need longer posts – seven or eight-feet– since the ground will be soft and won’t hold posts as well.

4. Check your posts carefully. Sometimes a post looks fine, but from the ground down, it’s rotten. It’s a good idea to check each post. Maintaining a barbed wire fence is labor intensive. If you’re only doing a quick visual check of your fence line, you’re not properly maintaining it.

5. Ideally you should be using #9 galvanized wire (or stronger) to build your brace – the foundation of your fence line. If you’re using barbed wire for brace wire, you need to have a stick in the wire, at the brace point, to tighten the wire and keep it tight. You can use the other wires and brace to hold the stick in place and tight. This will allow you to increase or decrease tension in the wire as needed.

Fence Splice

A barbed wire fence splice.

6. You may have to add a splice into the fence if the wire has been loosened by an accident or age. Make a loop with one end of the wire by bending it backwards and twisting it back around itself. Then take the opposing wire, loop it through the loop you just created, bend it back again and twist it back around itself.

Fencing stick

A stick used in the wire at the brace point, tightens the wire – and keeps it that way.

What not to do
1. Some people use their hammer or fencing pliers to pull the wire tight at each post and then hammer the staple in all the way to keep the wire tight to the post. By doing this, you take away all the give that a barbed wire fence should have to be safe and effective. It weakens your fence line.

2. Many people use spring ratchets sold as barbed wire tighteners; this is what I use. But you’ll see people set up at the end of a fence line, ratcheting in the wire until it can be plucked like a bow. If barbed wire is too tight, then it loses an important element: the give. When your horse backs up against the fence, it should have some give to it. If it’s too tight, it will break, causing problems for you and your livestock. Tightening your barbed wire fence line is a big job; it’s not just a matter of ratcheting in the wire a few notches.

3. An engineer might tell you that having a diagonal board at your brace will make it stronger, but this isn’t necessarily true. As mentioned before, the tension is on the top of your posts and therefore you need a top, horizontal brace and not a diagonal plank for a strong, properly built brace.

Safety First!
• Wear safety glasses!
• When pounding posts, be aware of your surroundings and if possible, acquire some training regarding how to use the post pounder properly.
• Wear safety footwear, long sleeved shirts, jeans and sturdy gloves.
• If you aren’t comfortable seeing the sight of your own blood, you may want to call a professional. If you’re fencing longer than five minutes with barbed wire, you’ll get a scratch or two.

Creating Soft Hands For Better Horsemanship

The Next Steps to Great Spins

Foundation Training With Les Vogt

Andrea Fappani’s Advice On Circling

Published in the June, 2007, edition of the Western Horse Review