Monthly Archives: April 2015

Loading your Horse in the Trailer

Often trailer loading is an exercise that happens when we need to get somewhere soon: a trip to the vet, meeting friends at the trailhead or hauling to a show.  Sometimes it goes great but sometimes it doesn’t. Difficulties can lead us and our horses to associate trailer loading with a negative experience.

Let’s change that.

Trailer loading can be a positive experience for people and horses. When we approach trailer loading like we do any other maneuver we train a horse for, we open the door to success.  We’re aware that training or retraining a horse takes time.  We don’t expect proficiency on the first go, and start practicing well in advance of when the maneuver is required.

Athletic maneuvers such as a spin or half-pass involve smaller elements that are worked on individually and then brought together. Trailer loading is very similar; it is a combination of a variety of individual elements.  The key to successful loading for years to come is to practice those elements, that when combined, result in a horse to stepping calmly into the trailer.

Sometimes, though, these elements are overlooked or simply not considered. Perhaps the only time your horse sees the trailer is when you’re in a rush. Some horses may also associate the trailer with previous negative experiences. Your horse may balk, back out quickly, rear, kick, pull back, run into you or kick the walls of your trailer. Keep in mind that your horse is only responding that way because in his mind, his life is being threatened. He isn’t misbehaving, he’s communicating. He’s scared or expects an unpleasant experience.

Not every horse will view the trailer the same way. Some horses have no fear or negativity associated with the trailer. They may have previous training or were introduced to the trailer as curious colts. It’s important to understand that although every horse is unique, their thoughts revolve around a self-preservation instinct. The trailer is a dimly-lit confined space with no room to flee: the antithesis of the herd and pasture.  It therefore makes sense that their self-preservation instinct is going to kick.  However, as leaders we have the ability to help them.

From a human perspective, getting in a trailer is a simple, one step maneuver. You just step up and walk in. No big deal. Thus the expectation might be formed that all horses should load easily all the time. But this isn’t the case, particularly for a mature horse that has never been loaded before, or one that has unpleasant memories associated with the trailer.

Let’s offer a fresh take and view trailer loading as a combination of elements.  Training then becomes both an organized demonstration of exercises we have accomplished, and also an indication of specific elements we need to work on. How a horse responds when asked to get in a trailer exposes those specific elements. We work on those details away from the trailer.  When we’ve improved, we practice the trailer again and assess the result of our work. It’s a positive training style that has no negative for the horse.

All of the exercises presented here presume your knowledge of the leadership elements of Mind, Space and Pressure.  This is a separate topic that’s well documented in my Leadership video series available on my website. Check it out! – Josh Nichol

Let’s take a look at some exercises we can work on to support trailer loading. Platforms, doors, stalls and shelters are perfect training tools accessible to everyone.  These exercises can be worked on for a few minutes every time you catch your horse. By doing so, you’ll have a good idea whether your horse will succeed at the trailer, what struggles he might have and particularly, what you need to work on.

In order for a horse to go in a trailer, relax and maneuver calmly, they must be able to:

  1. Yield calmly to your space and energy at the head, shoulder and hip;
  2. Step up onto and down off of a platform, pausing between the front and hind feet;
  3. Back down off a platform, pausing between the front and hind feet;
  4. Turn around calmly in a small space;
  5. Calmly walk forwards and back up through a door;
  6. Stop and stand calmly for a period of time;
  7. Move forward calmly as a function of your energy;
  8. Stand calmly in a confined dimly lit space;
  9. Walk onto, stand and walk off of a variety of different surfaces such as a mat or a tarp;
  10. Relax when pressure is applied.  

Click here to watch a demonstration video. 

Note: It is important that when we’re using a flag or a stick, that we use that to support a positive change in your horse.  We don’t use those tools to chase him – we use them to cause your horse to change his focus to you.  This creates a connection that will allow you to ask your horse to try.

When you and your horse gain proficiency at individual elements, slowly start combining them.  By focusing on these individual elements, the horse will come to believe that you are the key to his success: through repetitive positive experiences he learns that you are capable of eliminating his fears.

I’ve found that the obstacle course is an excellent venue to develop leadership, communication and athleticism in our horses. The trailer is simply another obstacle and when we approach it that way, we achieve success. – Scott Phillips

When we’re ready to test our exercises at the trailer, let’s first make a few commitments to our horse:

  • I will remain calm, positive and energetic;
  • I will use the lead rope as a tool to ask my horse to relax; not attempt to pull him into the trailer with it;
  • I will be open to what my horse is feeling and do my best to deal with his anxieties;
  • I will observe which of the 10 steps above we need to work on, and practice before reattempting a trailer load.

Sometimes asking our horse to get in a trailer can tempt us to become frustrated.  Subsequently, we might resort to certain actions to get the job done that might not be in the best interest of your relationship with your horse.  Let’s look at a few of them and offer some alternative suggestions.

Pulling hard on the lead rope.

If we pull on the lead rope with 10lbs of pressure and our horse is not moving, it’s because he is pulling with 10lbs of pressure too –but opposite the direction we want him to go. He’s already having trouble moving forward and we’ve just made it 10lbs more difficult. Pulling on the lead rope can also train your horse to brace against your hand at other times – including when you pick up a rein.

Suggestion:  We teach our horse that a light feel in the lead rope is a request to release – to turn off those muscles that prevent his forward movement. Once he is relaxed we can then ask him to go forward. Initially that might only be one step closer to the trailer. If you sense him becoming nervous, then stop. Get him relaxed before trying another step.


Excessive pressure to force your horse forward.

Sometimes we do need a slight amount of pressure to have our horse follow our forward presentation. We apply this when we’re clearly asking forward and he’s really thinking about taking a step; just enough to tip the scales, so to speak. But we don’t apply pressure to scare or chase him.  He’s already having difficulty and scaring him more isn’t going to help him at all. It will cause him to expect that when he’s scared you will force him into his fear.

Suggestion: Away from the trailer, practice having your horse following you. Simple liberty exercises are perfect. Your horse learns to follow your energy in whatever direction you use it. To get in the trailer, he might just need to learn he can move forward with you.  Practice having your horse walking, trotting, turning, stopping and backing beside you. When he is adept at mirroring your movements you’re off to a great start.


Chasing him in a tight circle on the lead rope if he doesn’t get in.

Sometimes, away from the trailer, we need to show our horses how to move forward calmly with us.  This is different, however, than chasing him as a method of fear-based punishment.  The problem is that the two exercises – being chased (predator behavior) and getting in a trailer with you (herd behavior) are unrelated and do not support each other. Horses form associations and having him associate the trailer with the negative experience of being chased is undesirable.

Suggestion: Referencing the 10 steps above, observe what the issue really is and where the weak spots are.  Then, head away from the trailer and practice.  When you’ve improved, try the trailer again, only as a test to see if the work you did was successful.


Getting stuck in a rut.

One thing that can happen is we try the same thing over and over again, hoping for a different result.  Be cognizant of falling into this trap.  Horses learn by repetition.  If you’ve tried the same thing and your horse has responded the same way several times, then stop.  Take a break to reset.  Practice a different exercise that supports what you were trying to do.  Then revisit the trailer with your new idea.  

Trailer loading is a guaranteed event many times in a horse’s life.  Your time investment in training him will pay back over and over. Your horse will associate you with positive experiences and will be more willing to try new things. Positive spin-offs result from this approach.  You’re teaching your horse how to handle pressure and manage his fears. You’re teaching him how to transition calmly and yield laterally. You’re showing him how to place his feet and navigate obstacles.
Most importantly, you’re improving your ability to communicate and be a leader, skills that will positively affect all of your future endeavors.


horse trailer loading

Chip’s first Trail


That Special Horse – 2015 Contest Winners

Well after much deliberation (and some tears, apparently), the judges have finished going through all of your stories and the long awaited results follow!

But first…we have to give a big THANK YOU to our prize sponsors:

Brand Y Tack and Supply

Brandy has donated many great prizes for this contest. When in the Sylvan Lake area make sure you stop in for all of your equine needs, a smile and a cup of coffee!

Lisa Blanchard donated the horse blanket and provided contest advertising and promotion. Not to mention helping me build a rail fence!


Irvine Tack and Trailer has been a long time sponsor for our various activities and we’d like to thank them once again!



And we can’t forget ourselves. We’re sponsoring 2 spots in our Amazing Horse Country clinics this summer. Check out all the details here.

And second…we have to give a big THANK YOU to our contest Judges!

Choosing the Grand Prize winner is Monica Culic.

You’ll recognize Monica as the producer of The Horse’s Mouth TV, Calgary Stampede M/C, keynote speaker, published author and the owner of Equinicity Communications Inc.

Monica is also the proud owner of a Canadian mare named Secret.  Monica has a wealth of her own horse stories, too!

And…the additional judges were my own mom and dad. Two very special people in my life that have supported my ‘crazy’ decision to pursue horses as a career. They have been captivated by the beauty, power and irresistible charm of these amazing animals. They know a connection between a horse and a person when they see it – or read it!

So are you anxious yet? Did you even read any of that above? Or did you just scroll down here for the meat and potatoes of this post? Hmmm….I could keep everyone waiting another day.

But man – the Facebook posts I’d get if I did that!

Ok. I relent. Here you go.  Note – if you are a prize winner, we’ll be contacting you this week.

Grand Prize Winners of the 2015 “That Special Horse” Contest are:

The authors of the following two stories both receive a spot in the Amazing Horse Country Clinics this summer.

Echo, the Family Pony – by Gale Dodd Hayday

Gales story was engaging, well written and interesting. A real treat to read. Though the other contestants work was solid, Gales story captured the spirit of the relationship between a human and horse. She truly epitomized the purpose in your mandate: “that special horse.”

Merlin – by Susan Curnow

The first paragraph says it all: When you have a horse for any length of time, it becomes more than a horse but a family member. You understand its moods and quirks from a daily interaction that goes beyond pet.. Merlin was like that.

Most Likes

Big John, a True Gentleman – by Timmi Shorr

For the most liked story, Timmi wins $50 in Irvines Gift Certificates!

Runner-Up Prize Winners

Rocky – by Yvonne Miller
He was such a good teacher and so responsive to the riders, be they old, young, novice or experienced.
Yvonne wins the Weaver Barbed Wire Collection! This great looking set includes a matching headstall, breast collar, spur straps AND reins! Brown skirting leather highlighted with a crisp, deep hand stamped barbed wire pattern and stainless steel hardware.

Prize Sponsor: Brand Y Tack and Amazing Backcountry

The Gift of a Horse – by Natalie Axten
He taught Natalie that there is so much more to life – to relax, enjoy a wonderful horses and her surroundings.

Natalie wins a an EOUS Solid Fleece Blanket. An outstanding neckline sets the EOUS Solid Fleece Stable Rug out from the rest. The details make it ideal for show awards or to use at the show grounds, and yet the quality of the workmanship makes it perfect for everyday use as well!

Prize Sponsor: Lisa Blanchard.

Liberation – by Alana Goldney

Shows the tremendous healing power of horses.

Alana wins A Bridle Bag : Your bridles, bits and reins are worth a lot of money. Prevent them from getting snagged, scrached or covered in dust (or other horse things!) with this great bridle bag.

Prize Sponsor: Brand Y Tack

Alaska, My Heart’s Breath – by Sandy Bell

She was shown humility, courage, forgiveness and how quietness speaks volumes when communicating with horses.

Sandy wins a Hoofprint Framing Kit!  This is really cool and totally captures the spirit of this contest. You can take an imprint of your horses hoof! The kit comes with all you need including sand and your choice of wood frame.

Prize Sponsor: Brand Y Tack

Miss Lupita – by Cindy MacDiarmid

A horse that senses when people need her is a great comfort.

Cindy wins $50 in Irvines Gift Certifcates!
Shop in store or online at one of Canada’s biggest tack retailers.

Prize Sponsor: Irvine Tack and Trailers

Perfect Timing – by Leona Tompkins

The discovery of the power in the connection with a horse – by a person new to horses.

Leona wins a Framed Print – Four riders enjoying their horses with a sunset for a background. What could be better?  The print is framed with a barbed wire inset. Very artistic!

Prize Sponsor: Brand Y Tack

Head over Heels into Horsemanship – by Susan Larsen

Susan demonstrated some amazing ‘stick-with-it-ness’ with a horse through tough training episodes to serious health issues, and learned so much in the process.”

Susan wins $25 in Irvines Gift Certifcates!
Shop in store or online at one of Canada’s biggest tack retailers.

Prize Sponsor: Irvine Tack and Trailers

And that, my human and equine friends, is the end of our first contest of 2015! ??We heard more than one comment from story writers that this was a great opportunity to finally tell their story. We also heard, more than once, from the judges how hard it was to decide.

That says something.

We’ll see you on the trail!

Scott Phillips, Amazing Backcountry

That Special Horse – Story Contest Windup

Amazing Backcountry Contest Image

I felt connection, saw progress and was fueled by hopes, dreams and belief in goodness.

Pistol felt my vulnerability. My weaknesses. She never took advantage of them. I forged a new kind of trust with her.

That pony taught me so much about horses, their language, their deep hearts and emotions…their overwhelming desire to be accepted and respected.

She is a healer for other humans too, besides me, and seems to be drawn to comfort people carrying deep sadness.

I saw and felt his comforting presence and told my horse we would be just fine because Big John would look out for us. I believe he still will from his endless pasture in the sky.

There are so many good lines in your stories.  I could publish pages of quotes. Everyone who has owned or experienced a horse has a story. I’d like to thank you for sharing yours. We will have the winners list up soon (Easter weekend was perhaps not the best time to end a contest)

In reading your stories some aspects of your relationships really shone.  Some of you had life altering experiences with your horses.  Some of you sacrificed countless hours, not to mention dollars, pursuing goals, dreams and even extensive rehabilitation.  Some of you defined horsemanship as you had come to understand it: your horse as a teacher. Some of your stories echo the unfortunate heartache of losing your equine companion.  Some of you discovered that, in the horse, you found someone that understood you without prejudice or condition.

Amazing Backcountry Contest ImageJust what is it about horses that evoke such deep emotional responses ?  Is it their power, energy…their life?  Do we envy their freedom and strength and bask in our ability to share in that with them?  I have my theories.  Despite the fact that the possible answer is undeniably poetic and beautiful, it is also at its core quite simple and sensible.

I believe it is important for us to share our stories. As we share and learn with each other, not only do we make evident the importance of horses in the lives of people, we validate it. I have many of my own stories to tell too. They will all be in the book, if I ever get it finished…You may have already read some of them on the website or in magazines, generally as educational pieces. In order to touch briefly on the horse-human equation I’ve already started writing about, I’ll brush the horse hair off my keyboard and recount a personal experience.

Recently, I spent an extended period of time in the hospital, mainly due to the mistakes of some doctors which resulted in unplanned surgery and subsequent recuperation. Through the struggles and discomfort I had, I was able to keep an excessively positive attitude. This was noted by nurses, doctors, friends and family alike; I could not help but be positive and joke around. Why? Because I had a goal that I was getting closer to being back with my herd.  Every day that I felt better was another step closer.

At one point the physiotherapy crew was coming to my room, with the intent to get me up and moving around using a walker.  I was not aware that they were on their way, and by chance, met them in the hallway. I was energetic, happily scooting around on crutches with IV machine and various other tubes barely under control.  The walker had lost its appeal before I left the door of my room.

Well so much for that plan, they joked.  One of them followed up with, With most patients, we have to work to kick their butt out of bed and get them moving.  With you it’s the opposite: you’re the type of person we tell to slow down!

I will tell you why.  It was because of my burning desire to be with my horses. Even from a distance their influence on my daily life tugged at me constantly, but positively. I joked quite a bit about kicking out my roommate in my hospital room and replacing his bed with a stall so I could bring in a horse to replace him. Farfetched, yes, however I was absolutely serious about spending time with a horse.  I make no secret of the fact that I feel better and heal better around horses. Obviously many of you do too– your stories…well, they tell the story!

Amazing Backcountry Contest ImageHealing with horses is well known and common.  Horses are part of therapeutic programs; some even government funded.  What many people don’t realize – something that is a core of my training program with people, is that just as a horse can create a positive dynamic for a person, a person can create the same dynamic for a horse. And once the horse buys into your ability to offer that, (and this doesn’t take long) well then you have just opened up the door to a whole new level of understanding horsemanship. From the horses perspective.

From my hospital room I thought mainly about Ty.  A 20 year old gelding that I have nursed through many life threatening injuries including a broken neck. It is not possible to express our bond within the limits of the English language.  Ty reciprocates energy in a natural way of a herd leader by providing a space full of peace and positive energy. I was looking forward to healing in that space.

Unexpectedly Spud, my 10 year-old-ish paint horse, filled this role.

A quick aside: Spud and Ty are joined at the hip.  Although Ty is the leader, Spud will go to bat for him in an instant. Most recently when Ty was injured and in a pen by himself, Spud wouldn’t leave the area.  So I put the two of them together. Spud stood by Ty’s side for weeks. At one point, one of my rascals unlatched the gate: Ty got loose!  Spud was in a panic.  Ty and the herd were in the pasture well out of site. But Spud stood at the fence near my house calling until I came. I had no idea Ty was loose until I walked to his paddock and found the gate swinging in the wind. Still excited, Spud took me out to the pasture and – no word of a lie  helped me lead all the horses back. It was more than obvious that Ty was not going to be caught and the only way to get him back was to take the entire herd.  Spud did this for me, and only settled down once Ty begrudgingly following the herd back – was safe and secure. Spud seems to be exceptionally alert to the mental and physical state of horses and people.

Back to the near present.  I had waited a long time for some horse time. Hobbling on crutches on the ice, I carted a lawn chair out into the paddock. Immediately Spud trotted up to me, assuming a comfortable spot by my side, and put his head down by my shoulder. He stood by me for the better part of an hour, until I had to get up. Exactly like he did when Ty was injured.  A protector? A source of strength and healing energy? A shared place of peace?

All of the above, most likely.  I had been in a lot of pain, but sitting there with Spud,  I felt none.  None. I was surrounded by the positive energy of those horses.

I was at home again.

Amazing Backcountry Contest ImageA herd leader like Ty can create a space of peace around him that the other horses want to stand in. We can do this too. How ? Think about it. What does a horse really need?

Freedom from fear/predators, freedom from hunger/thirst and freedom from herd related stress.  What remains is peace. It is as simple as that.  What makes a horse special is their natural ability to share and communicate that.

Part of my training methodology involves emulating the horses natural behaviour, particularly how they communicate through energy and feel. And of course putting that to good, productive and most importantly fun use for the mental and physical benefit of both horse and rider.

Amazing Backcountry Contest ImageWhat I believe I, and many of our story authors have come to realize here, is that the horse is entirely capable of sharing their peace, energy and emotional strength intimately – with a human.  I also believe, amongst other things, this is something that draws us close to our equine companions. ??Closer on some levels than we are sometimes willing to let ourselves be with other people. The ability for us to let down our guard and energetically, empathically and emotionally share our very selves with an animal that instinctively communicates that way is an indescribably incredible gift. It’s encouraging to me, as a trainer, to see that many of you have discovered that.

Once again, thanks for entering the contest.  I hope you enjoyed writing your stories as much as we enjoying reading them.

As you know the Grand Prize of this contest is a spot in one of our clinics this summer.  The goal is to develop your horsemanship skills in a fun and supportive environment, and put your learning to the test on the obstacle course. With nightly campfires, free camping for you and your horse, an exceptionally reasonable price and generally just a darn good fun time….

…why not join us? For more information on the clinics and to register, just click here.

Stand by for a BIG announcement on the contest winners and our Amazing Sponsors!