The horse is a flight animal. This means that if scared he will run away from the fear, as supposed to a fight response, where the animal will attack the object of fear. Your horse refusing to go near the trailer, is not being “naughty” but acting correctly according to his innate behaviour: “One of the most important things to remember is that horses evolved as a prey species. That means that many of their instinctive reactions are based in a desire to protect themselves from danger.” (1)
The problem arises that we are asking our horses to supress their fear and if they can’t do this, their reaction can be volatile and extreme: “Fearful large animals are dangerous animals. They are more likely to injure themselves or their handlers than unafraid animals. Fear is a universal emotion in the animal kingdom: it motivates animals to avoid predators and survive in the wild.” (2)
In order to be responsible horse owners, it is our job to teach the horse that the trailer or lorry is not a source of fear. To do so we must ensure that we train our horses to trust and respect us. To do this we must take the necessary precautions to optimise the conditions in which we load our horses. “Accidents from these types of deficiencies (Slippery surfaces on loading ramps) usually are due to poor judgement or lack of necessary precautions.” (3)
There are a multitude of opportunities for injury during the loading and unloading of horses: “Hazards to people in the vicinity include kicking, biting, or injury arising from crushing or being struck as the horse rears in the air. Further hazards arise from the weight of the doors falling onto people including when horses barge their way past.” (4) And many other ways, and other horrific accidents that have occurred while people are trying to load their horses.
A horse that is correctly trained to be loaded reduces some of the dangers of loading. Accidents can happen when “…bystanders or young people are sometimes asked to help, and they may be inadequately trained for the purpose…”(4) It is not the job of spectators at shows to help you to load your horse, it is your job to ensure that your horse is trained to do so.
“Where loading and unloading is incorporated as part of a horse’s basic training they are more likely to accept it and be compliant.”(4)
Do your homework at home. Thereby you will give yourself the possibility of having a safe and enjoyable day out with your horse, without the added stress and risk of having a difficult to load horse to persuade onboard at the end of the day.
- Betsy Greene, Equine Extension Specialist, University of Vermont; and Pat Comerford, Equine Extension Specialist, Penn State University
- SAFE HANDLING OF LARGE ANIMALS (CATTLE AND HORSES) OCCUPATIONAL MEDICINE: State of the Art Reviews. Vol.14, No.2, April-June 1999, Philadelphia, Hanley & Belfus, Inc.
- Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) Health and safety in horse riding establishments and livery yards WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW