A Perspective on Horses and Float/Trailer loading by Fiona Darling
Updated: Mar 26
“Welcome to my Parlour.” said the Spider to the Fly……a Poem by Mary Howitt
What does the title of this poem mean to you?
Would answering “No way!” to any one of the following questions ring true to you with the title to this poem in mind?
Would you enter a clothing shop with eager looking staff waiting near the entrance and no other customers in site?
Would you enter a lift with one other person who is acting rather suspiciously?
Board a near empty train bound for an unattended railway station late at night?
Would you walk on your own through an inner city parkland late at night?
Would you live in a bushfire prone setting with only one exit route?
Would you jump straight into a water hole in the Northern Territory?
Would you go diving in a well known White pointer shark habitat?
The natural instinct of a horse as a member of a herd is as a prey animal being constantly on the lookout for predatory behaviour and an awareness not to be caught or trapped which would then render them unable to run away.
To a horse as a prey animal a float is a trap.
What does predatory behaviour look like? It starts with one predator stalking; using approach, approach, approach one step at a time to catch their prey then the other members of the pack come along to help bring that caught prey animal down ready to eat. Just watch what happens when a horse says No to a person trying to get them in a float. Before you know it another person comes along to help so now two people are there with one person coercing or pulling on the horse from the front and the other person at the back pushing with a rope or a broom or the like. Now more people join in to force the horse in the float. What will that horse think next time they are lead towards a float?
Horses in the natural world need their prey animal instincts to survive. In the human environment however these prey animal instincts do not necessarily serve the horse well.
With humans as top order predators the natural, first instincts of a person ring alarm bells to a horse. In order to develop a partnership with a horse the human must show a second nature with retreat coming before approach and using body language, the language of the horse, to communicate thus allowing the horse to develop a second nature with building trust, confidence, understanding, respect and curiosity.
None of this can happen until the horse feels safe. The horse’s next priority is comfort. When a horse feels safe they then can think their way to seek comfort. In order for a horse to want to happily load into a float they need to know that it is not a trap but a place of comfort.
A big clue to begin helping a horse feel safe around and in a float is to look at the herd dynamic. The herd looks to the herd leader if the leader is happy and relaxed it signals to the other members of the herd that they likewise can be relaxed, if the leader is tense and on high alert so should all members of the herd. If in our time with our horse we have proved to them we can be a worthy leader in our herd of two they will look to us and be in tune with our feelings when around and moving towards a float, respecting our personal space and with our patience building their natural curiosity when feeling safe and unrushed to investigate.
Introducing stepping stone challenges to help the horse gain confidence in restricted spaces, standing on unusual surfaces and remaining relaxed with different sorts of sounds happening around them are all good preparations for loading and travelling in a float.
Understanding what is important to horses, communicating with them in a way that makes sense to them, having patience and showing ourselves as their worthy leader in our pair bond brings out a second nature in a horse to trust in the requests we make of them. This allows a horse a sense of having a choice and not being forced, allowing them to build their curiosity and finding that a float is not a trap but a place of comfort to rest, a sanctuary and if offered to eat hay even more so.