I have been around the world with one of my great mentors, Monty Roberts, and no matter where you go, how warm or cold it is, what language is spoken or even what the favorite cuisine is, float loading is a BIG issue!
People seem to have developed a thousand different ways to engineer their horses on the float; using whips, brooms, tail ropes, linking arms and pushing them on or even trying to bribe them on with a carrot or grain. Although all these methods go from one extreme to the other, that is, they range from the harsh use of the whip to the soft approach of the food bribe, they all have one thing in common. They are ineffective! As horsemen we need to understand our subject, which is of course our horse. As humans we are accustomed to going in and out of confined spaces, for example, living in houses and getting in and out of cars. So to us it would seem perfectly logical for a horse to go into a float. After all, what harm can it bring? The float is not going to attack them! But we need to step out of our shoes and into our horses. When we do this we will find that what seems logical to us may be not at all to them. By standing in their shoes and seeing the world through their eyes we will see that horses survive by fleeing and outrunning their predators. There is no way they can do this in a confined space, to them the float is a potential death sentence. So we come to realize that as a flight animal a small, confined space like a float is the last place a horse would go into. With this in mind, how do we then go about convincing our horse to go into this small confined space? Firstly, I would like to add something to this question how do we cause our horse to go into the float willingly time and time again? If we take a look at our own lives, when we are forced to do something, whether it is physical or mental force or other forms of intimidation and coercion we may carry out the task but we do it resentfully and we would never volunteer or want to do it again! On the flip side we will do something willingly and repeatedly if we understand what we are trying to achieve, why we are trying to achieve it, how we achieve it and if it produces a desirable outcome. When we think about the kind of people who can convince us to do something we’re unsure about they are always strong leaders with strong communication skills. It’s no different with horses! We need to be this strong leader in our horse’s life. To a horse, whose goal is to survive, leadership is critical in keeping them safe. But what makes a leader? To me a strong leader is someone who you can trust, who you respect and who has great communication skills. So to be this leader to our horse we must first of all understand their psychology and learn their language so we can communicate with our four legged friends. That’s right; we must learn to ‘talk horse’! When we understand their language and psychology we can then earn their trust and respect. Applying this to the float we must earn our horse’s respect through communication. We will communicate with them by moving our horse around in different directions and controlling their motion. Once we can do this we then have a base to ask our horse to move on and off the float. While doing this we earn trust by simply understanding why our horse does not want to go on the float and convincing them otherwise. We have to show them that it is not going to be a place where they are trapped or that is dangerous. In fact, we’re going to show them that the float is nothing to worry about at all. To keep it simple, horses must have enough trust in their leader to feel safe in the float and enough respect to move on and off the float willingly. So by performing a float load using techniques horses understand, we learn a whole lot about horsemanship in general. We learn our responsibilities as handlers or leaders and we learn how we can outline to our horse their responsibilities and let them know that we understand their language and can communicate with them. We also let them know we understand how they think and what motives and goals they have in their life. By simply taking the time to understand our equine friends and in this case why they don’t want to go onto the float we can then go on and learn how to cause them to want to go onto the trailer willingly. You will find through this process you will learn a lot more about horsemanship than just float loading, you and your horse will have a much greater base for remaining safe and very importantly you will have a lot of fun! James has a DVD available - Float Loading with James Meurer – which shows how to make float loading, fun, effective and stress free.