Trailering Anxiety

Trailering Anxiety

Zelda and I have something in common: trailering anxiety. It was her anxiety while trailering last year that prompted me to have her scoped for ulcers. She’s never been bad about getting on the trailer, but sometimes she would tremble as she stood there, and on the way home she would move around a lot.

Guess what. I hate trailering, too. In my opinion, it’s the most dangerous part of every off-property ride. The thought of my horse riding in a steel box surrounded by the crazy drivers that are on the roads, makes me feel sick. I didn’t used to be this worried, but the anticipation of something maybe going wrong is terrifying. I am a super careful driver, my truck and trailer are well maintained, I have a weight distributing hitch with sway bars, and I have a camera in the back, so I can see she’s safe, and yet . . . if something happened to her while we were trailering, I would be beside myself.

Back to Zelda. Brainstorming with the vet, we were not sure if the trailering was the issue, or whether hunting (which comes after trailering) was making her feel anxious. She’s always been great in the hunt field, but last year she started misbehaving — she got very strong and opinionated to the point where I started looking for bigger, better bits.

The vet suggested giving her a bit of Ace and taking her for a few easy rides. So last week, I showed up at the barn with the trailer and no place to go. When Zelda hears the trailer come up the driveway, she starts to get keyed up. For a horse that never misses a meal, the fact she doesn’t want to eat is a dead giveaway. Don’t get me wrong. She never objects to getting on the trailer. She walks on with no problem.

So, I gave her a cc of Ace, then stuck her on the trailer with a hay bag full of alfalfa (her favorite). Then I left her.

It just so happened that the horses had done a number on the fencing — the electric charger had stopped working and in addition to bringing down the now non electric tape, they’d also turned the wooden fence line into their own pick up sticks game.

Zelda trembling on the trailer. Please excuse my dirty horse. We weren’t going anywhere!

So Zelda stood on the trailer while I fixed the fence and while Freedom ran back and forth and called incessantly to her. In the beginning, she trembled.

Zelda feeling much more relaxed about standing on the trailer.

Eventually, she got bored and ate the hay. She must have been on that trailer for at least an hour so I don’t know exactly when she transitioned from anxiety to acceptance, but she no longer trembled when I went to check on her. In fact, she even ate her breakfast while standing on the trailer.

I’m going to continue taking her on non-trips and non-hunting trips (today we went to a hunter pace, where, after she stopped looking for the hounds she got very chill).

As for me? I wish I could take a cc of Ace! That’s not in the cards, so I’m just taking it easy and sticking to smaller roads where I don’t have to deal with Covidiots who are still driving 85 MPH.

I also hope that more work is done to make horse trailers safer. I wrote about one company that’s been working on improving horse trailer designs. It’s long overdue. Perhaps, if I had a gooseneck trailer I’d feel more secure but mostly I want to put bubble wrap around both of us.

How about you and your horse? Is trailering an issue for either of you?

3 thoughts on “Trailering Anxiety

  1. I’m right there with you on this issue. I actually think I’ve had more challenge with trailer loading and driving a horse trailer than any other equine activity, including riding. It is also the one issue where it is really hard to find instruction. I am guessing most of us learn through trial and error. This can be hard on both the horses and humans. I know I have learned some hard lessons at my horses’ expense. And I’m still learning.

    I also wonder about trailer safety. For example, I am not convinced that a new trailer is necessarily safer than an old trailer. There doesn’t seem to be enough industry wide safety standards or information widely disseminated about construction to help the consumer make the best choice about what make a “safe” trailer or what is the safest trailer for their particular situation.

    All this as I prepare to drive my horses to a vet appointment . . .

  2. I totally feel you. I get this way too! I went through a very long time of trailer issues with my gelding, except that he did refuse to go in. I do not know what started it. He was going through a phase that permeated everything. Once he was loading again and unloading well, we did similar work of just loading and hanging out in there. Then just short trips down the road and back. Then a little longer. Then going somewhere and just hanging out. Then going somewhere and doing light work. And so on. He still trembles at the beginning. He stops when we get where we are going. I think I might go back to putting him in there and hanging out for longer. He often does not even eat his hay in the trailer. A little bit of fear on our part is good because you never forget they are back there and drive with them in mind. Trying to make it as comfortable and smooth as possible. I think that is what many horses have issues with. I also saw something the other day about different positions of standing in the trailer and how different parts of the body are taxed because of it.

  3. I don’t mean to pick at you..of course not…but I wonder how much of Z’s apprehension comes from you. We both know how well they read us..I’ve often said you can’t lie to a horse. I think your putting her on the trailer and not going anywhere is a very smart thing to do. I wonder, too, if you might do something very strange to a non horse person…load her up and then YOU sit behind the wheel (not for an hour, of course) and just sit there.

    On another hand, it may be the trailer itself. IT looks to be a straight load? And she’s a big girl. I’m not saying you need a new trailer. oh hell no…but she might just barely fit, or feel constrained. I know Raven liked to have his 2 horse slant all load all to himself, and I’ve seen a study where the horse rides backwards..meaning head at the loading end…and had an easier trip of it in the way of footing.

    As for trailer safety? I pull a small camper with our 8 cylinder Toyota Tundra and campers seem to be better designed for towing. I don’t see the horse trailer industry doing too much in the way of improving safety…but they have to balance the fact that a horse poops and pees in the trailer, they move around, they can’t be seatbelted…it’s an odd cargo, one that can’t be reasoned with like a human and yet is intelligent and subject to fits of panic for no discernable reason. They have to make them light enough to be towed by a regular sized pickup truck, with one relatively tiny connection in the way of a ball hitch. The bigger ones, fifth wheels, are far better in the way of stability and connection…but it’s too big for a person with just one horse.

    Meaning, I think they’ve reached the limit of balancing safety with usability.
    If we all had tons of money…something horse people usually DON’T have, the best vehicle is probably a ‘van’..the type of thing where the truck is a big diesel with the box on the bed, two or four stalls inside the box itself, and the horse loads up a ramp on the side.

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