Traveling in the Horse Box

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Excursions into the countryside do not spell the end of learning with the mother. Attending different shows can also enrich the life of a foal, as long as the hectic activity usual at such events is not transferred to the youngsters. It may be sensible not to visit a horse show as a first outing as show classes can cause a great deal of stress for rider and horse. a great deal of stress for rider and horse. Taking a foal along in such a situation invariably increases the stress levels of the rider as well as those of the dam. This, in turn, will be transmitted directly to the psyche of the foal. The result will be that the foal will always associate horse shows with stress: a negative experience which should be avoided at all costs.

Attending a horse show is acceptable provided the rider and the owner of the dam don’t attend with the sole aim of winning, but rather put the interests of the foal first. For this purpose, it is quite sufficient just to ride the mare in the collecting ring without actually riding in a class. The foal cannot differentiate between its dam competing or not. The stress level, on the other hand, can be reduced considerably. The foal should learn through play and therefore it is advisable to undertake trips for the sake of pure pleasure. Many events are suitable for this purpose, for example, charity rides and small gymkhanas with demonstrations and mounted games. Quite apart from the fact that taking the foal along is a new and interesting experience for the horse owner, the mother and foal are sure to catch the eyes of other riders and spectators. Without a doubt, the foal will be the darling of every event, which is always a bonus.

In some countries, it is necessary to load the mare and foal into a horsebox or trailer to take it to a showing class, where the foal is branded and receives its papers. A basic requirement for visiting horse shows is the loading of mare and foal into a horsebox or trailer, as well as the trip itself. Therefore, this is one of the first items on the training schedule of a foal. It makes no sense to take the foal to a show the first time it has been loaded, as the youngster will have to cope with too many new things at once. Such an action will cause stress and insecurity, which is not a good introduction for a young horse to such events. That is why the trainer should approach the lesson step by step. Teaching the foal to load into a trailer or horseboxes one of the most important things it will have to learn, as this could become a matter of life or death under certain circumstances. In the case of colic which needs operating on (twisted gut), safe and efficient loading is a must if you don’t want to waste precious time.

A trainer should make use of the time during which the foal follows the mare at the foot, by teaching the foal to load, which should happen almost automatically when the dam is there. One pre-requisite, of course, is that the dam loads without any fuss herself.

Teaching the foal to load into a trailer or horsebox is one of the most important lessons it will have to learn.

The trailer is prepared in advance by removing the partition to create as much space as possible for mother and foal. There is a very large variety of horse trailers, which are more or less suitable for transporting a mare and foal. Attention should be given to specific aspects to transport mother and child safe. Basic requirements for a trailer are a bright interior, a long and low ramp, known-slip floor, and, in principle, an injury-proof construction. There are further aspects to take into consideration for transporting a mare with foal, which not every trailer offers. As the partition in a two-horse trailer must be removed, the front and rear bars will have to be removed as well. However, some trailers have a front bar that runs the entire width of the trailer and which can remain in the horsebox de-spite removing the partition.

It affords the mare the necessary support during the braking maneuver. A second aspect that needs to be considered when trans-porting foals, is the security of the rear opening above the closed ramp. Depending on which type of trailer is used, it needs to be closed − by tarpaulin or flap − thus preventing the foal, which is never tied up during transport, from jumping out over the ramp. As the air cannot circulate in trailers that are sealed on all sides and it can become stuffy very quickly, a special foal-guard made from sturdy mesh should be used instead, thus letting air in and securing the way out at the same time. This foal-guard or closing the rear opening with a flap or tarpaulin is essential as there have been several instances where foals have jumped out of the trailer at the rear onto the road. The consequences of this do not need spelling out. If all safety equipment is fitted, the adventure of traveling in a trailer can be undertaken.

To begin with, you should load the foal safely together with its mother. This requires at least one assistant, who leads the mare into the trailer. The foal follows its mother on the lead-rope. If the youngster follows up the ramp behind its mother and into the trailer without hesitation you are lucky. In most cases, the foal becomes rooted to the ground in front of the ramp and stares nonplussed into the dark hole of the trailer. It sees no reason for stepping on the ramp of the trailer. Seeing that its mother is not going anywhere, the foal reckons that its position in front of the ramp is quite an in order.

This is when the foal handler will prove his or her worth. At this stage, he/she should already have a trusting relationship with the foal. There is little sense in pulling on the lead-rope because even foals are far stronger than humans. Patience, gentle verbal persuasion, and light nudging around the thighs of the foal usually have the best results in coaxing the youngster to step onto the ramp. Often, the thudding noise its hooves make on the ramp will spook the foal. This is often the only reason why it refuses to step onto the ramp. Leading the young foal over wooden boards on the ground can be good preparation for loading training.

Since well-trained foals will let you pick up their feet without any resistance, picking up the front leg and placing it on the ramp can help in this case. Step by step, the petrified youngster will move forwards and up, until all four feet are planted firmly on the ramp. Soon it will realize that this takes it nearer to its dam and it will generally take the remaining steps into the trailer on its own.

On the other hand, the foal may resist strongly and jumps off the ramp on all fours, or even tries to rear. If this is the case you need to proceed with even more care and patience. Above all, do not force the foal! The foal does want to walk into the trailer because it wants to be near its mother. But it needs time to evaluate the situation and overcome its fears. It would be equally unwise to drive the foal forwards with a whip or lead it away from the ramp to make a new approach. The whip causes too much pressure and force for the youngster, which it cannot cope with and which may well lead to psychological problems.

Lea- ding the foal away from the ramp also means leading it away from its mother. This isn’t the answer either. The best idea is simply to let the foal stand in front of the ramp. At some point, natural curiosity wins over and the youngster makes its first move forward. Naturally, it is permitted to sniff the loading ramp, to reassure itself that it presents no danger. As soon as the foal has entered the trailer, it is allowed to leave it again with its mother. It is recommended that the ramp be raised and closed only once the foal has learned to follow its mother into the trailer without hesitation. This is usually only the case after a few tries. The mother is tied up in the trailer while the foal is free to come and go. By removing the partition, the foal has sufficient space to move around so that it will find the best place to stand during the trip and can also reach its mother’s udder. If loading up and raising the ramp have become routine, the journey can commence at last.

It should be unnecessary to mention how important it is to drive particularly carefully. Remember that with the partition removed the mare has no side support to keep her balance with. The foal too will encounter problems with balance because, due to its long legs, its center of gravity is very high. Also, traveling in a trailer or horsebox is a completely new situation for the youngster which is sure to unsettle it. On the other hand, the mother will provide the necessary reassurance and soon the foal will become accustomed to the situation.

The first journey should last no longer than about five to ten minutes, in other words, just round the block. With time, increase the duration of the journey until it becomes routine and a more distant destination can be headed for.

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