Eileen asking her Friesian Sporthorse to load in her trailer. Notice the size is appropriate for the horses size and that all the windows are open to give plenty of light.

As we all know there have been tremendous fires in all of California.  Do you know how to safely get your horse loaded during the chaos of a fire?

Wildfires have always been of great concern for me, for two reasons:

 First, my son is a Wildland Firefighter with the United States Forest    Service.  Being a mother of a firefighter, I am always concerned with all the fires that we have had over the years and for my sons’ safety.

The second concern is for all of the horses and those people who volunteer to risk their own lives to have not only their horses but those of complete strangers.

The Doce Fire which started at Doce Pit a recreation area out Iron Springs Road had just barely started when I received a call from my son who at the time was based in Northern California.  He told us to be ready to evacuate ourselves and our horses (5) if we see the fire come over the southern end of Granite Mountain.

This call was well before the official evacuation notices were put out.  Later in the afternoon, I received a call from a friend who lives in Mint Creek area that she had to evacuate themselves and her horses. 

I recently watched a couple of videos on YouTube of people trying to get their horses in trailers. What stood out was the number of people running around trying to do something with the horses.  There was a horse being led with the lead rope attached to the top of what looked like a lunging caveson.  Then, there were a couple of people who were trying to use a butt rope but had no success because they did not know how to use one properly.

Here are ways to make Trailer Loading during a fire safer and easier, but first, make sure your horse has your cell phone number painted on his butt:

  1. Practice loading your horse in a trailer at least once a month.  If you have a trailer that can stand by itself without hooking it to your truck, that is great.  I know most people will need to hook up to their trailer to practice.  Believe me, it is worth the effort.  You can even get together with friends and make an afternoon of it.
  2. When you are loading your horse during a fire always, do it the same way as you have practiced.  If you normally walk into your trailer with your horse, then do that.  If you normally send your horse in first, then do that. If you normally don’t use shipping boots, then don’t use them now!  If you normally load your horse by yourself, then ask all-around to stand back and let you do it.
  3. For all of you who do not have a trailer, then you are at the mercy of whoever shows up with their trailer to help. Remember, that you are the horse owner and you should be the one handling your horse.This is when the horse will be challenged and will need all of the calm and patience that you, the owner, can mustard up!
  4. Make sure that any trailer that shows up is big enough for your horse.  I know that in an emergency it can become hard to be patient, but in the long run, it will save time.  My Friesian Sporthorse can be really picky about his trailers.  My two-horse slant is seven feet tall and wide enough, but he will not get into it with the middle bar that the doors close onto there.  He will just stand there and stare at the trailer with this look on his face like “are you going to move that bar”?

The moment that the bar is gone he walks right in.  To him, the half-space makes it too narrow.  “Who am I to say he is not right”.

“In an emergency, removing the bar saves tons of time!”

5. With a strange trailer open all of the windows and doors.  Make the space look inviting to your horse.  Walk-in with your horse into this strange trailer.  Your horse is taking his cues from you.  If you won’t walk in why should he?

6.When all else fail and you need the butt rope to help get your horse in, then learn how to use it properly. Having two people holding the ends of the rope might work for a pony or horse under fourteen hands, but for those big boys and girls, this will not work.

For the full-size horse over a thousand pounds, it is better to tie the rope to one side of the trailer back and then have your helper bring the rope around the butt of the horse to apply pressure. Warning, do not get the rope up under the tail, or below the hock, it needs to be in that curve right below the thigh. The object is that you are trying to encourage the horse to move forward.  There is no way you can lift the horse into the trailer.

Here is some overall advice to help you stay calm during the loading process:

  1. Remember to breathe! Take in those deep breaths, and let them out slowly.
  2. If you stay calm, speak in a quiet voice, and reassure your horse that this is just another day in the park, then all will go well.
  3. If someone comes to help you, ask them if they know about horses before you allow them to help.  Things can get really bad if the helpers don’t know horses. Remember to thank them for coming and helping.
  4. Do not take advice from non-horse people!  We all know they are just trying to help.  You are still the owner of the horse and are ultimately responsible for what happens to your horse and the people helping you.
  5. Be patient!  This is as stressful on your horse as it is for you. All of the smoke, sirens, emergency vehicles and their lights, shouting people, trailers, and strange people can make the whole process seem daunting. Everything that happens to your horse will be remembered, and you need to keep this as positive as possible.

“STAY CALM AND DON’T PANIC”!

Now that your horse is loaded and is safe with your cell phone number on his butt, it is time for you to get to safety.  Remember to take your folder that has your horse’s information in it with you. You should have a copy of his registration, vet records, feeding information, any medicines he is on and your contact information. This needs to be taken to the stable, fairgrounds, friends ranch or wherever the horse is going to. Practicing loading and having a plan ahead of time will save time and stress for both you and your horse.

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