Horses load into trailers all the time -- or the majority of them do. But once in a while a horseowner may be faced with loading a horse in the DARK. At the barn, an emergency trip to the vet! When horsecamping, a sudden emergency evacuation. It was during one of those 'emergency' loadings from a horsecamp during a forest fire evacuation that I learned 'emergencies' in darkness addsa whole new dimension to loading a horse INTO a trailer.
Back home safely it was time to work on night-emergency loadings. Here's a few tips I used back at the barn to help that horse realize loading in the dark is no worse than loading in the day light.
1) Start at home! Make sure the horse will already walk into and out of a trailer. Any type of trailer. A horse may balk once or twice but the third try should be the charm -- walk INTO the trailer and stand there. If you don't have a trailer, 'borrow' one and work on loading. Once started, keep going until the horse loads. Remember, the horse that won't load day or night is the horse that is usually left behind during an evacuation.
2) For the first few night loadings, work under a full moon -- more light. Or in an area that has some light. A lighted arena is good. Let the horse walk around the trailer. Look it over. Stand a few minutes to relax. Once the horse has relaxed, walk him up to the trailer and then into the trailer. If a horse stops or is nervous, talk to him and then put him in the trailer. Once in, leave him there about 15 minutes. Put some hay in trailer (unless you may have to evacuate through a fire area) and let him nibble on that. After the 15 minutes, start the towing vehicle and drive out. Take him on a ride for about 20 - 30 minutes. When working on loading for the first few times, I've found using a lighted area or with a full moon for first-time night loaders, seems to help the horse. If the horse just flat out refuses to load, it's back to the basics during day light hours and once loaded and comfortable, work on night loading!
3) Next, go to an area that has no lighting. It's just dark. Very dark. No moon! Use an arena -- outside if possible -- since one doesn't want a loose horse running around in the dark always use an enclosed area so if the horse gets away he can be caught. You're asking your horse to do something that is strange and different but remember safety too! Always under control with halter and leader rope, let the horse sniff the trailer, discover, explore, look, encourage and talk to him. There will be a lot of 'night sounds' so let him listen. Look. Even snort but always under control while keeping his mind on going into the trailer. If a horse is in a night-lighted stable or barn turn the lights off for a few nights. Take him out of barn, walk him around outside and let him realize the dark isn't so bad even when trailer loading at night.
4) Use a flashlight for your own safety in the dark. 'Dance' the light around on the ground and on the horse. Let him realize that 'bobbing' lights won't hurt him. Just don't shine into the horse's eyes. If there's lights in trailer, turn 'em on for the first few loadings. After the horse becomes familiar with night loading, turn the lights out and load in the dark.
5) It's usually noise and commotion that upsets some horses. So load easier loading horses first. Hard loaders last. Once your horse walks into the trailer day or night in an arena, move to an outside location. Middle of the pasture. In a grove of trees. Anywhere you can think of that you might trailer to for a ride or camping adventure.
6) Add some 'reality' to the night loading situations! Have some friends join in. Turn on a radio. Blow whistles. Make noise. Turn on emergency flashing lights around the horses and on towing vehicles so the experience is 'real'. Organize a trailer night loading clinic. Invite the local fire department in for a pot luck dinner or a 'combined' training exercise. Turn on the fire engine lights. Drive around the barn and property. Sirens blaring. People yelling. Fire hoses being unreeled and stretched out while owners are loading horses into trailers for 'evacuation'. In this way, firemen see how horses react to changes and noises during an evacuation. Owners realize what firemen need to do in their jobs. Horses reactions are seen by all -- and horses are exposed to what could happen with a real emergency!!