This information highlights safety issues associated with horse float loading and why I prefer to use the method highlighted on the horse float loading training page and horse trailer safety design.

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Terminology - Before proceeding let's clear two things up. In Australia, we refer to this as float loading or floating, rather than trailer loading or trailering. It is all the same thing; it just depends on where you are located as to what term you use. Also in this discussion, the 'tailgate' means the back ramp or back door, if it is a sliding door. Whatever, it is the one at the back of the float.

Ok, let's get started....... (these rules are not in a specific order)

Rule 1 - Never assume or be complacent. The moment you think it cannot happen, is the time it probably will. Horses are unpredictable, which means anything can happen at anytime. Just when you think everything is ok, your horse may be startled by something. Once a horse is fearful or startled, it stops thinking and reacts. It flees from the fright or stands to fight. So, keep alert and never assume or be complacent. Keep yourself safe first and then the horse.

Rule 2 - Always have appropriate equipment at hand, at least in your car/truck, in case your horse refuses to load. For me this means a 100cm dressage whip (shock horror), gloves, 3m long lead rope with a strong clip and a rope head stall. You can find out more about equipment on the equipment page. Don't assume that a horse that loads well will never be a problem. Any horse can have a bad trip or get a 'bee in their bonnet' and refuse to load. I have seen a lot of good floating horse's suddenly lose confidence and trust. If that happens, you need to be ready to stop right at that moment until you get your gear out of the car. Then, you can recommence and help your horse to accept your idea of getting onto the float. It is no good continuing without the right gear and having the horse continue to refuse.

Rule 3 - Never wrap a rope around your hand or fingers. If a horse pulls back, you want your hand to be able to come free from the pressure of the lead rope and not have a finger broken or worse, pulled off. Keep your hands and fingers safe. I know of two people who have lost fingers whilst float loading.

Rule 4 - Wear suitable foot wear. Wearing sandals or thongs is just a very silly idea but I see people (adults and kids) do it all the time, especially in summer. Appropriate footwear serves to increase your chances of being sure-footed and helps to protect your feet should the horse place its hoof on yours. However, avoid steel capped boots as these can cause serious to your toes when trodden on by a horse.

Rule 5 - Keep others away from your horse and the float. It is amazing how often I see people loading horses whilst others stand close enough to be kicked or backed over if something should disturb the horse. Treat float loading as a serious safety matter and do not be complacent. Many accidents have occurred to people let alone horses, whilst float loading. ESPECIALLY KIDS! Sorry for shouting but it terrifies me to see what parents allow their kids to do around horses. Unless your kids are strong enough and can prove to you that they can operate all aspects of float loading safely, keep them away from the float.

Rule 6 - When loading, never apply head pressure to a horse that wants to run out of the float. Trying to stop a horse running out by holding on or pulling forward on the lead rope, will cause the horse to throw its head up. This risks serious head injury to the horse and a hole in your float roof. Best to have a 3m lead rope (or longer) so you can let the horse back out safely, whilst still holding onto the lead rope. At least you still have hold of the horse when it is out, you have kept yourself safe and not increased the trauma for the horse. Once the horse is out, immediately ask the horse to go back in.

Rule 7 - Never try to hang onto the horse while you are on the opposite side of the chest rail. This is most serious when using a lead rope less than 3m long. If you try to hang on to a horse backing out while the chest rail is between you and the horse, it is going to get ugly for you. Broken ribs, missing fingers. You may not even have time to duck under the bar without hitting your head hard. Aaaagh!! I have to stop imagining here, I am sure you get the picture.

Rule 8 - When unloading, never lower the tailgate whilst the horse is tied in the float. Before commencing any unloading procedure, always untie the horse first. If a horse wants to come out, the best thing you can do is stand aside and let it come out. When the horse does come out, you can simply take hold of the 3m lead rope. Now that thought will terrify some of you but if you read all of these rules and watch the 3 part video, you will see how it is done and keep yourself safe. You will also reduce the likelihood of creating problems for your horse. (See rule 9 regarding breaching gates/chains). The fact is, that if a horse is tied in when it tries to get out, 99% of the time it will pull back and strain against the lead rope before it breaks, hopefully. This can scare the horse and make it reluctant to reload and; cause damage to the horse's neck and poll, all of which we want to avoid.

The smartest way to tie up in the float

the safe clip

Rule 9 - Never stand behind the tailgate when it is being lifted or lowered. Whether the horse is inside or not, a tailgate can crash down on you if you lose control of it. It can scrape down the front of your body, crush your toes or knock you down etc. If your horse is inside the float, it increases the danger if the horse pushes out. Always stand to the side, with your toes clear of the edge of the tailgate that is going to hit the ground. If it is too heavy for you, get the spring adjusted or at least, have someone stand on the opposite side to assist you. Use your legs and keep you back straight when lifting or lowering.

Rule 10 - Never stand behind the horse when opening a breach gate (or chain). Some people will argue that breach gates reduce risk. However, when you stand behind the breach gates, especially with two horses, you actually increase risk. You are standing on the tailgate putting yourself in the kicking zone as you go to undo the gate. Once you open the breach gate, the horse may come out before you are ready. When you are standing on the tailgate, it can be very difficult to get out of the way. This is so much more dangerous than standing at the side of the tailgate without breaching gates. I strongly recommend that you read the horse float safe design report for more information about breach gates. And remember rule 8, the horse must be untied before commencing any unloading procedures!

Rule 11 - Teach your horse to walk on whilst you are outside the float! I am sorry but I cannot come up with any safe way for you to lead your horse onto the float. Once you are inside and he is behind you, he could rush forward and smash you into the chest rail or step on your achilles heel, ouch! Of course, you might say it is easy if you only have one horse to load as you could walk on the other side of the centre divider. However, if he pulls back you run the risk if catching the lead on the centre divider. You potentially could be flung through the air with the greatest of ease. But of course, your horse would never do that right? Wrrooonng!! Remember, never assume or be complacent, it can and does happen. And, what if you have two horses? Back to square one. I make no apology for my stand on this issue. Leading a horse onto the float is not something I choose to do for safety reasons. I want the horse to walk on by itself. Not only is it safer for me but also, a horse that walks on by itself will always be calmer whilst floating but that's another story of which we cover in our training.

Rule 12 - Never use butt ropes, brooms or other 'behind' apparatus. This is potentially a way of getting you and the horse hurt. If the horse refuses your butt rope, you may have a tangled mess with the horse in it, who may react badly and try to flee from fright. The image is getting ugly again. Instead, you use a broom up its you know what. The horse double barrels, maybe it doesn't kick you but it kicks its own leg, slicing through a tendon.... good one! And as far as good horsemanship is concerned, it went out with the bath water. The episode caused much trauma for the horse, which is now more frightened of the float and mistrusts you. Miraculously, you finally get the horse on, it has a scared "its not good in here" feeling. You drive off, it scrambles and tries to climb the walls. Eventually it falls under the centre divider. Anyway, that's not the worst of it. Wait until you try to load him next time or maybe not next time but sooner or later. The horse is very likely going to dig in and point blank refuse to load. Now that is something to look forward to, isn't it? Ok, so what's the solution? One word 'training', see next rule.

Rule 13 - Train your horse and yourself, so that all are comfortable and proficient with floating. Don't compromise on safety and the partnership with your horse. Get some help if you cannot train your horse, contact the float-busters. (sorry about that, lame I know)

Anyway, I hope this has alerted you to the risks and helped you to minimise them. If I think of more rules I will add them. If you have any to suggest, please contact me. Despite best efforts, I may have overlooked something!

Meanwhile, remember to look at some of the client experiences, great bedtime reading.

Plus, if you haven't already, view the horse float safety design report and non-slip ramp flooring for horse floats information.

Wishing you safe and happy float loading!



P.S. Be sure to watch the 3 part video clips on the horse float training information page as it may help you with these rules.

P.P.S. If you think I have been a 'drama-queen' with some of my descriptions, you are right but I make no apology. This is about safety, not a debate about whether it will happen to you. As my dear old mum used to say "if you think it can happen it probably will, so do something about it before it does". Damn, why do mothers have to have such a commonsense approach?


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