Sandi Simons Float Loading Starting Your Training

If I am float-training a problem horse with behavioural issues, I use a bridle rather than a halter. I believe that when a horse learns to push or drag you off in the halter you will have a hell of a time getting control again! No matter what the size of the horse, if one wants to drag you away it can.

The bridle allows specific control of the nose first then the body. We need to teach the horse a few lessons first so that we have control of the horse at the float if and when things get emotional/stressed or argumentative.


  • Go forward
  • Hip disengagement
  • Calm down cue
  • Back up cue

Go Forward Cue:

To teach your horse the go forward cue, stand at its shoulder with the rein in your left hand and using a dressage whip, ask the horse to move forward by tapping it on the hindquarter.

As the horse moves off, stop tapping and walk with it. If you are not happy with a whip, then tap the horse on the belly with your hand to simulate leg contact as it would be applied if you were mounted.

If you can disengage the hindquarter quickly you reduce the horse’s ability to dominate you with its strength. I.e. pull back.

Hip Disengagement

This is great with horses that push into your space and you can create instant control.

Have the horse walking comfortably forward then stop, and using the hand holding the rein, point towards the horse’s hindquarter while at the same tine applying pressure to the rein. Wait for the horse to step across with its hind legs and away from you.

Work on this until you have the horse doing it comfortably. In a perfect world the horse will learn easily and quietly. However, you may have to apply this aid in less than ideal circumstances and maybe not even with your own horse.

Therefore you need to get it clear in your own head what you are trying to achieve. If you can disengage the hindquarter quickly you reduce the horse’s ability to apply its strength.

Use the dressage whip as a cue, however the whip is only and extension of your arm to tap the horse. DO NOT hit the horse as you will only make matters worse.

Calm Down Cue

This should be taught from both the near side and the off side. Make sure your horse is standing still, then apply a gentle downward pressure to the bit and wait for the horse to move its head down.

At the smallest sign of a downward movement release the pressure and reward the horse. As the horse lowers its head ask for more movement, getting the head lower with each ask. As with the hip over cue, the calm down cue can be applied in any circumstance where a horse is getting a bit to Tovey.

Back up Cue

To get a horse to back up easily you first need to have the hip disengagement established. When you have asked the horse to disengage its hindquarter by pointing at it, you will see that the inside shoulder will stop. When the horse is answering correctly to the hip over cue, focus on the inside shoulder and point your hand at the shoulder and ask the horse to back up by applying pressure to the bridle.

When the horse answers by moving a step back, release the pressure and reward the horse.

Once the horse has enough repetition at this exercise it will back up softly with just the slightest pressure on the rein or head stall and you will not have to disengage its hips every time you ask.

Once you have the four cues established try to approach the float. Keep in mind that if your horse is scared of the float it needs more time and reassurance than a horse that refuses to load because of arrogance.

The most important key to success is to keep control of the nose. If you allow the horses nose to face away from the float the body will naturally follow.

Place yourself and your horse in a safe position at the back of the float. In the ground work position. That is, lead rope in left hand and dressage whip in the right hand. The dressage whip is only every used as a cue and you mustn’t hit the horse with it. Have the lead rope attached to the bit with the reins neatly tucked away via the throat latch.

Go through your ground work routine near the float asking for the go forward, hip over and calm down cues. Continue these exercises until the horse is calm, obedient and paying full-time attention to you.

Using the go forward cue, encourage the horse to approach the ramp. Once you have got to the bottom of the ramp, stop and then ask the horse to back up.

Repeat this process until the horse is calm and attentive. Take as much time as needed.

Patience is the key!

When you are both ready, use the go forward cue to ask the horse to walk up the ramp and into the float.

If the horse gets out of control, disengage the hips, apply the calm step forward cue and start again., slowly getting the horse to take one more step forward until it has one foot on the ramp.

Then ask for the horse to back up.

Do not ask or expect the horse to load straight up to the chest bar. This is all about the horse paying attention to you and starting and stopping at your request. If horses believe they have to straight into the chest bar, they will learn to rush on and then rush off. This can be very dangerous.

Stay calm and remember what it is you are asking, and the end result you are asking and the end result you are aiming to achieve. If you start rushing you will put undue pressure on your horse and end up going backwards with your training.

It takes as long as it takes.

Once your horse is happy to place its front feet on the ramp then you can ask for more.

Use the go forward cue to encourage it to take another step forward and then back up.

Once you feel the horse is relaxed and consistent then you can ask for more step’s forwards.

Never at any stage, try to pull the horse in. This will teach the horse to pull back and when a horse pulls back in a float it can hit its head on the roof. This is going to make loading just that much harder.

When you are able to get the horse to move into the float to the point where it is half on and half off, you can lay the lead rope across the horses back just behind the withers.

By doing this you can allow the horse to load onto the float with no pressure on the bridle/halter and the pick the lead rope.

Start varying the number of steps the horse takes when it shows consistency – three steps on, two off, on step on, four off, five steps on, three off etc. This establishes your cues and has the horse so focused on you that it forgets that is anywhere near the float that caused it such problems in the first place.

As the horse get further on, the cue to come off is only slight pressure on the lead rope to the bridle NOT a sharp jerk.

Once the horse is loading calmly and responsively and becomes matter-of-fact, you need to leave the horse on. See how long it is happy to stand in there and remain relaxed.

If it chooses to come off without being asked, that is a sign of anxiety, loss of patience or concern traction. If this happens you simply ask the horse to go straight back in and repeat the waiting the process.

Keep repeating this until the Horse will wait in the float, standing relaxed, NOT tied up or locked in, and is happy to remain in there until you ask it to come off.

Back Off Cue

This cue is to be added only once the horse is competent and calm. To bring it out of the float, ask the horse to back up by applying a slight pressure on the bridle, as you take hold of the tail and give it a few gentle tugs.

When the horse backs up a step, reward it. Repeat this: slight pressure on the bridle, gentle tug on the tail, reward the desired response.

This creates a cue for the horse to back up with a slight tug on the tail. This makes unloading much easier and safer.

Desensitising to the float

Now that your horse loads on and off the float in a happy and relaxed manner you will need to prepare it for the breaching doors, chains and noises of the float. Have it load and stay there – do not tie it up or lock it in. Close the breaching doors/chain but do not lock it in.

Open and close them repeatedly so that the horse gets used to the process. Start rattling the divider, slapping the side of the float and making other noises.

Every time you make a noise and your horse stays in the float give it a big reward by rubbing it on the hindquarters to reinforce the message that he or she is OK.

Keep repeating this until the horse has NO reaction to anything you do. If the horse gets worried or stressed it will come off.

If this happens ask it to go back on the float and start tapping at a place where it was comfortable, then begin building its tolerance up again slowly to keep your horse confident.

You are better off getting the horse used to all of the rattles and noises while it has the option to tell you whether or not it is coping rather than shut it in and hope for the best.

Locking your horse in.

Once your horse has passed all the other stages of the float loading training then you can lock it in, in preparation for a trip.

After loading the horse on let, it stand and wait. Then close the breaching doors or fasten the breaching chain. Lift the tailgate halfway up, then put it down; repeat this process watching your horse to make sure that it not reacting to it. If it stays calm and relaxed, then lift the ramp up and lock it into place. NEVER place yourself behind the ramp, but always lift it up and down standing out of harm’s way to one side. Never try to hold a horse in the float using the ramp, you will get crushed for sure.

Wait for a few minutes then put the ramp down, undo the chains and/or breaching gate and ask the horse to come off.

Do this often so your horse learns to stay relaxed throughout the whole process.

You are far better off getting the horse used to all the rattles and noises while it has the option to tell you whether or not it is coping rather than shut it in and hope for the best.

Loading the second horse.

When loading the second horse stand to the side of the ramp to load it in the same way you loaded the first horse. Make sure that all of your float training has been done and the horse is calm, happy and responsive.

Once you have trained your horse to load, travel it in a halter. If you need to load it in a bridle, put the halter on first and the bridle on over it. Once the horse is in place and tied up, slip the bridle off.