The Young and Future Event Horse article series is being provided through a partnership between Mythic Landing Enterprises, LLC., and the USEA.
Sean McQuillan is an upper-level event rider based in the heart of Area II eventing in Middleburg, Virginia. McQuillan boasts many accomplishments and top placings at competitions, and has been selected in the past for the Developing Riders List. Additionally, he previously worked as the assistant trainer to the now U.S. Eventing coach David O’Connor. An all-around horseman, McQuillan’s “horse first” mentality has created many successful partnerships throughout the years, making him not only a world-class competitor, but also a sought after clinician.
As a horse begins to develop into a future event horse, a key component to their training is being able to travel. There comes a point in every young horse’s life that they need to be introduced to trailering. McQuillan’s approach makes this introduction a simple and progressive process to use with your youngster.
Developing a relationship with your horse is cruitial to a positive experience with the trailer.
Before McQuillan even thinks about putting his horses on the trailer for the first time, he will already have done plenty of groundwork so that he can begin to gain their trust. “Ground work is super important in a young horse’s training because you begin to form a friendship with the horse,” McQuillan said. “It’s also a useful tool for horses to figure out their bodies and to introduce movements they will need later on in their riding careers.”
McQuillian will continue to work with them not only in the arena but also take them out on hacks and introduce them to creek crossings, big rocks, etc., so that they’re put in situations where they have to trust their handler. The goal is to get them used to looking to their person for confidence instead of using their flight or fight dynamic when put in a new situation.
After McQuillan is confident in his young horse and their relationship, he’ll begin to introduce them to the trailer as their next big test. The first step is to lower the ramp and make sure to completely open up the trailer. This will make the trailer as friendly as possible to your young horse, and help set you up for success. At first, he will have them walk across the ramp and get used to that. McQuillan explains, “I give them all the time they need to sniff and inspect everything. Once I think they’re ready to load onto the trailer, I will attempt to load them on my own before moving on to Plan B.”
First thing's first. Give your horse plenty of time to check out the ramp and trailer.
If McQuillan runs into an issue and discovers that he will need a helping hand he will have someone in the front of the trailer with grain and treats and someone behind the horse just giving them nudges for encouragement. Patience is key in this process. McQuillan will use these helpers as gentle encouragement, not forcefully. At the end of the day, you want this experience to be a positive one, as it will set the tone for your horse’s travel career.
Once they are on the trailer, McQuillan allows the young horse to spend some time sitting on the trailer without hauling them anywhere. He provides them with plenty of hay and treats to encourage them to relax and get accustomed to being loaded. McQuillan really stresses knowing your horse, as some do better when there is a horse already on the trailer and some are better alone.
McQuillan goes on to offer some key advice, “If they load right on, great! If not, take your time. Some take to it right away and others need a little more time.” He elaborates, saying, “I’m not a believer in being a bully. It’s extremely important that they trust you so that they can solve the problem correctly, and this is important not only when trailering but always when you introduce anything new.”
Finally, once the horse has had a positive experience with the trailer, McQuillan will then take horse for a quick drive. It’s important to note that every horse is different and McQuillan won’t begin to take the horse for a drive until they’ve stood on the trailer quietly a few times.
Patience is key!
McQuillan likes to mix in short trailer rides and with actually taking them to a horse show environment. At a horse show he will either just hand graze them or take them on a hack around the grounds along with mixing in some of their routine natural horsemanship groundwork. McQuillan believes this is key to their future showing career, as the horse will already be comfortable and able to handle the pressure of competing without the added stress of being in a new environment.
To learn more about Sean and his program, please visit www.mcquillanequestrian.com.