Q: We have a great Welsh/Thoroughbred cross colt that we plan to sell as a Pony Club prospect in a couple years. We want to get him started on the right foot, including learning to load and travel well before he leaves us. At what age is it safe to start introducing a young horse to loading on a trailer? We have no reason to go anywhere just now, but we want to get him loaded before he grows up and has to go somewhere. He seems to have a bit of an attitude at the moment.

via e-mail

A: Probably the most efficient introduction to loading and transportation is as a foal at foot with the dam, given the dam is a happy loader and traveler and the rig is foal-safe. Thoroughbred mares and foals travel routinely for breeding, when the foal is as young as a week old. Although I don't know of any data on foal transportation injuries, I would not expect any greater risk than moving mares and foals in and out of stalls and paddocks around the farm. Breeders will tell you most of these foals that travel with mom while young grow up to be lifelong good loaders and travelers unless they encounter a negative experience that sets them back later in life.

So I would make an effort to get the foal started as early as possible and continue refresher loading and mini-trips at regular intervals as he matures. As a foal, he can just follow behind mom on and off, on and off, no fuss. I find that those feisty little ones are often the bravest followers. They'll just pop right on and off the trailer. Once the foal is halter broke you can introduce the concept using a lead rope and halter. At first just follow behind, keeping slack on the lead, and then gradually start trying to guide and direct the foal with the lead as you load and unload. Most breeders use either a two-horse trailer with the divider removed, leaving the foal untethered, or they leave the mare and foal untethered in a stall-sized compartment of a trailer or van. You will see that the foal will nurse and might even lie down during a longer trip. You can find articles at TheHorse.com on basic safety features of trailers.

About the Author

Sue McDonnell, PhD, Certified AAB

Sue M. McDonnell, PhD, is a certified applied animal behaviorist and the founding head of the equine behavior program at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine. She is also the author of numerous books and articles about horse behavior and management.

Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with FREE weekly newsletters from TheHorse.com. Learn More