Trailering the Horse that "Scrambles"
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Trailering the Horse that "Scrambles"
Blessi's Blog
March 2, 2011


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Trailering the Horse that "Scrambles"

Trailering the “Scrambling” Horse

What is Scrambling?
The term “Scrambling” is used to describe a horse that basically “panics” in the trailer and literally pins itself to the side of the trailer wall and the divider. When they do this they will make a trailer shake severely which can do some serious damage to themselves as well as the trailer.
Why do they do this?
There are various reasons why a horse scrambles.  Normally it happens when a horse is thrown off balance which does happen with every horse although some horses can balance easier than others. The horse that scrambles is looking for a way to balance and reverts to bracing itself to wall and divider in a panic mode.  Strangely enough, they may not always do this yet keep in mind, once a horse does do this, it will always have the potential to do this again when they become fearful in the trailer.
What happens when this occurs?
Normally you will not be aware a horse scrambling in a trailer unless your trailer starts shaking profusely.  You should be alarmed if your horse is getting unexplained injuries.  This is an indication that you should consider evaluating as your horse may be scrambling.  Just the other day I experienced a horse that scrambled in the trailer.  The horse had bleeding gashes on its nose, pasterns and sides and was trembling when unloaded.  She had done all this damage to herself due to insecure feelings and panic.

My mare Mocha taught me all about “scrambling” 

Once you experience this you will not believe how traumatizing this is and the strength the horse has will make you take second thoughts getting into a trailer with your horse.  The first time Mocha did this, she was trailering in a trainer’s trailer up to Green Mountain in Washington State.  Mocha had been in training for driving and the trainer was doing some finishing on her.  Somehow she managed to break the divider pin while traveling which created a sore on her hip.  She wasn’t injured to seriously and it healed within days.  

Several months later we attended a play day and ran into the trainer.  We decided to have some additional training done and loaded her into her trailer.  A couple blocks down the road her trailer was shaking severely so she pulled over.  Mocha had pinned herself so bad we couldn’t even pull her out of it. Her eyes were just zoned out like she wasn’t even here.  She couldn’t be eased at all! Now this was dangerous! How do you pull that divider pin out without putting yourself in danger? The trainer went into the trailer and pulled that pin and Mocha bolted out banging that divider into the trainer who was seriously bruised up and down her arm.  Luckily nothing was broke.  We asked ourselves why was she doing this in her trailer and not mine.  The only thing we could come up with was that her divider was about 4 inches narrower.
About a year later, I was trailering Mocha in the first stall (toward the front) and my friend’s horse in the second stall.  We were heading to a trail head about 4 miles from where I live.  I drive very slowly and cautiously with horses on board especially around corners.  Suddenly my trailer was shaking like crazy so I pulled over immediately.  Again Mocha was pinned….I grabbed her lead rope and said “Easy! Step up!” and pulled her lead and she stepped up and released herself from the pinned position.  After assuring her that she was ok, we traveled on.  It happened again right as we got to the trail head. She again had a raw sore on her hip about the size of a baseball.  Disappointingly, we did not get to ride that day.

What can we do?

First off we need to assess our trailer.  I have a 3 horse slant with dressing room in front and saddle rack in the back off to the left with a ramp.  Slant-load designed trailers were thought of as the way to go when I got my second trailer about 13 years ago.  I thought it was the best trailer and like it very much yet have found scrambling horses don’t do well with a wall beside them.  I have posted a picture of the front slot of my horse trailer.  This has been repainted since I no longer put Mocha in that position.  Notice all the dents.  This is from pinning against the wall. I found Mocha traveled well in the second or third stall yet not the first which has a wall.  The only way I could put her up front would be to swing all the dividers to the side.  When this was done she traveled fine.  Scrambling horses need lots of room so they can spread their hind legs forming a stable and balanced way to travel. 

Why would a horse get back into a trailer if it got hurt?
Trailering a horse is a big thing and not to be taken lightly.  Your horse has to trust you totally to get into a box that moves like crazy and if hurt during this process, your horse may start to mistrust you.  If so, how do you regain their trust?  Make the trailer a safer place by removing all the obvious dangers in the trailer.  The next step is to build their confidence ensuring they will be safe and unharmed in the trailer.  This can be as easy as loading them into the trailer to eat and then removing them several times a week.  Then loading and starting the truck while they eat several times a week.  Then loading and taking for a short slow trip down the road and eventually increasing the length of the trips.  Increase the area your horse has and don't place them next to a wall if you suspect they are scrambling so they have the room to spread their hind legs.  As much as I hate shipping boots, use them! Why take the chance of an injury when you put so much time into planning a ride. 

One other word of advice. 
I have seen too many injuries to both horse and rider with trailer situations, many which could have been avoided with proper precautions.  Because of the potential danger of being in a trailer with a horse, I personally teach my horses to load into and back out by themselves without anyone in the trailer.  Using the same method to load and unload every time makes it a no-brainer for you and your horse which will help to avoid injuries.  I will write in the future about the method I use for loading and unloading.  Hopefully this information will be of some help to others that may have horses with trailering problems.  Thanks for the interest….Happy Trails.  ~Pam

9 Comments to Trailering the Horse that "Scrambles":

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Bonnie on Tuesday, May 23, 2017 12:06 PM
First a hint on hauling horses. Slow down when turning corners, and, realize that the trailer is still turning longer than the tow vehicle is. Don't speed up until the trailer is straight behind you or you throw the horse around. Don't jerk the steering wheel either... same thing... you toss the horse around. Scrambling is a human taught problem! Realize this and learn better horse trailer hauling skills. I ruined my great friend learning a hard lesson.She was sold to a rider who would not be hauling out. You are right that the horse needs to spread his feet apart and that it is a balance thing. The old trailers were more narrow than what is now on the market. Some more tips. Usually, a horse will scramble when one side of them is restricted by a wall, and not on both sides. You need to be aware of which pair of legs the horse needs more space on. In the beginning,you can tell this by which way the horse leans/scrambles when turning corners. The side they fall towards is the side they need more room on. If you have a full divider, remove the bottom area so the horse can spread its feet to the middle, and ONLY HAUL it so it can do that. This will help the horse maintain its balance. The legs it needs to spread must be on the side where the divider has been shortened. If hauling a second horse beside that horse, be sure to do up it's legs, front and back with wraps and bell boots to protect him from being stepped on or bumped by the other horses feet. This usually helps, but, you also need to change the way you drive. When the horse gets worse, they will actually scramble without the trailer moving. They got this way long before they started getting this bad. Also, if a horse has been hauled in a wider trailer, and now you expect it to ride in a narrow one, it may scramble. They are used to more room and all of a sudden that room is no longer there so they get a bit panicky and scramble. If you are buying a trailer, new or used, be sure to know what width you want your stalls and, get them as wide as is possible. Don't let just anybody haul your horse. This is another way to own a scrambler. Been there... did this one too and it was a horse trainer who ruined him. I do not let anyone haul my horses ever again. Ruined a good horse my eldest son loved. He was ruined as the only trailers available at that time were the straight loads. The newer straight load trailers are wider stalled though I am not convinced you can't still make a scrambler. The slant loads are nice, but the front stall wall can be a problem with a horse that scrambles. Use the back stall if you have a scrambler as it usually gives the horse more room for his legs/feet. I could go on more but that is a good start. Other than changing the trailer, you can not retrain a scrambler. Been there... tried it... no change in the horse. Loads of years of talking to old timers and now I am one of those too. Learn to drive right and you will save yourself a whole lot of heart aches. When hauling horses pay attention to what is going on behind you all of the time. Investigate if you hear or feel anything, and mostly remember turns must be smooth and slow until that trailer straightens out behind you.
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Lacy Joseph on Saturday, March 31, 2018 1:25 AM
regular job.
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mr hami on Wednesday, May 09, 2018 3:45 AM
room for his legs/feet. I could go on more but that is a good start. Other than changing the trailer, you can not retrain a scrambler. Been there... tried it... no change in the horse. Loads of years of talking to old timers and now.
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