Calm, Forward, Straight

Calm, Forward, Straight

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

At the barn #30 - Put one foot in front of the other....

A handful of patience is worth more than a bushel full of brains. Dutch Proverb

Well, my opportunity to come down to earth from our recent happy rides came sooner rather than later.

For some reason, which I'm trying not to obsess on, Val suddenly wanted nothing to do with getting into his trailer yesterday. It's been a few months. We're heading up the road to my trainer's farm this weekend, so I thought a dry run would be in order. Disclaimer: trailer loading has not been an issue for us since our first few attempts. It's gone swimmingly as a matter of fact. He practically self loads.

At first Val came halfway up the ramp - totally normal - and then the balking began. And head throwing. And dancing around with ants in his pants. For nearly an hour. I thought I had left plenty of time just in case, but it was starting to get dark. I knew the situation. I had better be prepared to be there all night if that's what it took, because quitting before Val got into the trailer was out of the question. I had to convey that thought to Val as well... "Hey Mr. Man - take your time - because I have alllllll night." Apparently I needed to practice being patient as much as more than Val needed to practice loading.

It was dinner time.... I left his blanket on... the ramp felt wiggly on the uneven ground... the trailer looks scary in the dark? Who knows. What I do know is what finally worked. I used pressure with the lead rope from side to side, releasing immediately if he gave an inch. (front to back pressure created dangerous popping up horse!) This broke his feet lose and he suddenly walked right in. I praised and rewarded him lavishly. Once more for good measure. A slight hesitation and then in he came. More praise and rewards....

Round two today. Three successful loads. The takeaway... frustration gets you nowhere. And - Val can stretch his neck so very far to try and reach a bribe. (bribes don't work) Plus he gets a few extra inches with his major lips. In the midst of the drama he was cracking me up. Oh and the hierarchy of treats... horse cookies, then peppermints, then the holy grail... gingersnaps. Good to know :)


  1. Patience is a virtue. It just isn't one of mine. *L*

    I sometimes wonder what goes through their brains. Why do they suddenly spook and balk at things they've seen/done a hundred times? But, as you pointed out, the why doesn't always matter, sometimes you just need the patience to get it done. Good job!

  2. Good for you for managing to keep at it and get it done - that keeping the feet moving trick is so important - once the feet stop moving you've got nothing!

  3. Good for you for having the patience and humor to stick with it. I've been through this before too and the main thing is not to give in to their quirks.

    One of the things I found worked was just ignoring their antics. By not looking at them when I did the circle to the ramp and just led them up matter of factly. Of course, if they decide not to follow you could have your arms pulled out of your socket!

    Hope you have no trouble this weekend and lots of snacks/rewards on hand when he decides to be a good boy for you.

  4. Oh gingersnaps! Now, THAT I haven't tried.

    Well, as Yoda might say... "He senses much frustration in you young one."

    Probably just a slight disturbance in the Force...

  5. Both Savanah and Rogo have gone through this, after being stellar at trailering and for no apparent reason. Both returned to normal after a few rough times. Good for you for handling it so well.
    Your last rides sound wonderful (just read about them). All your hard work, along with your great horse, is paying off. Yes, maybe there will be set backs and new horizons, but you've reached a milestone. Congratulations! Hope I'll be there soon.

  6. Gak. I just typed a very long comment and lost it. So this one is briefer - but wanted to say: there is a very wonderful method of working through trailer loading issues that doesn't involve pressure, but focuses on being in tune with the horse, listening to what he's saying, and working through the issue, whatever it might be.

    In involves teaching the horse to lead one foot at a time. It's not a 'quick fix' but a whole different mindset than the idea of "now I have to load him before we quit or he'll think he won and do this again."

    The thing is, when horses balk at the trailer it could very well be their memory of something uncomfortable or stressful during the LAST trailer ride. So by forcing them to load, we ignore their fear. Using the one foot at a time method you work through it - and imo the trust you gain by doing it this way carries over to everything else you do with the horse.

    If you're interested, let me know. I know I've written about it on my blog (and in my book) but don't have time to track it down this second. :)

  7. Shannon-
    I'm lacking that virtue also. Becoming a horse owner has forced me to come to terms with it - which is a good thing (I think) :)

  8. Kate-
    My (cute little) cowboy farrier taught me that one ;)

  9. GHM-

    It was really hard to ignore the antics the other evening - Val was pulling faces and playing the goofball card, besides refusing to enter the trailer.

    I agree that the attitude of the handler is so important. I was doing my very best to be calm and supportive, but apparently I still need to work on those qualities. :)

  10. Rachel-

    Val's former owners sent a gingersnap supply with when I bought him. He will do (almost) anything for a gingersnap.

  11. Thanks for your kind words Carol. I am always encouraged when I visit your blog - you and Rogo are a lovely, inspiring pair!

  12. Billie-

    Definitely interested. Please email if you come across the info, thanks :)

    My instruction in trailer loading emphasized the mindset of the handler, and how that influences the horse. If we had quit before we loaded the other night, my confidence would have been shot the next try. That much I know :)

  13. Patience is indeed a virtue. I have to remind myself of that sometimes. Funny how they can be just fine and all of a sudden revert. Glad you got it worked through.

    Gingersnaps, a horse after my own heart!

  14. This post is scary and then inspiring. I don't own a trailer (yet, if ever). I don't want to think about the time and practice that it will take to over come MY fear before I even try it with my boys. Isn't that nuts? I am fine with horse vans, but trailers freak ME out so I don't think I would ever be able to convey the needed confidence to the horse. You did so great with the side-to-side-keep-feet-moving-add-gingersnaps-trick!


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