Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Another Lesson in Trailer Loading

 Have I talked about this before?  I must have.  I really feel like I'm beating my head against a wall here.  

There's a mare that was brought to the farm by a well meaning but horribly inexperienced lady a couple of years ago. A situation where an ethical seller would never have put either horse or prospective owner in for their own mutual safety.  However... buyer thought she had enough experience and education after taking a few trail rides to purchase a green horse (who came with tack) for $500 (what a deal!) The seller even delivered!  

Any other long-time horse persons see the red flags?  Yeah, thought so, but I will continue... 

Buyer did not see the horse being ridden nor rode the horse herself before purchasing so we have no idea the level of training (?) the horse has had.

When the horse was delivered to the farm, the seller stated that she was a bit of a "rodeo" to load and unload.  

Naturally the path of horse and human was not all roses and unicorns like she'd anticipated.  I believe the mare kicked the owner at some point.  I was certainly dealing with enough in my own life that I did not have the time, energy nor desire to invest in this horse and human pairing so it went the way you'd anticipate.  Eventually owner got behind on board and surrendered the horse to my mother, farm owner.  

And so she sat... 

Now as time goes on, people come and go and I have had the incredible good fortune to meet a beautifully kind-hearted man whose daughter is keenly active in horses and so he, himself, has an interest in learning about horses and participating in equine activities.  He enjoys the farm and likes the idea of being able to take a horse to the mountains for hunting, etc.  He discovered said abandoned horse and began spending time with her.  Although he is not experienced, he takes direction brilliantly (even from me!!) and shared a desire to try to see if the mare would be a willing participant in the direction he'd like to go.  

I agreed, provisionally.  The mare had to go to a trainer for at least an evaluation to see if she is a willing participant or if there is a behavioral predisposition that could be dangerous.  Cause if someone's going to get hurt, game over.  

We arranged for a two-week trial with my favorite trainer, Roland Sawatzky, and the day came to take the mare over to the barn.  

Remember the day she was brought to the farm?  How we were told she was a rodeo to load?  Right... Now I preach about how your energy and attitude can have a major impact on trailer loading and, to be completely honest, I'm not a fan of loading in most trailers!  But I love mine <3 So I made sure my energy and attitude was in a positive direction while listening to what the mare had to say.  She did walk right up the ramp and into the trailer; however, once she was there, she was anything but calm and confident so I backed her out again.  This needed some practice.  We tried again and that's where she showed me the rodeo.  She was crooked, very tense, and when she felt trapped by pressure, she jumped up and struck out with her front legs and pawed aggressively on the ramp. I'm all for horses communicating and expressing themselves, but not in a manner dangerous to people.  A brief but succinct discussion about her behavior followed and then I had Ali grab good old Mud Puddle from the pen where she and this mare lived together.  Mud, although the bane of my existence, has loaded and hauled plenty and I was confident that she would just walk in. She did not disappoint. 

With the assistance of a friend, mare put in a bit of effort to think her way through my request.  There was ample pawing at first which I interpreted as an expression of stress. I corrected the dangerous behavior and encouraged her attempts to cooperate.  The impression I got was that she was waiting for a fight and was going to give it everything she had.  How terrible.  I don't believe in that.  Sure, yes, absolutely I've gotten to the place of major frustration previously, made bad calls and not handled myself in constructive ways with horses before, yes.  But I've learned and grown and now I can do better!  So I did not engage.  I did not let my energy escalate.  I stayed positive, encouraging effort, recognizing and praising her attempts to cooperate. Eventually when her energy levelled out, I picked up my favorite magical dressage whip.  No, I certainly did not use it to inflict pain, that's totally counter productive.  Also, I had tried to introduce it earlier but felt a lot of tension from her so opted for better timing later. Sometimes you cannot force the process, just need to wait for timing.   Now seemed more appropriate timing.  We had a short conversation about when I tap your back, you step forward and the tapping stops.  Good enough, so onto the ramp.  She would give me front feet on the ramp, head in the trailer and stop. 

Now I would tap more and ask her to continue forward.  Like most horses, she didn't want to cooperate and went backwards.  When that happens, the tapping continues and gets firmer and in a quicker rhythm.  As soon as she steps forward again, the tapping stops and she is praised.  Now, I have not yet met a horse that this technique doesn't work for but I do feel that there is a timing for implementing it. Indeed, she stepped up, into the trailer, one step at a time, lots of praise.  We did this three times and on the third time I did not have to touch the whip to her, just raised it above her and she stepped in.  I was able to hand her off to Ali and went around to do up the butt bar.  We were away on the road within minutes and both rode like champs!  

PS, short sleeves in December!!

Mare even unloaded like a rockstar and went down the shedrow very politely.  The little black horse who stayed in the trailer however... 

Mud just can't even...

The ride back was uneventful, Mud stopped her theatrics once we were moving.  We finished the day loving on our herd.  Ali has such a love affair with Chai.  I am hopeful that the day will come soon when we're all riding enough that they can begin a further partnership.

My girls <3

All in all, I believe the mare does have a desire to be part of a team but will need to learn to trust that she's not going to get backed into a corner with no way out but to be dangerous and she will not be met with anger, high energy and emotional outbursts from the humans around her. No, I'm not putting down the mare's name because I'm hoping it will change with her partnership and career. 

Happy horseing (and stay safe!)