I had a 600 mile round trip horse transport today; a 6 YO TB mare sold by the manager of the training and sales barn I usually haul for. Twelve hours behind the wheel is about my limit these days so I arrived early with my long distance game face on. The mare was a 1200 pound bundle of nerves, led hesitantly onto the trailer and as I hooked the bull snap onto her halter the "OH SH*T!" lights went on in her eyes. I recognized that sign immediately. My Arab gelding has the same one installed in his head too.
BANG! Broken trailer tie and a big sorrel horse running the ranch at liberty. Ft. Lauderdale was looking 100 miles farther away already.
The BM collected the mare while I dug out a new trailer tie. But now she wouldn't get within 15 feet of the ramp. The BM tried cajoling her with a feed scoop. Nope. She wasn't having any part of the trailer (6'6" wide and 7'6" inside roof). A gentleman dressed in tan joddies and a white Deacon's collar shirt (and diamond stud earrings in each ear lobe) suggested the mare didn't like the ramp. I disagreed and led the mare to the rear of a nearby step-up stock trailer to demonstrate. She sniffed some old stale manure on the trailer floor and backpedaled with the "OH SH*T!" lights flashing again. See. Not the ramp. She doesn't know how to load.
I don't usually teach horses to load without charging for it. But the transport fee was a pretty good chunk of change and I wanted to salvage the job. So I got a 4' training stick (NOT orange!) from my truck and set about longeing the mare in small circles to make the trailer look like a much more comfortable place to be. When I extended it behind her to move her forward it set her off in a shivering blind panic, swinging her hips away and about to run me down head on. I was beginning to hear her tell me about her history. I ditched the whip immediately, stepped in and vigorously rubbed her crest. It's a "twitch point" that releases endorphins and helps to dispel adrenaline. In about 30 seconds she was licking and chewing with a lowered head.
We walked a few meandering circles toward the trailer ramp. I stopped and did an away-from-pressure test, poking her hip, shoulder and breastbone. Solid resistance. Oh, joy! She knows nothing! The BM had gone off to talk with another client while the dressage gentleman continued to observe. I got the mare lined up to the ramp and began to introduce her to yielding to lead rope pressure. Bump, bump, bump, baby step forward, release. Repeat ad nauseum until two front feet are in the trailer. Then the mare discovers she can step off to the side of the ramp with her hind feet at a 45 degree angle and bring the process to a halt. We back off the trailer, more crest rubbing, line up straight, bump,bump, bump, more baby steps, more releases, two feet inside, another 45 degree angle, back off the trailer, etc., etc... for about 20 minutes.
Mr. Joddie-pants says "How about using a butt rope?" Uh... I explain the obvious. The mare has not been trained how to move away from pressure. Her natural instinct is to move INTO pressure. And unless she has been specifically trained to move AWAY from a butt rope she will back INTO it and if she can't get away from it her next move will be UP and not forward. And the last thing we need from her is even more adrenaline.
So now it's time to cheat a little. I grabbed a handful of feed from the previously abandoned scoop and filled my pockets, showing the mare exactly where it was. Back to bump, bump, bump, baby step, release, offer a pinch of feed, repeat. This time she stays aligned with the ramp and comes in far enough for me to surreptitiously snap the new trailer tie onto her halter. But her hind feet are still at the ramp hinge. Bump, bump, bump, she steps in, the dressage gentleman slowly raises and secures the ramp door and I quietly step to the escape door while watching for the "OH SH*T!" lights to come on and get a 1200 pound panicky pocket protector to wear to my funeral. I am saved by her sudden interest and distraction of the hay net. And.... she's loaded. No adrenaline and no perspiration... from either of us. But I'm 45 minutes behind schedule.
I thanked the dressage gentleman for his assistance and that's when he says "I'm a Parelli instructor. You've got a lot more patience than I do." My knee-jerk reaction was to say something about having seen the contraband Linda and Pat videos demonstrating their limits to patience. But, in the spirit of the holiday season I simply replied "Well, I'm just a REGULAR horse trainer." I didn't bother to explain that almost two years of dealing with my Arabian gelding's baggage of previous abuse had redefined my own concept of patience... for the better.
Five hours later the mare delivered to her new barn. I fully expected her to come off the trailer like a champagne cork. But she just took a few nervous steps backward and then led off to her new stall by a very happy new owner. He asked what I thought of her. All I said was "She just needs to be handled with patience."
They all do. ~FH