Friday, July 11, 2008

The Trailering Fiasco, in Points

This is one of those incidences that makes me cringe when I think about it. You know -- sometimes green horse owners do stupid, stupid things, because they haven't been around horses enough to know better. In this case, it wasn't so much a case of doing, as NOT doing.

So my freshman year when I joined OHSET, I signed up as a groom because I knew Bailey wasn't ready (+1 for me). I still went to practices, though, and rode an extra horse that one of the team members brought along (+1). One week we decided to bring Bailey so I could ride him around at practice. So out we bring our itty bitty two-horse straight-load, which probably would fit McKinna decently but, in hindsight, definitely not a TB (-10). We did, however, remove the center divider (+2).

At home, we load Bailey up. This involves alfalfa bribery (-1), feeding a longe line through the window clipped to his halter to pull him in (-2), and general swishing of whip behind him (+1 for not hitting him!). After horsie was sufficiently squished in the trailer (and I mean squished!), we set off for practice.

As we get there, I undo both doors instead of the one just behind his butt (-1) and undo the butt bars before untying him (-1). Bailey does not pull back, thankfully (+1). I untie him and instead of backing out, he immediately turns his big self around in that tiny place, squishing me against the wall, and steps out (-3). Unhurt though a little shaken, I take him in to get tacked up.

Practice goes well, or at least well enough that I don't even remember what transpired (+5). This is because I so vividly remember What Came After (-10).

Because, of course, we needed to load him back up (-1). Into the Itty Bitty Trailer (-3). In the dark (-10).

Yeah. Did I mention that Bailey cheerfully broke the stereotype of the easy-to-load, beentheredonethat OTTB?

Bailey was not going into that death trap. He was quite adamant about this.

Everything would have been fine as we were extraordinarily patient, willing to bribe and pull and whip-swish our way into the trailer, even if it took a few hours (+3). We almost got him in once (+1).

Then some friendly teammates came to help (-100).

I believe it is largely because of this incidence that I completely and totally hate any offers to help me load my horse into the trailer, ever. Do not offer to help, do not tell me that "You just hafta . . ." and do not tell me that I need a butt rope or a whip or a stud chain. I can manage my own horse, and if I want help, I will ask for it. I understand you are trying to be helpful, and I appreciate it. I will even think kindly of you, as long as you don't keep hovering and offering advice after I politely decline your offer!

So first they attempted to butt-rope Bailey into the trailer. Okay, a reasonable technique in an emergency for a horse that understands the concept. It was not, and he did not (-5). It freaked him out some more, though (-10).

Next up two people took control. Trying to use two different methods (-50).

One decided to make the trailer a pleasant place for Bailey by working him elsewhere. Okay, reasonable enough. So he marches Bailey away from the trailer, makes him back up (which he HATED, by the way), trot in circles, move around, then brings him back to the trailer which is the theoretical 'safe place.'

Except that the other person's method mainly consisted of "Pull his head forward and smack his butt with the whip. Repeat until first person takes Bailey away for more work." -400.

So much for the trailer being a nice safe place.

After being worked into a bit of a lather for a good half hour (-25), and still adamantly refusing to step into the trailer (+1 for Bailey, I suppose), we gave up. One of the people offered us a ride in their big four-horse slant.

We lined him up and opened the doors. He stepped right in. +100 for Bailey.

Final score: Bailey 101. Us -617.

Both my parents and I were really, really pissed but in the presence of such strong personalities (you know how horse people can be), we couldn't bring ourselves to say anything. It was amazingly overwhelming and there was no room for the novice horse owners to say "Um, excuse me, could you be nicer to our horse please?"

I swore nobody would ever take my horse away from me again. I am still ashamed to think of the way I let those people treat my horse.

From there began a long, frustrating road of trailer-training Bailey. We worked with him patiently and we worked on it often. Progress was set back when we had to trailer out of the barn in the middle of a flood and the water came about a foot and a half into the trailer, scaring the horses out of their minds. After that, both Bailey and Loki were terrified of trailers for a long time. There were times that it would take us more than an hour to load him. He was fine riding on the trailer, but as soon as he stepped on, he got nervous; when he would step back to unload, he'd take tiny steps and his hind legs would tremble.

By the time he left us, he would walk right up to the trailer and step in, then stand while we shut the divider and tied him. He never was very comfortable backing out, but he'd do it if I asked him to.

But man, did that night teach me something. I will do what works for MY horse, not what someone else thinks I "just hafta" do. And I will never, ever let people handle my horse unless I trust them.

On that note, we also bought a larger trailer ;)

It was a really good learning experience and also helped teach me the value of groundwork. Going through the trailering struggles that I did with him makes me feel a lot more confident about working with horses in the future. I can be patient and persuasive with a troublesome loader and I know what to do to train a horse to calmly load.

The learning curve's pretty steep when you first jump in the horse world.


Char said...

I definately know where you're coming from on the "pushy horse people". They are anywhere that horses are, unfortunately.

I'm glad you eventually got him more comfortable, and took the time to do it "right".


sellefrancais said...

Ah, sounds entirely too familiar.

My first horse was a little Arabian gelding, and our first horse trailer was a tiny two-horse straight load. Then I upgraded to a 16hh APHA gelding who was beefy, and hated that trailer because it was so small for him.

He tolerated it for the most part, but always backed out with his head held high, resulting in hitting his head on the top (even with his little horse helmet on).

I went to a show one day, and that night after everyone was exhausted, he refused to load. Straight up refused. And we tried everything. On top of that, it was pouring rain. We tried for an hour and a half to get him to load, with no luck. We finally tied him to the trailer for awhile while we sat in the truck to breathe and calm down.

Literally about three hours later he finally loaded, and we promptly sold that trailer for a two-horse slant which fit him much better.

Thankfully, because years later my sister and I upgraded to big warmbloods, and they tolerated it for awhile before we got an even bigger trailer.

Just so you know, you're not alone. And at least you learned the valuable lesson of knowing what is right for your horse.

mugwump said...

I have learned to never offer advice unless asked. Then I give freely.
Some people think I'm kind of a snot. But I hope not all.

manymisadventures said...

sellefrancais, I am glad I'm not alone :) It just goes to show that sometimes you really do need to change to fit the horse -- Bailey would never have been comfortable in that trailer, period, no matter how much training we did.

mugs, I would never think you were a snot -- in fact, that's exactly the approach I appreciate. I certainly didn't mean for this post to imply that I dislike advice - quite the opposite, in fact! It's more the holier-than-thou advice that's usually accompanied by attempted commandeering of the horse that I hate.

That's the attitude I try to use, though sometimes I will ask if they want some help. If they say no, I shut my mouth. If they say yes, I try to help them out.

You're welcome to give me advice any time ;)

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