Thursday, June 3, 2010

Regaining what was lost

Our early trailer loading sessions, 2009.

At the end of our endurance ride and after a good bit of down time, it was time to leave. Leaving would be hard for Cibolo because he was going to have to leave his BFF Amigo.

But also trailer loading had been unwinding for us.

Back when we went to the clinic, trailer loading was already unwinding. Then he hit himself quite hard on the divider as went to close it on the last day. Ever since he’d become more of a pain to load and I found myself having to lunge and get stronger and stronger in my energy.

When people try to help me load him, it’s always worse. The whole “waving from the back” approach is ineffective at best with Cibolo, dangerous at worst as he will sometimes twist and turn like a gymnast avoiding both them and the trailer and me. If you think you’ve cut off every direction but the trailer, he’ll thread the needle just to the left that you never thought was possible. I always end up asking folks to leave me alone, and then we manage to load on our own. But it doesn't solve the problem, really. It patches it.

When I loaded him after the endurance ride, (after about 15 minutes) he wouldn’t even take the traditional “happiness is in the trailer” cookie. I’d gotten big with him, pushed him, had to tell people to not try to close the door behind him because that wasn’t going to help (it didn't and someone nearly got run over - he wasn't ready for that). Once he was in, it didn't feel much like a victory. It felt done.

I don’t want to anthropomorphize, but as I walked over to him, I could feel he was … frustrated at his treatment.

We went on a ride to the lake on Monday late afternoon with similar results. He took a long time to load to go home, and I ended up getting big, making him lunge, all of it, while it eventually worked, it was also all wrong.

I had read Lisa’s wonderful post about feeling her connection grow with Apache and I realized mine with Cibolo was being compromised with how I was handling his loading issue. Something was up and I needed to take the time to figure out what it was.

Sierra and I went to the barn to spend some time with Lily and Cibolo. Sierra is going through her emotional ups and downs of pre-puberty (“I’m sad and I don’t know why!” she moaned) and horse time turned out to be a wonderful salve.

We gave our horses a good cooling bath, then did some hand grazing.

Then I decided to take some time with the trailer. This time we weren’t going anywhere. We had time. He could confront his issues on his terms. I had no “carrot stick,” no cookies. Just the lead rope.

I got in the trailer with him three times (he’s always willing to go in if I’m there – it was the self loading and closing the bar that was causing problems), and on the third, he sighed and dropped his head.

Then we began the process of figuring out what was going on with self loading. At first he wouldn’t load. I didn’t do any lunging and only a tiny bit of gentle backing. That was more to get his focus, not “making the wrong thing difficult” kind of backing.

Soon he was putting his front hooves in the trailer and just standing there, a big old slanted horse. I let him stand that way as long as he wanted, and after a few times he was leaning in and stretching his neck out, sniffing, mostly at the dividing bar. He’d look around, checking everything.

It took about 15 or 20 quiet minutes and he got in on his own and stood there until I asked him out. Then we did one more load and he moved in and let me pat him gently to move him forward and lock the bar in place. It was quiet and calm.

And he took his cookie. His contact with me was no longer distant. Not perfect, not all the way, but definitely on it’s way.

I felt much better after this, felt like I was finally doing it right. I still think he’s going to have issues loading for a while. I believe I’m on the path of a permanent (as permanent as things get with horses) solution to loading that doesn’t compromise the other part of what I’m looking for with Cibolo: A solid, trusting mount, who follows me based on experience with my fair and even handed behavior.

I plan on doing this again this week,just taking time to do it right. Like Kathleen said, take the time to fix it, not just "good enough" but right.

Fix it. Not patch it.


Cactus Jack Splash said...

Great post! Good reminder that everything we do with our horses impacts our relationship with them. Things take the time they take.

Grey Horse Matters said...

I think it's great that you took the time to figure out what you needed to do with your guy. He sounds like after a few more times practicing loading he'll be a superstar at it.

Anonymous said...

Great, great, great!!! I'm linking, hope you don't mind.

It may just be that he was worried about the divider and upping the pressure made him more worried. I wish more people would think and act like you around their horses - that's how (good) relationships get built.

Katharine Swan said...

My trainer and I worked a long time a couple of weeks ago at loading. We weren't going anywhere either, just practicing. We always get in with him though -- he'd never walk in without us. With him we have an added obstacle to overcome, as he was in a terrible trailer accident as a yearling that resulted in his mom being euthanized.

My trainer lets him sniff around and check things out at first, but she does gradually stop allowing as much of that. My gelding is very smart and figures out when he can use something like that to stall!

I definitely know what you mean about quiet, calm, and no other people helping! The other day I was trying to get Panama into the indoor wash rack, and because there was a lot of commotion he was having a mini-meltdown about it. He'd get two feet in, and then back out in a hurry. Well, I realized that one of the other boarders thought she was "helping" by leaning on his back end and trying to push him in that way. I put a stop to that right away! I guess no one ever told her you're never going to win a contest of strength with a horse...

JeniQ said...

wow Great Post! I have trailer loading issues.. not my horses. I know it's me. I got hurt when I was young and now I'm all nervous about it and obviously that translates to my mares.

Because of this I typically have other people load them for me. Not a good solution.

Your post makes me think... This is a good thing.


juliette said...

Great post - not just on loading, but on our need to take our time with our horses. You were not in a hurry and didn't have any place you had to go. You had time to let Cibolo investigate, smell, relax and feel secure in that space again. I've noticed that when I have time to let our TB's just BE without forcing anything, that they are that much more willing to do what I really want them to do. Also, I SO identified with the pre-puberty ups and downs of Sierra. My daughter, Maizie, is at the exact same point and just like the horses, our unstructured, relaxed horse time seems to work for that too!
Good reminder!

Jess said...

Very lucky that you've had so much success with the patience! My guy does the "big old slanted horse" move for the whole day. I can stand there with him for hours, and he just puts up his front feet. So far I've found the only thing that gets him on is the "inside the trailer is a lot happier than outside the trailer". Not ideal, but he was on in less than 5 minutes with this method the last time we used it. It's always something with horses!!!

Shirley said...

Cibolo is doing a good job of teaching you horsemanship.

RuckusButt said...

I really liked your approach and the overall application of just taking time as opposed to "getting it done". I actually felt calmer as I read it too!

Golden the Pony Girl said...

How perfect. I love that you just spent the time and gave your horse the opportunity to think about the situation for himself. One of my big issues is patience. I have spent many agonizing minutes during trailer loading repeating "don't nag him" as my pony sat half way in and half way out just sniffing away. We just add negative associations when we get after them for these things.

Beth said...

Wonderful post. Those skills are so important even if they are not the fun skills to teach. And I agree, they really effect the relationship we have with our horses.

jill said...

The good stuff happens when it's just you,the horse, and...time.
Congrats on the step forward.

Leah Fry said...

Excellent post and even more excellent instincts. Good for you for taking the time to do it right.

Nina said...


HorseOfCourse said...

Wonderful post.
Thanks for sharing!

gina taylor, OT said...

I liked this post and your approach. The ladies at my barn tell me how much Drifter (my mare) trusts me and does things so much easier for me then for them at times. I noticed this last night when I went to leave her alone at the trailer for the first time- she just turned her head and eyed me the whole time I was leaving and looking for where I went into a building while I was gone. The relationship really does matter.

Fantastyk Voyager said...

I'm glad you're working out your issues. I haven't tried to load Scout since the other day. It depresses me so much because I really wish I could load all four and just go! It's partly me- I've never been comfortable trailer loading horses.

Chelsi said...

*high five* "fix it dont patch it" !! Now that is a mantra I could get in to! Soooo good of you to have taken the time to really sort the issue out. GREAT post.

allhorsestuff said...

You really got that situation correctly analyzed! The "quick patch" treatment will fall through again...and never really be satisfying.
The real thing, "A solid bond", between you and your Cibolo, now that will always be something to trust in.
I love reading about your steps to excellent horsewomanship!

billie said...

I am chiming in very late here but just saw this post - what you ended up doing is very similar to what a wonderful trainer taught us to do with our pony after an unfortunate trailer loading incident involving "help" from a few very misguided Pony Club parents.

The time you took will be the most valuable thing you ever did - we spent most of a summer teaching our pony that we will not force him or scare him onto a trailer - and since then he has loaded like a dream.