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.