Horsey Therapist

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Trailer loading

I heard from a friend who is struggling with her horse's reluctance to get into the trailer. Understandably, she wants to go trail riding with friends, and that means trailering places. I've already heard that this horse was bullied into a trailer in the past, and that he 'freaked out' in a trailer and injured himself. These are some thoughts I shared with her after hearing her use words like "stubborn" and "clever" and "mischievous" to describe him when he showed a clear intention to avoid the trailer.


He's not stubborn, he's looking after his survival. Please don't put anything more onto him than that. Then approach the situation as if you are going to help him feel like it's not going to kill him to think about the trailer.

And that is what you want -- for him to think about the trailer. No pressure from you, no added worry from you, no hurry from you. If he can think about the trailer without getting all upset from 100 yards away, then start there. I mean it. He has good reason to avoid going near a trailer. He has almost no reason to think otherwise. It's your job to help him feel OK about just looking at the trailer. Once he feels OK looking, THEN it's OK for you to ask him to take a step closer to the trailer. That might be all you'd ask that day.

Then come back the next day. And see what his feelings are and at what distance from the trailer he shows you with every cell of his body that he feels ok looking at the trailer.

When he looks with both eyes and both ears, you know his mind is with the trailer. That is what you look for and that is what you release him for. In this case, a release might be taking him further away from the trailer just for considering the trailer. Your release is meant to tell him you understand how terrifying the trailer was (it HURT him!) and how terrifying the people were (they added fear and worry to his already fearful and worried state of mind!), and that you will help him feel OK about things you ask of him, and if he gives a little consideration of the trailer, that's all you'll ask and you'll prove that by taking him some further distance and let him think about what he just did. Because he just survived thinking about the trailer. Thinking about it did not kill him. This is a huge deal. Thinking about it did not bring out the upset feelings of his human handler. Thinking about it is OK. He needs to find that place on his own -- no way to force him to feel that.

Meanwhile, someplace other than near the trailer, work on his leading. Work to help him understand that he can find a release from lead rope pressure when he moves in the direction of pressure. He can learn how to release himself from pressure, and that is ideal. He's taking care of his comfort in a way that makes sense to him and in a way that he can count on. If he's learned to pull back and people have been holding on to the lead rope when he pulls back, well, it may be a longer journey to get this right.

First thing, get really clear and committed yourself with a promise to yourself and him that you will not pull on the lead rope, you will not try to use your weight and strength against his. Silly thing, isn't it. We know the math and the ratio of human weight versus horse weight yet we have this urge to be right and get our way when we're feeling upset and hence hold on when a horse is pulling their weight against ours!!

Anyway, ask him forward and release, put some slack in the lead rope. If his response is to back up then you've already given him slack and you'll let him back up and you'll go right along with him, calm as can be, and wait for him to stop. Then ask again. At some point he'll try something other than backing up. It's soooo important that you wait until he offers a new response to an old question! That will give him a sense of having a say in the matter, and indeed if you want a horse with a cooperative and thinking mind, one who will give you his best from his heart not from a fearful, submissive/resigned, resentful place, then do take the time to learn new handling habits.

I hope I don't offend you but I'm not sure you fully understand how your emotional tone affects the results you're getting with your horse. You boasted about "being overly patient" and no doubt about it, I will give you a Gold Star for patience!!! But it's not his job to even think about your patience level. And it's not fair to him or to your relationship with him and your hopes for having a true equine partner, to be thinking "and it better pay off!!"

Give him some choice. Not all the choices, but give him some choice. It's no different from a partnership with a spouse for example, and I'm sure you know how yucky it feels when your spouse makes a decision without checking out with you what you think and feel about that decision. Horses are SOOOOO capable of changing their minds when they know they are allowed to think about it and express their "no" before they let go of those thoughts and offer their "yes".

You won't believe how sweet it feels when your dear horse decides he can go into the trailer. His very own mind will take his very own body into that trailer. No need for humans to push, shove, whip, use ropes, none of that. Once he decides it's an ok place to be. So it's your responsibility now to help him develop the sense that it's an ok place to be. And for starters, that ok place may be 100 yards from the trailer itself.


At 05 April, 2006 16:50, Blogger ELL said...

Very Good Advice LJB. It is easy to get so busy and caught up in what I want my horse to do, that I forget we are partners. I am more aware these days--thanks to your sound advice-- as I help my new partner with experiences she finds troubling. I'm so glad you have created this site to share your insight with many! I will tune in often.


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