Stacey: Trailers & Tribulations

In my job as managing editor, I read every word of every article (usually at least twice) that comes out in Practical Horseman each month. I stash away a lot of useful information on a wide range of topics like a squirrel gathering nuts. And that’s why I find it really challenging when I encounter a horse-related problem that have the right tool in my training toolbox to fix but don’t know exactly how to use it properly. For example, let’s take a situation that came up on Tuesday morning: I scheduled a lesson and had been looking forward to it for several weeks. I left myself plenty of time for grooming and loading (loading up at 9 a.m. for a 10 a.m. lesson that’s a 10-minute drive down the road). But no matter what I did, my horse, Wowie, would NOT go in the trailer. He’d put two feet up on the ramp and then look at me and back off. Or he’d step up from the right side of the ramp and stand with all four feet on before turning around and walking off again. We just couldn’t seem to translate that into, “You WILL go in the trailer.” After 10 or 15 minutes of this, I took a deep breath, walked him over to the round pen and gave him a refresher on the ground work he’d done with John Lyons-certified trainer Jake Nodar last year to fix the same issue. (Jake has since moved to California.) I reinstalled the cues for going forward. I kept his feet moving. I tried to emphasize that he could make this much easier on himself if he’d just walk onto the trailer like a good boy. And he’d respond by coming to me and licking his lips. But when faced with loading again, he’d put his two front feet on the ramp and this time swing his head at my face to knock me out of the way before stepping off. This was not going in the direction I’d hoped. Three hours later and using every technique I know, I had very successfully taught my horse NOT to load. With my patience threadbare at best, I called it a day. While I am a big believer in not giving up until we have success, I got the feeling we weren’t going to get anywhere no matter how many hours we tried. So I hosed him off and put him in crossties for a little while until both of us cooled off. While I was sitting on a tack trunk in the barn aisle contemplating my frustrations, I texted a short message about the situation to my friend, colleague and fellow boarder Traci. “I’m such a trailer-loading failure!” I complained. My phone beeped a few seconds later with her reply: “No you are not! You get on just fine. Wowie just needs work!” Once I had a good laugh and reconsidered my plan to tie Wowie to a tree by the road with a “free horse” sign glued to his rump, I emailed Jake for advice and reshuffled my schedule for the week to include doing more work in the round pen before I try to take him to a hunter show on Sunday. The tip I’m really banking on as the solution to Wowie’s loading issue came in a response from Jake: “First, I would start by whispering to Wowie that if he doesn’t get his [derri ?re] on the trailer, Jacob Nodar will be flying back to put it in.” Let’s hope that’s enough of a threat to convince him! Stay tuned.

Trainer Jake Nodar successfully gets Wowie on the trailer during a session last year. | ? Stacey Nedrow-Wigmore
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