Follow up to the Disastrous Trailering Weekend

A very wonderful person offered to help me load Ava after my failed attempts last weekend. I agreed, and immediately had second thoughts. I was still stuck with the issue that I need her to load when I’m the only one there.

I was still so sore from the first attempt that I debated calling and canceling the appointment we’d made.  I wasn’t even sure I could hold a lead rope at that point, let alone a rope with a horse jerking me around.

Anyway, the appointed time came and there I stood with Ava, a trailer, GLOVES ON this time, and a brand new rope halter. I was quickly disavowed of the effectiveness of my “some famous person endorsed” rope halter that didn’t even have knots in the right places (why do tack stores sell those?), and loaned a real one (along with a 15 foot long lead).  I was still trepidatious. Mostly just tired. I was really, really tired of failing at this.

The trailering lesson began with some basic obedience training. My friend coached me through better ways to get Ava to respect me, and what the game plan was for teaching loading. I was pretty sure this was the root cause of my issues, but in my defense my horse is far less dis-obedient then she was 2 years ago.  The point is, we spent a few minutes just working on obedience and respect for the handler. Then I walked her up to the trailer and let her sniff it thoroughly. Ava stepped her front feet in, sniffed and bumped everything she could reach and then looked at me like she was saying “Yeah, Lady? Forget it! This is as far as I’m going.”

Actually, saying she gave me a look is way to mild. She was definitely not going in the trailer.

So we lunged her outside of the trailer with changes of direction, and when Ava started showing some signs of relaxation and submission we asked her to walk on the trailer.

Wasn’t happening.

Lunged some more and asked Ava to load again.

Nope.

Lunged, and lunged, and lunged, and lunged….

Okay. At this point I’m really starting to freak. My horse is breathing really hard, sweating profusely, and I’m wondering at what point she’ll fall over from a heart attack. Yet, Ava showed no signs of understanding that she’d get to stop if she got in the trailer.

We kept at it…. an hour went by and we were no further in the trailer than when we started. I wanted to give up. It was never going to work….

I lunged Ava, asked her to walk in, she’d refuse. I’d ask her to lunge some more. Repeat a gazillion times.

And suddenly, Ava walked in.  I petted her, and made a big fuss about what a wonderful horse she was as she caught her breath in the trailer. After a minute, Ava decided this being in the trailer still wasn’t for her and backed out. I tried asking her on again, but she dug her feet in and refused to move. So off she went on the lunge again…

I asked her to load again and three feet out she balked and refused to move.

Lunged some more.

Seriously, I was really, really worried at this point. I’ve never seen this horse sweat this much before.

I kept stopping Ava to ask her to load, and every single time she would step her front feet in and refuse to go any further. So we kept lunging…

Finally, I asked Ava to load again, and she jumped into the trailer. I swear if she’d had hands she would’ve shoved me out of the way to get on.  We let her catch her breath for several minutes, and then asked her to step just her back feet out. I was convinced that once those feet were out that she wouldn’t put them back in again. She stepped the first one down and immediately jerked it back into the trailer.  Apparently, she was finally getting that the trailer was a good place to be.

We spent some time asking Ava to back out of the trailer and then step back inside, and every time Ava walked all four feet back onto the trailer. I was so relieved. For one, because I wouldn’t have to ask Ava to lunge anymore (I felt like the meanest person ever keeping her going), and two because my horse finally was walking all four feet onto the trailer every time I asked. No fuss, no drama, no trying to kick everyone…  she just calmly walked on and started munching hay.

We’re going to try loading Ava again this weekend, so hopefully the lesson sticks. If this really works for the long haul then it means I can start hauling Ava over to go trail riding! Think of all the possibilities! We can go do fun stuff, with fun people, and on a whim if I want to! No more needing to budget in 2-4 hours just to load a horse. And I can go anywhere… I’ve been stuck only going places where experienced horse people can help me re-load Ava so we can go home. I’ll be able to go to any location regardless of who is there, or what kind of horse knowledge they have.

This will be so freaking awesome!!

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4 thoughts on “Follow up to the Disastrous Trailering Weekend

  1. Well Done!!! I am so excited for you! I have a horse that learned that lesson in a similar way! It took 5 hours of lunging to get her into the trailer! I thought for sure she was going to colic since I had to work her for so long to get her in! She was fine though! Drank water and munched hay in the trailer and didn’t want to get out!

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    • 5 hours?! I wouldn’t have lasted. I was dizzy and exhausted after just 2. I can’t imagine 5 hours! That’s some massive perseverance. 🙂

      Did the lesson stick after that though? I’m worried it won’t.

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  2. That’s EXACTLY the method I use. All of my horse load up right away; they’ve all been recipients of the holy crap! method. Speedy is the king of self loading. I have to watch the open door or he’ll barge in before I am ready! :0)

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  3. I feel all of your pain.

    I have the same problem with a horse I ride for his owner. 6 hours was his longest (not while I was working with him). The worst thing was, they all used food to get him to load, so he would move forward, get a treat, move back, move forward, get a treat, you get the idea.

    So I started riding him about 3 months ago and went to some lesson’s at other yards. Going, his owner would put him in a stable and he would load, so of course we had to do the same at the other end, which is not ideal as that is not always going to be an option.

    So I decided I was going to do some loading training with him. Pressure and release (no rope halter, just normal halter with lead rope over his nose as without it, I had not control at all, he is 16.3hh and I am 5’3″ lol) the first session we did, 6 hours, he went in once, (horse box) then he came out and the best I did after that was 2 front feet on the lorry floor, standing for a minute, then backed him down ramp and back up again about 3/4 times and then ended on that note.

    I then didn’t have the use of a horse box after that, so couldn’t practice. A few weeks ago, I had the use of a trailer, so same method, pressure and release. Our first session was 3 1/2 hrs and in that time he went on and off the trailer (in the back and out the front ramp) 5 times. I was OVER THE MOON. Two days later, I did another training session and this time it took 45 mins, loaded and unloaded 5 times, asking him to stand in the trailer for a few mins before unloading him. He had masses of praise from me, I could barely contain my excitement that he was loading. Another training session 2 days later, OMG less than 10 mins for him to load. Again, load and unload 5 times. Another training session 2 days later and I could not believe it, he loaded in less than a minute. I must add, I did not use food (I never do as he is a biter)

    He is only 5 yrs and not had much done with him except to be ridden, so I have spent a lot of time just getting to know him and for him to be happy tied up, groomed, picking feet out, being touched all over, leading out and in from paddock. I used to be terrified of him, he could be a pretty scary boy. Took me a week to be able to groom him, two weeks before I could pick all his feet out. Three weeks before I could do everything myself i.e. tie up, groom, tack up and get on. The turning point for me, I realised he is just a baby and finding his way and testing me, so every day I have to remind him I am his leader.

    He is turning into a super lovely boy, the real test will be when we go to an event on 29th Dec, I sure hope the training we did will mean he will load going and coming back and every time after that.

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