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Sunday, 2 October 2011

Trailer Loading - three horses, three Horsenalities, three Levels

The owners of my barn have refurbished an old trailer and it is now set on the property so it was time to check out the new trailer - it's a very small 2 horse straight load with a step up, no ramp. If I close the butt bar, my horses are pretty much squished against the front. The kind of trailer I would not want to travel very far with, but perfect for building my horse's confidence with all kinds of trailers.  I never miss an opportunity to present my horses with a different trailer!  As Pat says, getting them used to eagles so they can handle blackbirds. I have three horses at three different levels in the program, and three different Horsenalities.  It's always interesting to compare on one task how they will approach it and what kind of leader I need to be to help them get confident and relaxed about the outcome.

Practice with different types and sizes!  This one is a slant load.
Blue Moon (RBE, playing at about Level 3) does have confidence issues with the trailer and we have not done much with trailers this summer.  In fact, I have only trailered her once since I own her, and that was when I first picked her up in the spring.  I figured this might be a good time to start getting her ready for our November trip. Her biggest issues are 1) being alone in there and 2) she is afraid of backing out down the step. That's mostly why she is reluctant to go in. We did a lot of confidence building prep with Z4/Z5 this summer - backing in and out of gates and stalls, backing to things, uphill, over things, learning to jump (so she has to find a way to pick up her Z4) and putting 4 feet on the pedestal. She is getting quite good at all of it, so today would be a good test. 

She was quick to go touch the trailer with her nose (curiosity is a good thing!), and after a few squeezes between me and the trailer, was fine stopping there and eating, even backing up to the trailer step up. Then she offered to put 2 feet in, but did not stay long. A few minutes later, she tried all 4 feet but got worried and tried to turn around to get out, so I took a good feel on the line and helped her back out.  That was a bit difficult for her, so it took another good 20 minutes before she attempted hind feet again, but she would jump in with the front feet as far as she could. Mentally, she was loading, but just could not get the hind feet to follow!  We did lots of Approach and Retreat, big releases for the big tries (go away and eat grass), and she started loading all four feet confidently, found the hay, but still wanted to turn around to get out.  So we just practiced going in and out many times, even if it was only the front feet; I did not push her to load all the way in, I knew that would come when she got confident and trusting.  Within about an hour, she was loading well, eating hay and waiting for me to ask her out, then unloading calmly backwards with a supporting feel on the line; I was even able to load her from the fender with one send, so I opted to end the day at that point. She was not quite ready for the butt bar, we'll get to that another day. Good session!

Easter and Menina are confident travelers!
At first, Menina (LBE, Level 4) thought the nice clover around the trailer was much more interesting, so her first try was 2 legs in and come out to eat grass. Second send, she walked right on, found the hay and apples in the front (LB horse, she loves incentive), and stood quietly munching until I asked her out. It took all of about 2 minutes. I closed the butt bar just to check the size - her chest is squished against the front and her ears touch the ceiling... She is my biggest horse! I would not want to haul her too far in this thing (the owners have pony size horses). Just for fun, I then loaded her from the trailer fender and from the end of the 22 foot line. No big deal, except she was a bit disappointed when she ran out of apples.  She would come out trying to see if I might have some in my pockets! This horse is too smart for her own good!

Easter (RBI, solid Level 4/5) had a look when we first walked up the hill, typical RBI first reaction:   getting worried about something that was not quite the same as yesterday!  Her breathing got short for a second, then she sighed, went straight to it, sniffed the floor and walked right on by herself.  I did not even have to send her, although I'm sure she picked up on my intention. It took less than a minute, and she stood in there calm and relaxed with her leg cocked munching on the hay flake in front until I asked her out. That's what I call a solid trailer loader!  It goes to show that years of good preparation can really make a difference, innately, she is after all the least confident of my horses.

Why is trailer loading savvy so important and has always been a key component of the Parelli program?  Several reasons:  first of all, trailer loading is an important part of any horse's foundation.  All horses should be able to load calmly and confidently in a trailer with minimal effort on your part.  In case of an emergency, you may not have time to get your horse ready to be trailered and it could be a matter of life and death.  You never know when you might have to leave the premises quickly, whether it be a medical emergency or an act of God.   It's also a great test of how well you have been playing the 7 Games with your horse, and whether you have been winning the Games.  How solid is your leadership, how confident is your horse in your leadership?  I promise you all the holes in your relationship and in your Savvy will come out when you attempt trailer loading!  It's one of the hardest tasks to do with excellence, and achieving a Level 4 trailer loading will be the most rewarding thing you can do as a horseman or woman.  It's also a great way to impress your horsey friends!

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