Annie asked if she could bring her mare over for a trailer-loading session. Getting Cassidy, her three-year-old mare, into a trailer was an irritating exercise in frustration. The only way to get her in reliably was to create a chute at the back of an open stock trailer and then push her stubborn ample butt in.
The little bay mare rode reasonably well, but Annie couldn’t take her anywhere because even if you got Cassidy loaded at home she wouldn’t get back in for the return trip.
Pretty and Stubborn
“Sure, Annie, bring her over.”
The day was Texas-gorgeous, clear, sunny and seventy degrees, the perfect temperature to mess around outside. Annie and I had met several times at a variety of events, but never when she had a horse with her.
Annie and Cassidy arrived in a nice little stock trailer. After we chatted for a few minutes, Annie unloaded Cassidy without incident.
“What a cutie!”
“I think she’s gorgeous. We’ve been working on getting in the trailer, but I haven’t been able to get her to load when I need to.”
Cassidy was dark bay with one white stocking on her right rear and a large star centered on her forehead. She was on the shorter side, about 14.2 hands, with a shiny My Pretty Pony black mane and tail. Cassidy was balanced and fit, with enough substance to do about anything Annie wanted her to.
“Show me how you work with her at home.”
Feet Move – Just Not into the Trailer
For the next few minutes I watched Annie ask Cassidy to work back and forth on a short longe line as close to the back of the trailer as she could drag her. I don’t think anything worked the way Annie hoped. Cassidy paid little attention to what Annie asked and didn’t go anywhere near the trailer.
She’d sit back, pulling Annie off balance, or crowd her, forcing Annie to move to avoid getting pushed or stomped on. When Cassidy’s refusal was blatant, Annie yanked hard on the lead rope to let her know she’d done wrong.
“That’s good, Annie. Let’s take a break.”
Cassidy appeared spoiled, indifferent to Annie’s requests and unconcerned about any correction. Annie didn’t have a chance because the mare was the boss.
“Do you mind if I mess with her a bit?”
“I hoped you would. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. I’ve watched several clinicians teach horses to get into the trailer, but it’s not working for me.”
Imitating Trainers Doesn’t Always Work
Of course, Annie wasn’t doing what the trainers did. She tried to imitate the generalities of what she saw them do without understanding how the parts of the exercises fit together.
After Annie handed me Cassidy’s longe line I introduced myself to her. We’d never met and it’s only polite to get to know one another before getting to work. Cassidy wasn’t a little spoiled, she was stinkin’ rotten spoiled, worse than the dozen gag-me-breathless-putrid eggs I broke when cleaning out my soon-to-be-husband’s refrigerator thirty-five years ago. This cute little bay mare thought she could run over me the same way she did her owner.
She couldn’t, but it took twice as long to earn her focus as I figured.
Spoiled Horses Are Fearless
Spoiled horses are fearless. They don’t believe anything will hurt them because they’ve heard it all; bluster, brandished whips, yelling, threats, and yanked ropes that never turn into anything more. I called Cassidy’s bluff and won, because I wasn’t bluffing. She put a few dozen divots in my freshly mowed coastal Bermuda grass, but I earned her attention.
Cassidy wasn’t just giving me the time of day, she was laser-locked on. Curious and a trifle wary, she was in unfamiliar territory where her tricks didn’t work. I owned her attention.
It was time to begin trailer training. Which, in my book, has little to do with trailers. My goal is to teach the horse to take one step forward. That’s it. Simple stuff. If trailers are an issue, we begin a long way from the trailer. That’s the last step, not the first or necessarily even the tenth.
One Step Forward – Anywhere
Think about it, if you know your horse will always, in every circumstance, take one step forward, where can’t you ask your horse to go? You can cross, go over, under, or through anything, and getting into a trailer is just another collection of one-steps.
Make it simple and keep it simple. When little failures stay little, minor successes add up to great achievements. Even for horses who refuse to get into trailers.
Within thirty minutes Cassidy repeatedly walked into the trailer without taking the slack out of the lead rope. No dust, no drama, no tantrums.
And Annie understood the concept. One step at a time.
Related post: 7 Simple Rules for Success With a Horse
The Gospel Horse Series
Click for information on these Amazon #1 Best-Sellers.