Saturday, March 8, 2008

Trailering Time II

As you can see, we managed to get Gabbrielle into the trailer this weekend. In my previous post, Trailering Time I, I requested suggestions on how to get her into the trailer without me getting squashed in the process. She's been in a trailer several times before, but enough time has lapsed that she is no longer willing to go right in. Last weekend I did manage to get her in while offering a treat, but I nearly got mauled in the process. I needed a safer method of trailering.

I received several great suggestions. BrownEyedCowgirls and BarnGoddess agreed on leading a more experienced horse in first. Farm Girl and Shirley have had luck with the John Lyons trailering process. Ann said that keeping a horse's feet moving until it stands quietly at the trailer, and then praising it works best for her and her horses. Of course, there is a lot more to these suggestions, but I'm trying to sum them up in one sentence at the moment. If you want to know more details, see their comments in Trailering Time I.

Today I started out using BarnGoddess and BrownEyedCowgirls' idea of lunging Gabbrielle in the round pen first. This is definitely something I normally do before riding a horse, but I sometimes forget to lunge before trailering. Gabbrielle was hot! That horse had energy bouncing off the walls, probably because she saw me hooking up the trailer and knew what was next. I then prepared to use Ann's technique of keeping the feet moving while turning the horse in each direction with the tap of a whip, and repeatedly backing up in the round pen. I then walked Gabbrielle to the back of the trailer and kept her feet moving until we stopped at the trailer, where I petted and praised her and let her rest as long as she was thinking about going in. As soon as she took a step back, we started moving her feet here and there again. She was backing up so well that I had high hopes that she would back out of the trailer just fine.

Gabbrielle was willing to walk forward right up to the trailer so that her head was in it, but she would not step up. She was perfectly relaxed, but being stubborn about the whole thing. I must have spent well over an hour moving her this way and that, but she still refused to self-load into the trailer. Then I remembered something my horse trainer told me years ago: You can't tire out an Arabian. Gabbrielle was showing no signs of fatigue with all the backing up, turning this way and that. I think I was the only one who was tired out by it.

I decided to return to the method my horse trainer taught me, which was similar to John Lyons' approach. I read his chapter on trailering in his book "Lyons On Horses". The only difference was that John Lyons says not to string the long line through the trailer window, while that has always worked well for me since I don't have any helpers. I can control the pressure on the horse's head with one hand and use the whip to tap the hindquarters with the other hand while keeping a safe distance from her hooves. I spent another half hour doing pressure, release and praise, but she wouldn't step up. The whip had no irritant effect, nor did it urge her forward.

I then decided to put the alpha mare in the trailer first. I chose Lostine because she self-loads, but I forgot how nervous she gets once she's in there. She ended up not being a very good role model with all her pawing, whinnying, and kicking. I tried both techniques I previously attempted, but with a more experienced horse already in the trailer. Gabbrielle still refused to step up. That's when I begged my son to help. He stood in the window holding the rope and encouraging Gabbrielle forward into the trailer, while I stood beside her and encouraged her to step up. I think having my son up front comforted her, and she stepped right in.

I then took the advice of BarnGoddess and BrownEyedCowgirls to leave her in the trailer for half an hour to get used to it. I put some hay in some hay bags and let the girls eat their lunch in there while I took pictures. Gabbrielle was in her element. She looked totally comfortable in the trailer while Lostine threw her usual fit. After a while I began worrying that they needed water. I had no idea how much time had passed since I first started working with Gabbrielle to get her into the trailer.

I stood in the window and tugged backwards on the lead while giving the command of "Back! Back! Back!" Gabbrielle stepped back, but got scared and jumped forward. I tried again, and she did get one foot down out of the trailer, but jumped right back in. She then kept sticking her head out the window, refusing to back up. I got in the trailer with her and tugged the lead rope while commanding her back, but she jumped forward and squashed me. We had to get that window closed so that she couldn't do that. It took a lot of teamwork, but my son and I eventually were able to push the horse's head back and get the window closed. I then got back into the trailer with her to help her back up, but she wouldn't budge and kept pushing into me. She respects my space during groundwork, but it didn't carry over into the trailer.

I was growing weary, and Lostine really badly wanted out of that trailer. However, I couldn't get Lostine out until I got Gabbrielle out. We tried a number of desperate techniques, none of which worked. Then my husband returned from his day at the political convention and asked what was going on. I told him, and he marched right into that trailer in his beautiful maroon dress shirt, tie, slacks, and dress shoes! I begged him to be careful. He said he was going to turn her around in the trailer and let her get out head first like she used to. The two of them jumped off the back at the same time, collided mid-air, both horse and man began falling sideways, then managed to upright themselves and land on their feet. My husband got kicked in the shin, but survived. There's no stopping him when he's on a mission.

When I got back into the house after unloading Lostine, I was shocked to see that I had spent 4 hours on trailering. I'll bet those horses were thirsty!

Lostine: "Did you get some hay yet?"
Gabbrielle: "No, I didn't get any hay yet. Did you get some hay yet?"
Lostine: "You knucklehead! If I got some hay, I wouldn't be asking you if you got some hay."
Gabbrielle: "Oh, okay. Did you get some hay yet?"

Gabbrielle: "I ain't comin' out o' here no matter what you say or do! I'm livin' in here the rest of my life. Now go away!"


BrownEyedCowgirls said...

Oh yea - forgot to tell you getting them is only half the battle. LOL.

Twinville said...

hahaha! I loved reading your 'horse conversation' caption! Cute!!

And I felt like I was right there with you experiencing the frustration, tension and weariness of your trailering (4-hour!) moment.

It's true what horse people say about being in a 'horse-zone' while working with horses. You really do lose track of time.

Thanks for sharing.

Lulu said...

Hi, I'm a new reader!

You are kid of stuck in a "pickle" with your mare. Because she wants a buddy in the trailer with her, that gives you less room to work with her on backing out! The safest way to work on backing a horse out of a trailer is in an empty trailer. Without a second horse in the trailer you have lots more room to work with and hopefully won't get squished!!!

I have always turned my horses around until they got to where they would load "on their own"....meaning, I could send them in. Once the horse had this mastered, I would start on the backing.

Good luck!!

Anonymous said...

Just a couple of notes on the loading--the "keeping the feet busy" is not to tire the horse out. It's keep the horse thinking about what you WANT it to do and putting you in charge of what the horse is doing. Another thing, when standing in front of the trailer, don't stand long enough for the horse to take a step back. You don't want the horse to move at all unless you ask her to. So, stand for a second or two, then ask her to back up. If you think she'll go on, tap her on the butt a la John Lyons. If she won't go forward, then go back to to the backing up and turning her hindquarters around.

Good job, though. You did get her on! Now you just have to work at unloading.


Nuzzling Muzzles said...

BrownEyedCowgirls - No kidding. I started thinking about how all the books I've read only mention how to get your horse IN, and no one mentions how to get it OUT.

Twinville - I'm glad you are enjoying my silliness.

Lulu - WELCOME! I hope you stick around. I can see that you have some valuable input.

Ann - Thanks for the clarification. I'm glad you mentioned that I shouldn't let it get to the point where the horse steps back on her own. I had a feeling that was a mistake.