I really donít like thinking about the first 8 years of my life, because basically, I was an orphan. I lived in a barren pasture with no company, and very little attention from my owner. I often wondered why he took care of my physical needs and ignored my emotional ones. During my long days of solitude, I had much time to ponder that question and the answers I gave myself hardened my heart. I must be a bad boy.
One day a man with curly hair and a funny hat drove up with a horse trailer. I immediately shook the cob webs out of my head and focused on the only interesting thing to happen that day since breakfast. My owner and the man walked up to me, and without even time for me to look him over, the man was pulling my lips up and lifting my feet. My owner had trimmed my hooves a few times over the years, but I was not used to being handled, or touched, so I was very frightened. What happened next was a nightmare that haunts me to this day.
The man with the funny hat walked up to me and put a halter around my neck and over my nose, which was again, a new experience for me. My owner had put a halter on me a few times before, but I had never grown accustomed to the sensation. Also, my horse sense was telling me that this man was SCARY. When I balked at his attempt to lead me, he responded with a vicious pull on the halter and a loud "ECCCHHH", bellowed in his scratchy voice. I knew that this man wanted to kill me, so I gave in and followed the tug of the rope to the horse trailer. I had never seen a horse trailer before, but my instincts told me that this was something that ate horses alive. When I was walked up to the gaping hole I wanted to run, but the man terrified me more than the trailer, so I stood there. I didnít understand what he wanted me to do and he kept getting madder and madder. After about an hour, my owner got long ropes and a whip and they ran the ropes behind my tail and popped me with the stinging whip until I allowed them to shove me roughly into the tiny trailer. I am 15.3 hands and weigh 1200 pounds, so not only was petrified and bruised from their brutal treatment, but I was encased in a space much too small for me. I thought that this was the worst thing that could happen, but I was proven wrong the very next day when this man put a saddle on me (I had never even seen one!!), jumped on my back and gave me a "spur bath" (his words). Oh, how I wished for the boredom of my previous home!
The next month or so I was subjected to this humanís cruel treatment on a daily basis. I gave up my spirit and resigned myself to this miserable existence. I was fed and watered, but never given a sign of affection or encouragement. In my mind, I was still a bad boy.
The next time the man walked me to the trailer, I loaded without a problem. I knew that the pain would come if I balked. He drove me to a house that had three other horses and left. These people were much nicer to me, but I was their "extra" horse and was ridden erratically by a man and his teen-age sons only a few times before he left and the man with the funny hat moved in. My bad dream continued and I existed in a constant state of terror.
A few months after the man with the funny hat moved in, again came the trailer. I was very scared and could not help balking, so I was subjected once more to ropes and the whip until I entered the trailer a sweaty mess. I wondered bleakly what horror I was going to experience next as he drove much too fast over the 12 miles of windy, pot-holed, dirt road. When we stopped, he unloaded me and rinsed the sweat off my quivering body before tying me up to a rail. In a few minutes a car drove up, but I barely noticed, for my curious nature had been squashed by the burn of the whip, the sharp stabbing pain of spurs being dug into my sides and drug over my belly, and the coarse words from the man. I watched suspiciously as a woman walked up to me and gently touched my neck, speaking softly to me. I didnít know what kind of a trick this was, but I was not going to fall for it. I was somewhat surprised when she didnít do anything mean to me, but I was not about to let my guard down. Humans are horrible!!!
She looked me over, but didnít pull on my lips or lift my feet (I didnít find out until later that she had never had a horse before and was totally ignorant!). She told me that I was beautiful, but I didnít believe her because I was sullen, fat (too many alfalfa pellets and not enough exercise) and one of the other horses had eaten off all the hair on my tail, so I only had a dirty white bandage tied to it to swat the flies (Iíd never even seen fly spray at this point). When she looks back on the pictures she took of me then, she canít believe that Iím the same horse!
After about 30 minutes the man with the funny hat drove away and the woman walked up to me with a goofy look on her face. Iíd never seen anyone look so happy before so I was even more suspicious. She petted me and talked to me for a long time, then led me to a clean stall, gave me a flake of alfalfa and drove away. I was surprised when she returned early the next day and skeptically allowed myself to enjoy the carrots she offered, but I saw the world through dull eyes and was still distrustful of her intentions. Soon, a man she called Dr. Dow arrived and pulled on my lip and lifted my feet. He was not mean or rough with me, but I was very scared and pranced around. I remember he kept asking the lady, "are you sure you want this horse?". She assured him that she did (I also didnít find out until later that I was the first and only horse she looked at in her search for equine excellence) and I passed the "vet check".
This lady came out to see me every day, and little by little, I started looking forward to seeing her. She never hurt me and always brought carrots and apples. She rode me in the arena and talked to me very sweetly. It was hard to get used to the kindness, but I slowly let my guard down. A few weeks later, she rode me the quarter of a mile to the stable which has been my home for two and a half years. Thank goodness she didnít have a trailer!!!
I loved my new home with all the friendly horses and nice people, but my fear was not gone. The lady had no horse experience, so I got away with some very bad behavior for almost a year. I realized that I could bully her around if I didnít want to do something, but that also left me with a scared feeling. If she wasnít in charge, then who was?
Luckily, we met a very nice lady named Holly who loves beautiful white horses. She could tell immediately how intelligent I was and talked to my "Mom" (Iím no longer an orphan) about clicker training. I am very inquisitive by nature and within a couple of minutes I had Holly clicking up a storm (love those bermuda pellets!). I am learning all kinds of new things and am able to amaze Mom and Holly with my massive brain power. Itís funny to see them get all excited when I understand what they want me to do. Duh! Even the trailer doesnít seem so scary, but we still have a bit of work to do on that. I wouldnít want to make it too easy on them.
With the help of friends who believe in gentle, but firm horse training, my Mom and I have come a long way in the last year and a half. I am still not so sure that the trailer isnít going to eat me, but I am much more trusting and am making progress toward loading without fear. I am a perfect gentleman on the trail, Iím enjoying clicker training and I know that I have a permanent home with my partner. Also, I no longer have that suspicious look in my eye and my curious nature is back in full force.
Today I am proud, gorgeous, toned, loved, and well on my well to becoming a perfect horse.
As a side note: Please be sure to do all of the groundwork/trailer loading preparation BEFORE attempting to load a horse into a trailer.
Here is a photo of Morgan "squeezing" between the roll of wire and the pipe fence, and below the tarp--very good pre-loading practice.
Retraining Harley to the Trailer
Harley says: No way.
Harley is targeting by the rear of the trailer.
Harley is stretching into the trailer
to touch the target.
One foot into the trailer.
Two feet into the trailer.
One of those defining moments--should I?
or shouldn't I put the third foot in?
Nope, not ready. Harley backing out of
Watch for more of Harley's Training story.
On the second session, Harley gets in!
To teach my horse about the trailer I would probably take a watch out with
me. I would work 2 minutes on walking forward onto the trailer then 2
minutes walking backwards, clicking for each step the horse takes inthe
appropriate direction regardless of being on the trailer. A solid "walk"
and "back" will go a long way
towards getting your horse on and off the trailer. Just remember that the
steps will be hesitant while on the trailer.
If you don't have a trailer to practice with you need to focus on two
aspects of the trailer that you can set up without the trailer. One aspect
is the tight fit. Set up two barrels and see if your horse will walk
through them. Put them close enough that your horse may actually touch one
of them while walking forward. If your horse refuses find out how wide they
need to be for your horse to walk confidently between them. That is your
starting point. Decrease the distance between the barrels by a couple of
inches then go through until your horse walks confidently through at the new
distance. Then decrease the distance again. Continue until your horse is
comfortable with the tight squeeze. You can also use jump standards and
rails to make the aisle. Also work on going under low overhangs. Depending
on the trailer and the horse there may not be tons of head room.
The other aspect you can practice without a trailer is the unsteady
footing. You might want to start with a wooden bridge. Lacking a bridge
you can purchase a sheet of wood at least 1 inch(two inches is better) thick
by 4 feet wide and 6 feet long. At first just have your horse walk onto it
as it lays flat on the ground. When your horse is confidently doing that
then put a 2X4 under one end (the 2 inch side being the high side) This
will cause the board to give when your horse walks on it. Practice until
this motion is not upsetting your horse. Now dig a 1 inch trech to bury
the 2X4 in so that 1 inch is above ground. Center your large board over it.
This will cause the board to rock as your horse goes over it. Practice this
until your horse does it calmly. Most trailers do not rock more than an
inch so this should be sufficient.
One last mention. Step up trailers require that the horse step up about
1 foot to get into the trailer. If this is the sort of trailer you plan to
use you may also want to build a platform to teach your horse to step up and
step off (backwards of course). Be sure to build it very sturdy.
RECIPE FOR AN EQUINE MIRACLE
1 cup Tension and Stress (room temperature)
2 cups Fear (cold)
3/4 cup Inexperience, sifted
1 teaspoon of Guilt
2 heaping cups of Limited Time and Impatience
3/4 tablespoon of Urgency
A dash of "No Other Choice"
3 heaping cups of Faith
Fold ingredients gently into a soft arena. Mix vigorously and add a few
soothing words. You'll laugh a little as your horse kneads your heart.
it firmly between
your hopes and dreams of having the perfect partner and form into a little
ball of hair. Sprinkle it with a little faith (I recommend the ClickRyder
web site), allowing the horse
to roll in the arena until fully covered.
Place it under a veil of belief and love of the animal and allow it's soul
to rise to it's full magnificence.
Put it in an atmosphere that has been pre-set at the perfect temperature
the heat of trials and tribulations.
Allow it to brown under the warmth of your visions of the most perfect
trail ride. Remove after the horse performs to his best ability and allow
to cool in the confidence of a job well done.
Garnish generously with your praises. Arrange neatly on a platter with
carrots and apples
and serve to all the horse lovers you can find and let them know they have
the makings of an equine miracle!