Two weeks ago I decided to tackle the insanity of trailer loading Valeria and Catalina. Sometimes I question my mental health. Valeria is a shady loader to begin with, I didn’t want Catalina following the same sordid path. When I bought V I had Ben in the trailer and she popped in after about 10 minutes, though I was warned it could take up to 30 minutes. The second time I trailered her was also with Ben in the trailer and she hopped in after about 15 minutes. So I was sure that if I put Ben in the trailer again she would go in and then we could coax Catalina in.
Well…you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men. They often go awry. Ben is my best trailer loader. He’s literally the self-loading dream. He’ll cram his big frame into the smallest straight load trailer imaginable if I ask because he’s just so chill about the whole trailering process. However, on this day he had a meltdown in the trailer.
He loaded fine, was chomping away at his hay and then as I was getting Valeria and Catalina I heard the trailer rocking and thrashing. He was losing his mind. I don’t know what the fuss was about and he sort of settled when I called to him but he was breathing hard and shaking. I know better than to go into a trailer when a horse is freaking out, so I let him sit for a few minutes while I talked to him in reassuring tones. When he was calm enough to handle I pulled him out and he stepped off of the trailer like it was no big deal. Go figure. I never did figure out why he panicked.
I tied him to a nearby stall for moral support and grabbed Valeria and Catalina. It’s very interesting trying to lead two horses at once when they both kind of suck at it. Suck isn’t really the right word…more like they have their own opinions about where we should go. I’m totally aware that it was a gift from God that the two of them handled well enough for me to lead them to the trailer. Catalina is easy to control because she doesn’t weigh all that much in reality. Valeria is the bulldozing asshole that tries to go where she wants instead of going where I want which causes pulling on poor Catalina who doesn’t always give to pressure right away.
But, I was lucky and I got them both to the trailer doors quite easily. I stepped in and asked Valeria to follow. She thought about it for a moment and decided it wasn’t in her daily planner. We played this back and forth game of me asking her to move forward and her moving backwards instead. I’m sure all of you know the dance. It’s kind of like the Hokey Pokey. One foot in, one foot out.
Eventually Valeria did get all the way in but because Catalina didn’t follow right away she motored out of the trailer as fast as she could. It was time to change tactics and give Valeria a break for being a good girl by virtue of getting in at all. I dropped a bunch of hay at the trailer doors and let Valeria eat while I worked on getting Catalina into the trailer.
Baby moose is way too trusting of me for her own good. Once she realized I wanted her to step up into the trailer she obliged quite nicely at putting one foot up. It was putting weight on that foot that she had questions about. I’m not perfect at the releasing pressure method but it worked fairly well. I’d pull on the lead line and as soon as any of her little hooves moved forward I’d release. She tried putting weight on the trailer a few times before committing herself. I had her half way loaded in about 10 minutes. Which isn’t bad and in hindsight if I hadn’t covered the trailer floor in Bermuda grass I probably would have had less distractions for the baby moose.
Trailer loading is by far one of the most stressful things to teach a horse, in my opinion. It takes a lot of patience and the realization that all the in and out and back and forth is still progress. My favorite part of the experience is when a horse is comfortable with their front feet in but they don’t want to put the rest of their body into the trailer. They’ll stand there all day stretching their hind end without giving and inch. That’s not the part I like. The part I like is when you see them make that choice to step all the way in. They kind of relax and then take those last two steps in. I don’t care if they back straight out afterwards, it’s that moment were they do something for you, not for themselves that I love.
It only took a few more minutes but Catalina did get all the way in and then proceeded to stuff her face with all the hay on the floor. I coaxed her to the front of the trailer where the forbidden joint swelling alfalfa was and she gladly stayed put while I went to work with Valeria (sometimes I plan ahead! >:) ). Getting Valeria in was pretty simple once she saw baby in. The only small SNAFU we ran into was when Ben unclipped himself and merrily pranced away causing a bit of buddy sourness to flare up.
I asked the pair to get in 3 times (because 3 times is a pattern and training is all about establishing routine, right?) before I sent them back to their stall. The next day I repeated the effort but this time we actually went somewhere which I will save for another post because it was exciting!
Reflecting on that training session I’d say it went much better than it could have. I can’t wait until Catalina is weaned to work with her one on one because she’s a pretty level headed little horse. As for Valeria, I think she needs a lesson in respecting the lead line. I’m not sure how I want to go about it because there are so many tools that can be employed but right now I’m eyeing a stud chain or a rope halter with knots on the nose band. Neither would be long term and they are my last resort. I need a little extra something to stop the 1,200lb hippo until she learns that trying to get away is futile. Any advice or suggestions?