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We Are Flying Solo

August 21, 2011

Little Red Rearing Hood, Pt. I

Disclaimer: I am not, nor have I ever claimed to a professional anything (except maybe Professional Dispenser Of Sarcasm). Horse training is not for the inexperienced, faint of heart, quick of temper, or slow of reflex. Be safe, ask for help, and BE SAFE!

I watched as she tried to load her horse on the trailer.  He stepped willingly enough onto the ramp until his back toes met the edge.  There he stopped, craning his neck inside, but refusing to move his hind feet to any point of committment.  She coaxed and tugged and bribed and begged, he looked around, pointedly ignoring her requests in a show of subtle defiance.

After 45 minutes of this, he gave in and wandered into the rig with a sigh. His handler fumed with the frustrated fury any of us have felt when thwarted at that critical loading moment.

"I need help," she told me.

"I hope I have some to give," I answered.

And so it began.

"You don't have a trailer problem," I said. "You have a leading problem and you have a respect problem. He is not afraid, he just doesn't feel like cooperating on any terms other than his own, if he can help it. He IS a redhead."

We talked about leading, about controlling the horse's feet, about never letting those feet stop. The key to trailer loading is a reliable forward cue and a commitment to seeing it through, as well as NEVER EVER EVER losing your temper.

"Ok," I started, "Give it a go and make sure, whatever happens, he is not allowed to stand still. If he backs up, let him go back without pressure, but as soon as he stops, move him forward again."

I was interested to see how he would respond -- not only was he a bit cocky, he was also on the sensitive and dramatic side. Much like Solo, he could NOT be forced into things unless you fancied yourself trampled into a human pulp.

He wore a rope halter and a head bumper, just in case. They practiced some leading away from the trailer -- she was confident and strong as always, he was obedient, but distracted.

Approaching the trailer, he quickly got wind of the plan and in an effortless shift, pushed her in a veering line off the left side of the ramp with his chest and shoulder. She turned him and came again and the second time, he was even faster in his re-direction.

After watching four or five times, it was clear he had little regard for the pink apes at the other end of his lead rope. He has never been a mean thing, in fact, he is very sweet-natured and gregarious. But like any kid whose boundaries have not always been clear, he knew how to take an opening when he saw one.

"Do you mind if I take him for a second?" I wondered how he would respond to a different-smelling ape.

"Oh dear god, please do!" She practically threw the lead rope at me.

Here we go, I thought.

I began by asking him to yield his hindquarters to my touch in both directions. Ok, good. Now lower your poll. Ok, not great, but passable. Ok, now move in a circle around me. Oh dear.

"Kindly move in a circle, please" was apparently translated by this equine brain as "race around at a speed trot bouncing off the end of the line." His head was cocked pointedly to the outside of the circle, most certainly not giving me the time of day.

We continued to circle until he began watching me and flicking an ear in my direction. My heart wept for our property's lack of a round pen. But you make do. We stopped and started and reversed and repeated until he was willing to walk the circle with considerably less frenetic energy.

Ok, let's walk to trailer. We get to the ramp and he assumes the position -- front feet firmly at threshold of door, back stretched out and hind toes against the base of the ramp. I have his lead softly in my left hand and dressage whip in my right. I begin to lift my right wrist to gently touch his haunch with my whip.

Did I blink? Because suddenly, he is standing on his hind legs, his front hooves dangling at my eye level. For the first time in my life, I find myself wishing I had put on a helmet. For groundwork. 

To be continued...

13 comments:

  1. Devilish cliffhanger!

    Assuming you lived through the experience since you're posting :)

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  2. "You don't have a trailer problem," I said. "You have a leading problem..."

    Yay for you!!! A million years ago a trainer told me "A horse that won't load is a horse that ain't broke to lead."
    This simple bit of wisdom changed how I look at resistance from a horse in any area of training.
    I have repeated this to people who shrugged it off as 'silly' - mostly their horses still won't load.

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  3. also waiting for Chapter 2 :-)

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  4. "You don't have a trailer problem," I said. "You have a leading problem..."

    Best line ever!!!!

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  5. ROFL, yes, I remain living, the benefits of which I am sure are questionable to some, but the rest of the story shall be told!

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  6. Ha! My past experience assures me that groundwork is ALWAYS helmet-time! It's crazy how behaved they can be under saddle, and how amazingly stupid they can get under lead!! :P

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  7. Ha! My past experience assures me that groundwork is ALWAYS helmet-time! It's crazy how behaved they can be under saddle, and how amazingly stupid they can get under lead!! :P

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  8. Tell me more... especially about how to establish a great 'leading relationship' and the techniques to get there. Yes, I have the exact same issues as the person you're helping out in your post. Please... hand over the tips.

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  9. Can't wait for the next installment. It sound like you were did everything right.

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  10. Smack him around like a red-headed stepchild!

    Sorry, couldn't resist. ;-)

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  11. Awesome. People who are lead by horses. ;-)

    And yes, helmet is par for the course when Izzy and I are doing groundwork. She has been known to go up, and a hoof imprint on the brain is just as bad as a jump imprint.

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  12. Frizz, no smacking -- won't work with this one, besides you'd never get close enough to make contact!

    Sand. probably a smart move!

    SB, he is a tricky one, many could be lulled into complacence by his games. It's so gradual and so unique in its display, it's quite objectively fascinating...when you are not the one at the end of the rope!

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  13. "he is a tricky one, many could be lulled into complacence by his games. It's so gradual and so unique in its display, it's quite objectively fascinating...when you are not the one at the end of the rope!"

    OMG are you talking about my horse??? It sounds sadly too familiar.

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