I just posted a story about a horse named Tatanka when I suddenly realized I'd not mentioned his loading "story". So, I will tell it here briefly because it is quite interesting and telling.
During the weeks and months that I was working with Tatanka and his new owners it was slowly revealed that Tatanka did not like trailers. He disliked them to such an extent that it was just short of impossible to load him or transport him especially in a non-stock trailer where he felt more confined; the exact kind of trailer his new owners had.
As days and weeks slid by in Tatanka's training the owners and I would often find ourselves discussing the inevitable upcoming trailer training. All horse owners know what a problem it can be to have a horse that is a pain to load and transport. It can be incredibly frustrating not to mention extremely embarrassing and even dangerous. At the same time, if we think about it, it makes total sense that horses instinctively just don't like to get closed-up in those steel boxes; I can relate to that. So, we knew that one day soon it would be time to change Tatanka's attitude regarding loading and trailers.
First, we all know that if a horse is put in and out of different trailers from an early age, as part of their training, most of the time there are absolutely no issues. We also know that the longer we wait to introduce horses to the whole trailer deal the more difficult it can be. And let's not forget that if we introduce a horse to trailering with aggression or violence then, quite naturally, they are going to become afraid and will not trust. After all what we are really teaching the horse is not necessarily to go into the trailer but to trust us and when they learn to trust us then they will do just about anything for us. The perfect training scenario is to begin by putting a mare, that knows how to load, and her baby into a trailer as soon as the baby can walk, and when I'm working with babies that is a daily aspect of their training routine. Also, I will use as many different types of trailers as possible and I never, ever get impatient or aggressive, that's a sure-fire way of causing a problem that can last a very long time.
The day finally came for me to see what the scoop was with Tatanka's trailer story. I was thinking that more than likely his difficulty had more to do with the people and their lack of patience and solid technique. I could hardly imagine that this horse was going to be a problem because for the past weeks I couldn't have asked for a more willing and obedient horse. None-the-less, I gave myself a large time window because the last thing to do is to bring even the slightest feeling of "hurry-up" into the situation. Horses feel "hurry-up" right away and then get suspicious and basically say no. One must simply create an atmosphere of "I've got at least nine years to get this done" and then it will normally take only minutes. The bottom line is to create a situation and an atmosphere where the horse eventually just kind of yawns and saunters in because he wants to and doesn't feel any pressure or anxiety. As a matter of fact, when they do go in, after no matter how much time it has taken, I'll simply take them right back out again, very softly and quietly, so the pressure is taken off immediately. There's an old saying regarding horses: "act like you have five minutes and it will take you five hours, act like you have five hours and it will take you five minutes".
The first day Tatanka was somewhat worried about the trailer but nothing like I might have expected after what I'd heard. After about fifteen minutes of just letting him stand at the step-up he put both front feet inside and then stepped back out again. Something suddenly said I should end the session for the day and when I thought about it I realized it was a good idea. I had weeks to accomplish the task so why should I hurry and risk causing a problem. All things considered I felt Tatanka and I had accomplished a lot for the first day. I should also mention here that one of the issues I had to be concerned about was that, from what I'd been told, he had previously reared-up inside the trailer and banged his head on the trailer roof so that was one of my major concerns; to get him to go in and out of the trailer without even the thought of rearing. Each time a horse rears in a trailer the more he becomes frightened and the harder it is to eventually overcome the bad memories. It is truly an art to teach an older horse, a horse with issues, to load and to trailer without incident. A little hint here is that I had to make sure I was totally relaxed and calm about the whole thing because horses tap into our energy and act accordingly. If I get anxious the horse will feel it for sure.
At this point I should say that when I am training a horse to do anything I do not really concentrate too much on what it is I'm wanting the horse to do or to learn. I simply spend time admiring, rubbing and talking to the horse and then when the horse least expects it I'll slip-in the question in such a soft and subtle way that he can't help but answer: to occupy his senses in such a profound way with admiration and the feeling of "you can take forever if you like". Training speeds along when one creates this type of atmosphere. And horses love it that we don't bring our world of hurry-up and noise to them. That's a great part of most people's difficulty with horses; horses just can't handle our world of chaos, aggression and noise not to mention violence.
The second day Tatanka and I stood at the step-up to the trailer once again. It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining and it was warm. I was in no hurry and could have stood there with Tatanka for the entire day. It certainly wasn't a bad spot to be. Within two minutes Tatanka stepped-up into the trailer with his front feet and I immediately and softly asked him to back out again. This happened two or three times and the fourth time I led him to the front of the trailer where he stood quietly and ate his hay. We've done this every week now for some months and now my new little helper friends Avery and Dawson hang-out with Tatanka while Trish, their Grandmother, gives our special boy a good brushing. Later with Dawson in the manger while Tatanka munches hay it solidifies the experience as special and unique for everyone. Thanks Avery, Trish and Dawson for your help , you brought just the perfect element of relaxation and calm to the situation.
Tatanka loads and transports like a champion now and I believe this is because there was not one moment during his trailer training when I allowed him to become concerned. Between the touching, soft words, genuine concern for his well-being and Avery and Dawson's tender touches and innocence Tatanka trusted and that's all there is to it. Good job Tatanka and hats off to the boys. It's amazing what one can accomplish with patience, honest-to-goodness caring and just a tiny touch of creativity. It keeps me coming back for more that's for sure.