Dead or Alive?

Let me ask you two questions…Does your horse load into a trailer in two minutes? Can just anyone else get your horse on a trailer?

Those two questions can literally determine whether your horse ends up dead or alive.

Two minutes to load...
Two minutes to load…

Several years back, in researching an article I was writing for America’s Horse Magazine, I learned that during that wildfires that year, they gave people two minutes to load their horse. Two minutes or the police would make you leave your horse to fend for itself.

 

 

This week I saw some of the stories of horses that were stranded in the floods of Louisiana and Texas. In the video below, they’re having to load three horses in knee-deep water. The first two went on without any effort, but the last one went on and came right back off. The video ends before we find out if they got the horse on the trailer.

Video link –

https://www.facebook.com/groups/368919936614181/

No one ever thinks a disaster will happen to them. The truth of the matter is that unexpected things happen that can require your horse to load quickly and easily, and if they don’t there can be some dire consequences.

For instance, depending on where you’re at, having a flat tire on your truck or trailer, or having an accident can require that you load your horses on the side of an interstate or busy road.  The longer it takes your horse to load, the more at risk you are with traffic.

Clinic
Clinic

So what can you do if your horse doesn’t load well?

There’s a million different methods out there on trailer loading  – some safe, some not so safe. Really, in the end, how you get a horse to load easily is making the trailer a place the horse wants to be and is comfortable in.

How do you do that? Short of only feeding you horse at or on the trailer and nowhere else every single day, when a horse wants to leave a trailer let them but put them to work. You can lunge, you make them do side pass work or any other manner of getting their feet to move. Then come back to the trailer to rest.

As long as they’re looking or checking out the trailer, they’re trying. Leave them be. When they’re not, ask them to move forward on to it — it is important that they know how to move forward by pointing or tapping at the hip!

Once they get on, don’t shut them in. Let them come out if they feel the need to come out. If you’re claustrophobic, locking you in a tiny box doesn’t make you like cramped spaces! Horses are the same way. They get comfortable by knowing they can leave.

The next important piece is consistency and repetition. The more a horse does something, the more he learns and the better he gets at it.

If I have a horse that doesn’t want to load, I will set my trailer up where I can expose them to the trailer every time I turn them in and out of the pasture. Ideally, I’ll take them to the trailer twice a day if I have the time. I don’t spend an hour-long marathon session there. I spend just a minute or two there at the trailer asking them to move forward closer or on the trailer. If they do what I ask in thirty seconds, we’re done and they get to be turned out as a reward.

My retired race horse, Dynamic Host, is my latest big trailering project. When I went to pick him up, he had no clue that tapping on the hip meant go forward. (If he’d been in those California wildfires, he’d been dead!)  His heart rate and respiration was so elevated that you would have thought he’d just won a race. It was obvious he was not comfortable being on a trailer, and I wondered if we would be able to bring him home!

The thing about high-strung and nervous horses is that you can’t whip them on to a trailer or make them go. For one, they’re usually too big to make them go anywhere, and someone will most definitely get hurt trying. Additionally, when they get scared they don’t think at all – they panic and blow up. The lessons of giving to pressure go right out their little window.

The answer for those type horses is teaching them to relax and think, and gradually let them get accustomed to being on the trailer. Repetition and time.

Don’t wait until you’re in a bad situation to work on getting your horse to load better. Do it now so that you and your horse won’t be caught off guard.

How well does your horse load? If he doesn’t load easily and quickly, what is something you can do today to remedy that?

 

 

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Horses Off The Race Track…

At the end of September, I wound up with Dynamic Host, aka “Louie”, thanks to Prancing Pony Farm owned by Julie & Justina Faunt of Riceville, Tennessee.

An own son of Dynaformer, Dynamic Host is a 17.1 hand, 9-year-old retired Thoroughbred race horse that was originally entered in the Retired Race Horse Project.  Unfortunately, through no fault of his own, he did not make the deadline for training. Although he may have missed that opportunity, his second career as an Eventer is wide open due to his potential.

Dynamic Host was in training with California Chrome’s trainer, Art Sherman in 2012 – 2013. During that time he won the Tokyo City Cup.

Having had an Appendix horse off the track, I somewhat knew what to expect with “Louie”. The nervousness, the sometimes exaggerated big reactions to new things, the gaps in training for things like ground manners or moving forward when you point at the hip. In many ways, they’re like a two years, only bigger and stronger!

In a lot of ways I may be a sucker for punishment when it comes to horses, however at the end of the day I truly love to work with horses that require going that extra mile. It’s something I’m passionate about and I really believe they can teach us so much as horseman that we can’t learn any other way.

I also believe in that in the right hands, these hot thoroughbreds can turn into the same mellow horses found in the cow pen or on the trail. I’ve seen it with my own eyes more than once at ranch clinics!

Talk to most horse people and mention the word “Thoroughbred” or “Race Horse” and you’ll often hear remarks like, “they’re hot”, or “they’re crazy”. Funny thing is that you’ll hear the same remarks about Arabs and Impressive bred horses, both of which are actually incredibly smart.

I think Thoroughbreds are the same way- they’re smart, which is part of the reason some folks have their hands full.

Smart horses notice everything – because they’re smart! Horses like that require a person to step it up and pay attention to everything around them. If they don’t, they get left behind. It’s pretty simple.

Another thing about smart horses is that they don’t require a person to ask as hard. They’re sensitive and they understand much quicker. Usually what gets people in trouble with smart horses is that they ask too hard and keep asking long after the horse is trying. In the end horse gets frustrated and acts out…kind of like we do when we’re talking to someone that’s not as smart and they just don’t get it.

Smart horses also don’t put up with crap. They’re smart enough to realize that they don’t really have to. So then a person has to figure out a creative way to deal them, and it’s easier to blame the horse than it is to admit you’re not smart enough to figure them out.

In the three weeks that I’ve had Dynamic Host, I’ve seen a horse that’s nervous and hot only because he’s never trusted enough to learn he can truly relax. You have to earn the trust of a horse like that, it’s not just given like it is by most horses.

I’ve also seen a horse that tries his heart out and catches on quicker than just about any horse I’ve worked with. For instance, in only one session I had him staying at my shoulder and backing up when I did – without a halter on. Two sessions in the round pen, and he was already joining up and working to the inside instead of the outside.

His sessions haven’t been without over-reactions. For instance, the first time I just touched him with a stock whip he was scared to death of it. When I went to desensitize him with it, he jumped up and sideways a good three feet. But, within a few moments he was letting me rub his shoulders with it even though it was obvious he was still fearful. The next day, he didn’t flinch at all.

There’s a lot of ground we have to cover – things like basic ground manners, and learning to load in a trailer calmly and without fear, giving to the bit – but he’s also made a lot of improvements already in a short time. For instance, learning to lower his head when you turn him out in the pasture or bring him out of his stall, staying relaxed and lowering his head while you rub his ears, and waiting on me instead of just walking ahead when we’re headed out to the pasture, and doing lateral work from the ground.

A big part of me wishes that I could just train horses for a living and not work, but sometimes at times like this I’m thankful that I don’t because I’m not under any pressure to get a horse trained in a certain period of time. I can just enjoy the journey and learn from it – that’s a luxury most trainers don’t get if they want to stay in business.

I truly believe Dynamic Host can make a phenomenal Eventer some day – I just have that feeling, that “knowing”. My goal in working with him is to give him the solid foundation he needs to do just that. I want him to be right – to be sane, solid, and light. I’m just honored I get to be part of such a terrific horse’s story!