Challenging Trailer Loading

I got my first call to help someone trailer load a challenging horse last week.  It was a pretty cool feeling to show up sight unseen and have faith that my education in Parelli Natural Horsemanship would provide me the answers to all the questions yet to be asked by this horse.

I have in the past helped friends and barn-mates with their horses here and there, but it's different when you know the person and the horse already.  It takes out a lot of variables that way and I usually only offer to help a friend if I'm pretty sure I can solve their problem.  Not knowing the person or the horse or how extreme the issue is is kind of like Liberty.  When you take all the ropes away what do you have left?  The truth.  It's the same here, when you take all the history and familiarity with the horse out of the picture all you have left is the truth of your skill and ability to assess the situation accurately and correctly.

When I showed up I could tell from a mile away that this stunning Arabian/Paint gelding was a high spirited RBE.  This was going well already, my mare is an RBE so I've got a fair number of RBE strategies in my pocket.  As I walked into the round pen he was wearing a traditional nylon halter - way too big for him and slapping him in the face as he ran around the pen away from me.  We played the catching game until he felt fairly comfortable following me around at Liberty.  I then haltered him with my rope halter and 12' line over his existing halter before removing it.  As I reached up to unbuckle it and slide it down under my halter he started flying backwards, flipping his head up in the air, and half rearing.  After some approach and retreat I got it off, did some basic testing of the 7 games with him, and no surprise they were pretty much all broken.  But what I wanted to focus on was his confidence with me and my tools (Friendly Game) and ability to manage his emotions through tight spaces (Squeeze Game).

When we were ready to approach the trailer he wouldn't even go near it, he was so tense that I thought his lips would turn purple he was pressing them together so tightly.  We played approach and retreat towards the trailer, then the Squeeze Game as far away as he need to pass between me and it comfortably.  In between all of this he kept flying backwards, rearing, wrenching his head around away from me and trying to leave, striking, and running off.  I've never played with a horse that's learned so many ways to say NO in 5 seconds or less.  He was here, he was there, he was up, he was leaving, then he was trying to run over top of me.  It took every ounce of savvy, strategy, patience, and passive persistence in the proper position to finally get him to even think that I might have an okay idea and it didn't involve shoving him in the trailer against his will and slamming the door.

Two hours later I was satisfied with one front foot in the trailer WITH RELAXATION.  It was 100% his choice and he felt good about it.  He had solved the puzzle.  For me it was my primary focus to get this horse to trust me, to relax, and to think through this rather than emphatically say NO by throwing a colossal tantrum or throwing himself head first off the cliff and jumping in the trailer because he was feeling chased in.  In 2+ hours this was the first moment he really truly gave up the tension and let go.

I came back a couple days later to a horse that once again would not let me catch him in the round pen - but thankfully didn't have that crazy huge halter on to deal with.  15 minutes of catching game had him following me again and feeling less frazzled than last time.   I decided to just see what he'd offer so we went right up to the trailer - no fight to get there this time (score!!!) - and he put a foot in! Yay!  I felt so reassured I had done right by him last time and quit on a good note so that he felt good about going to that some spot straight away this day.  He confidently put his front foot in and looked at me, a little tense, but it was the first question he'd really asked me.  Yes, you did well handsome horse!  It was so easy to build from there, pretty soon it was two front feet with only two or three half tantrums.  The grass was so wet near the trailer that he kept slipping in the trailer as he would weight the first foot to get the second in.  I was cleaning his feet out every few minutes but if there wasn't wet grass packed in he was much more confident with testing his weight on both feet in the trailer.

I found one itchy spot under his tail and capitalized on this as a reward for his efforts to get in the trailer.  He was trying SO hard for me and kept checking in with me.  How awesome!  So I patiently waited with him as he sorted out what he needed to do to get himself in the trailer.  All of a sudden he just walked in - all 4 feet!  He couldn't stay in for more than a second and backed out.  After that it was only 10 minutes before all 4 feet were back in, then 5 minutes, then about every 20 seconds or so I could point at the trailer and he would load all on his own!  We found a good spot to stop for the afternoon and ended the session with A LOT of yawning, licking, and head shaking.  It was really awesome!  I gave the owner the homework of offering him the trailer and letting him back out as much as he needed until he could stand in there for some time with the main focus of all of this his relaxation and confidence.  Depending on if she needs me or not I may go back out to follow up and help again, but I think I left them in a good space to progress together now.

I left feeling so thankful for Parelli giving me the tools to help this horse learn that he could make a choice to be a partner, to try the trailer, and find relaxation inside of it.  It was also so rewarding to show up to an unknown situation and leave having helped the horse and the owner make big changes.  Success! :)

Warrior a little worried about having two feet in the trailer but trying very hard to stay in.