Tag Archives: trailer loading

A pony and a trailer

This summer daughter made full use of the field and how Cloud woke up! It was a joy to see him switch on to jumping and change from a reluctant, can I run out approach to an easy, rhythmical jumper with a wide awake look on his face. It is as if he realised that he is no longer being kicked around a riding school by a variety of riders but ridden by his girl with joy, energy and enthusiasm and those same qualities seemed to awake in him.

So next inevitable step – pony club. Now daughter is not competitive and we both agree that a competitive agenda would not suit Cloud. (Does it suit any horse?) But daughter wants pony companions of her age and they are to be found in the local pony club on a Friday night. And Cloud could certainly do with the exercise. To get there means Cloud going into the dreaded trailer.

I spent time – quite a lot of time – last winter getting Cloud used to the trailer because I guess that it is associated for him with many painful separations. And I succeeded, to a point. Between us we could persuade him into the trailer. The day we bought Cloud, he hated going into the trailer, leaving his companions. And who knows what pain many separations have had for Cloud, this pony from Lithuania, by way of England (three moves there), to a small riding school in Ireland, to us?

First pony club night was last Friday night and Cloud entered the trailer with the help of a carrot. Once in he usually travels well but this time he didn’t and arrived having sweated quite heavily and not touched his haynet. In the class he was lame and so left shortly after it began. The instructor thought it was his shoulder. Maybe he had injured it travelling? (He is walking well again now but on Wednesday a Masterson Method practitioner is coming to give him a treatment.)

Cloud would not enter the trailer to go home. He pulled away from us, three times, to charge to a couple of girls on their ponies in the large, flood lit car park. Result, one small girl in tears, one mortified daughter, one panicked pony and one very helpless me. I had to enlist the help of two Dads because I was not strong enough to hold poor Cloud. They, thankfully, were tactful with him and, using a rope behind him, he was basically pushed into the trailer.

What I think happened was that Cloud, for some reason, panicked while travelling. Once arrived, he settled into the class very quickly. He is used to being in a class of ponies and this must have felt like his herd and he must have felt safe. Due to being lame, he had to leave this new found herd and come into the shadowy, flood lit car park. No wonder he panicked and ran to what ponies he could see.

But I have never felt so helpless. Quite clearly, under stress, he had no strong connection with me. He is also one very strong pony.

So I have spent the last two days practising loading with Cloud. If he cannot do it very easily at home, he will never do it away. The first day he was clearly very stressed but finally, after about two hours, he made a kind of panic bound into the trailer, where he was praised, fed and backed out again. I asked him to do this twice more. He did so, but he was clearly not happy about it. He was difficult. He could stand, seemingly quietly, and suddenly choose to pull strongly away. I was using a lunge rope so he learnt that he could not succeed in getting fully away. But I was not happy with this approach. It felt that he was coming in because he was compelled to do so and that did not sit well with me. Yet, I was quite determined that he needed to learn to load into the trailer. At the end of this day I felt nearly as helpless as I had on Friday night.

So I tried again the following day. He seemed far less stressed. He stood at the bottom of the ramp and seemed to clearly want to go in, but be unable to. It was quiet, with a low, grey sky and a Sunday afternoon stillness all around. I felt quiet and I felt his willingness, but nothing I could do would bring him further than putting his two front feet on the ramp. If I upped the pressure, he retreated. He did not respond to me whether I walked beside him, drove him from behind or went in front.

Time passed. I felt exasperation rise. I went up to him and, my mind occupied with thoughts of exasperation and helplessness, I took his head in my hands. Not knowing what I was doing, I found myself lowering his head into me. He sunk his head into my chest. I held it there in a hug. He sunk it lower into my belly and stayed there. I felt deep sadness.   ‘Why Cloud, are you crying?’ I do not know what passed between us but something very profound seemed to take place. Then I said, ‘Come on, let’s do it together.’ And, with a loose lead rope, I ran up the ramp and he trotted up beside me to be fed treats, praised and backed down again. And we repeated this, a run up the ramp, Cloud matching my energy, all signs of stress gone, again and again. I called daughter out and she ran up with him. One time, he went to back out and she asked him to come forward again and he did.

We will do this again, and again.  We will make short journeys, and then longer ones.  I think we’re on our way.

I do not really know quite how Cloud released his stress. My mind strives to grasp what happened so that I can do it again. But it did not happen at the level of my conscious mind. It happened, maybe, in that field of which Rumi speaks. It certainly had nothing to do with technique.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I will meet you there.

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Home once more

Having had two ponies who once refused to be caught, I never take catching them for granted. But this evening at dusk when we went to bring them home I called and they came. They came from bushes by the side, following the track they have made and that they always use and Ben stopped, head up, watching me. I turned away slightly and on he came, straight up to me and the waiting head collar. He loaded himself into the trailer.

His first response to the new peagravel by the big haynets under the trees was, of course, to roll. I was concerned how Rosie would be, walking over some larger stones we have placed in the gateway and I called back to my daughter to keep an eye on her. To my delight she reported that Rosie walked straight over the stones without hesitating.

Just now, in the dark, I could hear the ritual of Ben moving Rosie from her haynet. I could hear it by the crunch of peagravel under their hooves. Very statisfying.

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Back to school

September: me back to work, girls back to school and, for Ben and for me, school also. School in the form of my old trainer who helped me a lot with Mali. I have decided I need some help with flatwork and she is very good in that area. But I must admit that going up to the paddock this morning, trailer hitched up and waiting, I felt an old, familiar back to school feeling.

We have been getting on so well, Ben and I, and generally doing our own thing, that I was reluctant to expose both of us to a trainer. Not for worry of analysis of faults, but for a sense that I would lose that free give and take that Ben and I have enjoyed. A sense of end of freedom now, back to school. And I was bringing this on myself.

In the event we did not get very far. After a few comments such as “you like all that hair do you?” as mane and forelock were contemplated, I mounted and walked in both directions with downward transitions and trotted on the right rein. A positive “he has a nice soft mouth” and a negative “he is as stiff as a plank” (very true and why I am seeking help) and then we trotted left and immediately Ben felt stumbly and I got off. A visit to the chiropractor is required. Fortunately she is supposed to be coming tomorrow.

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As regards the trailer loading, Ben saw me hitching up and herded Rosie away at a gallop. I let them do their own thing and then came to find them peacefully nibbling the grass by the back gate. Both came with me very happily. An extra good groom for Ben, who just loves his mane being brushed, and then down to the trailer, with Rosie left behind. Ben followed me on a loose line, but ducked to the side of the trailer. I stopped to put on my gloves, in case the lead rope ran through my hand. I was on the ramp pulling on a glove when Ben walked onto the ramp from the side and walked into the trailer. So he loaded himself, when I was paying him no attention. I think that he hangs onto old habits, such as high-tailing it when he sees a trailer hitched up, but when I give him some time, his more recent experiences come to the fore and these old, defensive habits are dropped.

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Rosie was calling for Ben, so I went up to her, knelt beside her and blew into her nostrils as I whispered that we would be back. I always think she understands everything I say. She relaxed, put her head down and ate.

My trainer thinks that possibly something is pinching in Ben’s right shoulder. We will see what the chiropractor says, but if so, it could be from that hack where he lost his right front shoe. Another reason to lose those shoes permanently. (Although I dread to think what comments I will get about that.)

I also am seeing my osteopath tomorrow. I have something pinching in my back, a result of all that trimming practise at the weekend.

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A Sunday ride

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I trailered over to Sandra’s with Ben and Rosie. Since their holiday, we thought it would be nice if the two left behind (Rosie and Sandra’s Minnie) could have each other for company instead of both being home alone. This of course made loading Ben very easy. Rosie just walks up into the trailer behind me or my daughter so, once I have persuaded Ben that he cannot get into her half, he comes up the ramp to me.

I, who have been towing for quite a few years now, swept into Sandra’s yard, banking the trailer in the process. We had to unload, unhitch and manhandle the trailer back onto the ground…..

Anyway, Rosie went into Minnie’s field, who was quite sweet in how she greeted Rosie, licking her back leg. They called for a while but settled. We put Cassie in with Ben and drove a little way to the start of a gorgeous forest trail. This trail led out to heathland and finished at a lake. The sun was shining, the wind was fresh, there were butterflies everywhere amongst the wild flowers and it was just one of those beautiful days and beautiful rides that I will recall long afterwards.

At the lake, we stopped for the horses and humans to graze. Ben was alert at first looking out across the lake, but when I stood on a rock beside him, making myself tall, he relaxed, dropped his head and grazed.

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On our way back, we had a small adventure, which illustrated the importance of having a length of good string. This is Sandra‘s tale to tell and I am sure she will. Further on Ben lost a shoe, which necessitated walking the rest of the way beside him.

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It was quite a long walk, and we fell into a rhythm together. There is an intimacy to this walking side by side, more so than riding astride. Every now and then Ben would move towards me, touch my arm with his nose, move away again and lick. Or sometimes he would just look at me with a sense of wordless togetherness.
A good day.

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A trailer again

Ben has become quite used to going into the trailer. He goes in with minimum hesitation, usually one ducking to the side before he goes in. Once in, he stands and waits for me to put the back bar up. Except for yesterday evening.

The wind was up, children were playing next door and one or other or both or something else entirely had him worried. Not initially. He saw the trailer being hitched up, he saw me coming to catch him, he walked up to me, soft, welcoming and put his head into the headcollar. So I saunter, maybe too casually, to the trailer. Ben ducks out to the side. I bring him round and stomp into the trailer, Ben ducks out to the side. I give him time. He sniffs the ramp, paws it, crosses over it, will not go in. He looks worried. His upper lip is stretched long, but not in a playful way. His ears are positioned back towards Rosie left in the paddock behind. I move him around this way, that way, trying to get him to reconnect with me. He still looks worried.

He has all four feet on the ramp, but is parked there, going nowhere. I am in the trailer. Time is passing. For one awful moment I realise how easy it could be to lose one’s temper with a horse. I breathe out, deliberately relax my body and wait. I ask Ben to keep paying attention to me and we wait there. I think I will wait this one out. But I realise that, while his head may be looking in my direction, his ears are still pointed back towards Rosie. He still looks worried. And he looks stuck. And I am stuck. What do I do? I could move him around but I am sure he will still be worried. This is separation anxiety. His buddy, his mate, his sole herd companion is back in the paddock and he is worried. At this moment I am not even close to replacing his herd.

I notice that he is taller than me, with his head up as he stands on the ramp. I straighten up my body, make myself as tall as I can, I try to project presence. His ears come forward, his head comes down, his eyes soften, I duck under the chest bar, he walks into the trailer.

Ben, you challenge me in so many ways and you are always so honest.

This photo is nothing to do with the trailer but I like it:

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A gift from Ben

This morning I wanted to load Ben into the horsebox to take him to a clinic, a follow-up to the one described earlier. Ben saw the horsebox being hitched up and backed into position. He did his usual dash away when I came up that carried him all of about 10 feet this time. He stopped and looked at me. I said “yes, I am asking you to leave Rosie and go in the horsebox. We will be back.” He waited for me. He walked calmly with me as far as the horsebox. Then he stopped. He moved this way and that, everyway except into the horsebox. When this happens I usually lead him in random directions which gets him focused on me so that he follows me up the ramp. Today he was having none of it.

And suddenly it seemed too much for me: Ben just seemed like an obstinate pony and I was tired: tired of asking, tired of being patient, tired of being firm, tired of giving clear boundaries, tired of keeping my energy up but not too up, tired of it all in fact. And I felt despair and I thought “I do not want a pony like this. I do not want a relationship like this. I do not want any of this and I do not know what to do right now.” And in that moment Ben’s eyes softened as he looked at me and I looked at him and I felt empty, no leadership, no answers, no anything and we looked at each other and I walked up the ramp and Ben followed me on a loose line and stood for me to go round to the back and put up the bar.

Rosie softly allowed Ben go, no calling after him when he loaded. We had a good day, Ben stayed with me in his energy and his spirit all day, he walked up the ramp to go home and calmly unloaded at the end.

This is the first time I have felt Ben reach out of his space, his comfort zone, to give to me and I find it hard to put words on my thoughts and feelings about this.

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More on the trailer

For the last three days I have focused on the trailer with Ben. I have it parked in the paddock and with both ramps open asked Ben to follow me walking through it. He started with reluctance once again. On a loose line I walked in random patterns around the paddock, stopping with emphasis and moving off again emphatically. Ben matched his movement to mine, with turns, pace and halts and doing this he gradually became happier with the trailer. He sniffed, put his feet on the ramp and then walked through. I did this 10 times, and the last few times he was walking very smoothly through.

On the second day, I asked for a halt inside the trailer, a step forward, a halt and further steps. Once again I just used my own body language, and voice, to ask. He was worried, I could see it so clearly the first time I asked him to halt. In fact, I became very aware of the trailer sides all around me with the roof so near to my head. I seemed to see that place where we were standing with his eyes and with his mind. Again, we went through 10 times, halting each time inside and he was just so soft at the end and so relaxed, it was a delight.

This morning, we did it again. This time I asked for a step backwards inside the trailer. The first time, he rushed backwards down the ramp. With the repetitions, he came in, stopped, took one or two steps back, depending on what I asked, came forward, stopped, took a step back and walked through, very relaxed. At no time did I tug or push. I kept a loose lead line and used my body language.

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A really nice plus of all this work is that when I go to him on the track, he is stuck to me, completely at one with my movements, with no halter or lead rope on. Billie had posted a video recently on her blog of Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling working with a horse and it reminded me of how I had previously used his suggestions for leading with good effect on my mare Mali. I will never even aspire to move with such quietness and precision as Klaus does, but focusing on my body in terms of directing Ben worked really well for him. I felt we were completely in synch towards the end.

My husband, who has to listen to all my horse tales, pointed out that in Tai Chi, they do repetitions in threes, so I did that last session 9 times – not that Ben cared!

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