This is a story that nearly didn’t happen……but I’m very glad it did!
Last week I was expecting a lovely couple to come and join me for 3 days of ‘Experience’. Experience days/weeks are run at The Balanced Horse yard and they are pretty intense. Bring your own horse and have a lesson a day plus watch everything else that is happening at The Balanced Horse, then in the afternoon play with the concepts from your lesson in your laboratory and the next day we take a look if anything needs to be re-visited or look at the next piece of the puzzle. The ‘Experience’ is very organic and the time is structured to whatever the horse/human combination need.
So, Sandy and Tim were looking forward to spending 3 days with me and their horses – from Wednesday to Friday. On Monday I got the heads up from Sandy that we might need to look at other options because despite their very best efforts and with 3 weeks of practising and some experienced help they were still unable to load one of their horses, Stewie, in their trailer. The biggest chance they felt they had of getting him here was to hire a 7.5 ton lorry and driver because they were more confident that they could get him into a big lorry. Luckily a local driver with such a lorry was available and with some coercion they managed to arrive on Wednesday morning as planned.
The driver was available to pick them up on the Friday if needed but we decided it would be a good plan to work on this trailer loading puzzle, so they brought their trailer with them.
Wednesday they had their lessons as planned then in the afternoon instead of Laboratory time I had a play at making a start on unravelling the pieces of the puzzle to help Stewie find the answer to loading. I decided to use my lorry as I felt it would be slightly easier for him to work out the puzzle pieces because their trailer is quite a complicated ask. It is a front loader because the horses travel backwards – so they need to go up the ramp, and make a right turn. My ramp is much steeper, so that is more of an ask, but if they can manage my ramp they can certainly manage a trailer one. And besides, it is never about the trailer!!!
The session that afternoon took about 1 hr 15 mins and at the end of that time it probably didn’t look hugely successful – we had two front feet on the ramp and the tip of one hind! BUT there had been some important pieces of the puzzle that he was beginning to understand. And it is not about getting him in the lorry – its about him working out the puzzle of loading himself!
Firstly I checked out our starting place – was it claustrophobia that was his problem? To check that out before taking him to the lorry I squeezed him between a small tree and a fence line and saw that he wasn’t hugely claustrophobic. Next I squeezed him between me and the front of the lorry – OK on the left rein, harder on the right. So I made a little bit more space for him to travel through going to the right and then narrowed the space as he became more confident. The other information this gave me was whether he was able to follow the feel of the rope to direct him through the space, and whether I could yield his hindquarters once he was through the space. He was a little sticky on his hindquarter yield but not too bad. He understood to follow the feel. Next I stood on the ramp and again asked him to squeeze in front of me – all good.
So I then positioned myself at the side of the ramp and asked him to move towards the ramp – I didn’t mind what he offered me, I just needed to see the starting point so that we had something to work from. With some approach and retreat we got a little bit of interest in the ramp but it soon became apparent that when asked this more difficult question he was less respectful of my space. So we had a discussion about my space being my space, which also meant his space was his space! The next thing that became evident was he did not want to point his nose in the direction of the ramp, and would swing his hindquarters away, and not yield them back. So, we had a little chat about that. When I say we had a little chat – it was not in a negative way – and it was not about getting him in the lorry. It was just letting him know that he actually had the answer to this puzzle and if he yielded his hind-quarters and kept his nose to the ramp, then he would be backed away from the ramp and not asked for more. The understanding started to come together. Two feet went on quite confidently – the tip of the hind foot sometimes made it to the ramp, but the fourth foot was too much. He was able to stretch out his neck and explore with his nose a little inside the lorry so that was great to see some curiosity coming – he even snatched at a mouthful of hay from a hanging haynet!
He then had a break for a few hours. When I brought him out again, we went through the same gradual process, but it only took a short while to get to the 3 feet stage and keep his nose towards the lorry and his body straight. In a very short time he offered the 4th foot. There was the next piece of the puzzle. He was unconfident to stand on the ramp with all 4 feet and would clatter backwards pretty fast. So I needed him to know he wasn’t going to be asked to do anything other than stand on that ramp and find his feet and his balance. Approach and retreat, making the standing on the ramp a place of relaxation without asking any more than that until he became comfortable and confident. Once he was confident he made the decision himself and just went up the ramp – into the lorry, and straight back out again. Took him away from the lorry and let him graze for a few minutes. Back we went, and he went straight up, and this time didn’t hurry out. Within approx 30 mins he was able to load himself – not only with me standing at the bottom of the ramp, but with me standing towards the front of the cab with him now on a 22ft line – and just to test it out, I sat in the cab – and up he popped, like he had been doing it all his life.
What a super star! He had learnt to ‘hunt the lorry’.
The following day it was time to take him to his trailer and see if he could work out the puzzle there – in no time at all he had worked out how to load with me standing on the right hand side of him, make his way up the ramp, turn right and stand and wait for me to go to the back ramp to allow him down the back ramp – even with no breast bar there to keep him in the trailer. What a man! He owned it!!
I coached Sandy through the process and sure enough she was able to ask him to load up and in he went and waited in the trailer until he was asked to come out. Super proud of him.
With Stewie loading so beautifully we decided to spend some time getting the same result with Norman. Norman was less reluctant to go in the trailer, although he certainly wasn’t self loading and staying in there worried him. So I worked on his confidence and it wasn’t long before he was able to load himself and stay there. Tim, his owner was also able to ask the same of him.
A very sweet outcome with both horses – and a huge relief for their owners who no longer have to worry whether they can load their horse or not…..their horses can load themselves!!!
Here are some video clips;
Loading Stewie into the lorry from the cab! https://youtu.be/e1WJSyZapBQ?fbclid=IwAR1XwuQr3fSpeqDKRrPDnOp-dW4zQRm5uzq2oV_SDW2CSULP2e2ye3T32jI
Sandy loading Stewie – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=miJ6mKm6zFE&feature=youtu.be
Tim loading Norman https://youtu.be/E85Ph4zNMaU