Level 2 Trailer Pattern: Four ways to be more savvy

We have a trailer parked here through Wednesday that is all set up to be safe to load horses in. I finally had a chance to play with the entire trailer pattern rather than just sniff and play around the two-horse straight-load that’s here but not stabilized for loading, nor does it have a ramp for the “nose-neck-feet” part of the pattern.

The trailer we used looks something like this only with a ramp:

I had never loaded Rocky myself until very recently, when the dentist came out in his mobile van. I’d seen Rocky load easily with his former trainer and unload nervously but trusting her to tell him when to step down. I’ve never seen him in a trailer with a ramp. Even as I committed the pattern to memory, I thought, Oh great, I’m now going to install a fear of the trailer into Rocky by getting too direct-line, making mistakes, and obviously not knowing what I’m doing.

But.

Parelli isn’t about training horses as much as it is about training people — and a trained person can then teach their horses things. Maybe Rock didn’t need practice around trailers but I sure do.

And I confess: Today was my first time doing anything with a horse and trailer by myself, much less loading him.

Do It Better Next Time #1: Put His Boots On

Unfortunately, I did not put boots on his newly bare front feet, and the gravel in the drive is apparently sharp. Rocky didn’t want to step lively on the ground and while the rubber and hay and shavings of the trailer made it a nice feel-good place of relief, it wasn’t enough.We played a lot of squeeze and yo-yo with the ramp, and sideways alongside the trailer, and circling between me and the trailer, but it was tough because he was so sensitive with his feet.I hope he doesn’t connect trailer play with ouchy feet for the rest of his life. Heh. (He gets fitted on May 5 for his own transitional boots, as Danielle’s turned out to be too big to stay on.)

When I brought him straight at the ramp, he loaded pretty much first thing, even though I was just asking for two feet on the ramp. He didn’t pause though so I let him get all the way in.

DIBNT #2: Learn To Back Out Before Next Loading

At which point I realized I had no idea how to get him out.

I let him stand in there for a while of course, as a rest and reward, but when it was time to come out I still wasn’t sure how. We haven’t yet worked on backing from pressure on the tail, but obviously it’s time to start! Also I had the 22-foot-line on him. A shorter line I’d have tossed over his back but this one was long and I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I didn’t want him to step on it and panic in the trailer (though he’s much, much better about not panicking when he steps on it outside).

I settled for wiggling the rope gently – phase 2, just so he could feel it, as phase one is just a finger shake and he couldn’t see that with me behind him and to the side – and saying “back, back.” I stopped wiggle and said “good boy” with each step. Eventually, after much weight-shifting, then tentative step back and forward, then tentative step back, he backed out nicely and got a few minutes to graze. (Only later did I think about going around to the window and backing him out from there with a finger or even wiggling the line if I had to.)

DIBNT #3: Start with the Door Closed

I think we’d have been more in tune with one another if I hadn’t opened the door right away. I was always tempted to ask him to go in, and he was always poised to test my leadership by pretending he suddenly didn’t know how to. Shutting the door will eliminate that. I will be a lot less pressured about getting him in the trailer and more genuinely focused on playing games around the trailer.

This is only our first trailer session of the seven (and our last seven sessions of Level 2 Patterns!) and I should not have even bothered about opening the door.

Lots of yo-yo on the ramp worked, though. Taking my cue from Tom Sawyer and the whitewashed fence, I played “no you don’t get to go in,” and didn’t let Rocky pause on the ramp. Nose-neck-front-feet on the ramp forward, then back off, then on, then off, then on, then off, until he wanted to take more steps on just so he could stop. More stops would mean into the chute, though, and I was playing “nope, no horses get to go in this trailer.”

Clever boy that he is, he began to swing his hindquarters away and come diagonally on the ramp, as if to load into the (closed) tack closet. That led to a lot of “oh, you want to move, do you? okay! move that way!” from me, doing circles and squeezes and even a fast sideways — but again, with the newly bare, tender front feet, the physical discomfort didn’t let him relax and enjoy the patterns.

We ended with all four feet on the ramp, parallel to the trailer doors, until he sighed and blew snot all over me, more than once. Lots of rubbing, friendly carrot stick, smiling, total pressure off. Then a gentle stroll to the grass for a long graze before returning him to the Back 40.

DIBNT #4: Have an Open Bar

I gave him a cookie when he unloaded himself, along with lots of rest and relax time. But the little bit of hay left in the trailer from Danielle’s session with Sterling yesterday was not a huge enticing buffet once inside, either. Next time, I’ll put a whole flake in there, so he can see it from the doorway.

I also didn’t think to open the safety bars over the window. The glass was open, but not the bars. Silly! It meant once he got in, he couldn’t stick his head out! He always pokes his head out as soon as he’s in the trailer.

This is what I mean by safety bars:

I learned a ton of things in the session, and we did end on a good note. He was happy to follow me to graze, and Jan held his line for a while and he chose to graze near her instead of 22 feet away.

We can do three more sessions before the trailer goes away, and after that I might have access to another one that’s stabilized for loading.

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