Heart: on the road part deux

Sunday, January 15, 2017

This was too good of an update not to post so here’s a brief follow up to the Heart progress blog even though it’s the same day!

Sunday was not as wet and cold as I’d expected so after some house chores (woke up and realized my barn was probably cleaner than my house...) I had some free time so decided to hook up the trailer and make it the day for the trailer. 

That meant it wasn’t: we’ll check it out and see how she reacts.

It was: she’s getting on if I stay here all day and night

I thought about the horse greats… Dorrance… Brannaman… Hunt… I can’t remember who it was that first said it:

To be a good horseman you don’t force horse to do something. No. You make it [whatever you want to get done] the horse’s idea. 

Well I’m not a real horseman. At least not yet… maybe someday. I wasn’t sure I could pull off making it Heart’s idea to get into that little aluminum box on wheels- but if I couldn’t do that my hope at least was to make it happen without force. Without frustration. Without stress. (For either of us).  

To be successful I needed to have no time line, and no expectations about how long she would need to sort the puzzle out.

Checklist to prepare for success:

  1. Be able to lead her well on the ground. Not just so she doesn’t run me over- she knows the dance and performs it well. Her leading skills are excellent. 
  2. Understand when I ask her to move forward either toward me or past me depending on my needs. This is solid but not perfect.
  3. Understand how to back. Yeah. We got that!
  4. Be confident walking on and stepping up and backing off uneven surface. We use the plywood platform in the arena and she easily steps up and backs off without hesitation. Excellent. 
  5. Be ok with confined spaces. She used to be stalled in TN and spent some time in a confined area here at the farm when she first arrived. Check. 
  6. Work on leading through narrow spaces. We didn’t spend much time on this. I’ve heard it’s great prep for trailer loading. 

All in all I believed she had the trust in me and the building block to do this. 

I called Nette and she met me at the barn for moral support (it’s always nice to have a friend), some fresh air, and to work the video!

Before even moving toward the trailer I got us connected and communicating with some groundwork. I led, backed, and asked to move the hind around the fore until I knew I had her attention and we were on the same page. 

I think some who have horses not great at loading might solve their problems with that simple step

Then we headed to the trailer and there was 45 minutes that looked a lot like this:


Basically I wanted to ask her as gently and softly as possible yet in the end it had to ‘get done’. In Brannaman speak: offer the good deal then increase the pressure until I could see the try. 

This is tricky. I think I spent more time than I needed not asking clearly but hanging out with her feet on the ramp making sure she was comfortable and not worried. 

I knew when I added too much pressure because it sent her backward down the ramp. 

I also have been working on waiting on the horse. I believe it’s important you let your horse know she has time to think. I don’t want a reactive horse. I want one who knows I will encourage her to think a problem through if possible. It helps build trust. And the horse knows when you care enough to wait on them. 

I was determined to out-patient my usual self and take as much time as she needed to do it on her timeline. Her comfort zone. It’s a common mistake ask a horse for something – wait a few human moments then decide “ok that’s enough… we don’t have time for this“. 

So I was prepared: When my brain kicked in with ok, this is ridiculous… get on the trailer already!! I was ready to retort no goal oriented impatient self- we can wait longer!

After about half an hour I made the decision to ensure my request was crystal clear – I began to use my lead rope to drive (not to whip her- just a twirl or swing to communicate what I wanted) and added a forward invitation with my body to create almost a rhythmic rocking back and forth next to her. This seemed to break something loose and she began to shift more weight forward. She put on two feet then followed with the rear just behind. 

I’m pleased with the work and after asking her to back off nicely (the second half of the process!) I loaded her 2 more times easy on, easy off. 


Once she’d made it on the next couple times were quick and easy. My guess is she will now load fine. So far once she learns something it seems to stick. 

So she’s really on the road now!

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