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It depends…

- August 1st, 2019 - Trainer Tips

By Sheryl Lynde | Horsetrader columnist

My first initial response to most questions asked that relate to various behavioral issues is, “it depends.”

There is no pat answer that applies for starting colts or resolving issues. The many variables are broad and wide-ranging.

Take this trailer-loading issue:

A young horse has been purchased and loads in the trailer willingly, without any issues. As time progresses under the new ownership, the horse begins to refuse to load. The resistance increases with each attempt. After considerable time and effort, the owner experiences only momentary success after endless coaxing brings forth just enough forward movement to get all four feet inside the trailer. However, relief is short-lived. When reaching to tie the lead rope, the youngster bolts out backward. They return to square one. The owner’s confidence is undermined, and frustration seeps into all further efforts. The plans to be somewhere are derailed.

What’s the fix? Well… it depends.

After working the horse briefly on the ground, just enough to get some forward energy as well as the horse’s attention, I attempted to trailer-load. She went right in. No hesitation, and I was able to tie. I loaded her up a couple more times successfully and then asked the owner to do so. Again, she went right in.

Problem solved? Well… it depends.

What is the actual problem? The issue with the young horse is a lack of forward movement. Working her and freeing up her feet resolved a couple of issues: No. 1, energetic, forward movement when asked, and No. 2, establishing myself as the leader. Horses look for leadership and they seek to establish their position within a herd’s hierarchy. You are a part of their herd.

Forward movement in any horse is critical. A lack of willing movement, if allowed to continue, creates a dull, sour horse. It signifies a lack of leadership on the rider’s part. If this is allowed to continue, depending on the horse’s level of disrespect, a buck will eventually ensue.

The owner had also witnessed a change in her demeanor in the paddock. Occasionally when he approached she would pin her ears which was new and out of character for her. Is the owner above or below in the pecking order? Is the issue trailer loading or leadership?

This wasn’t a trailer-loading issue, it was an issue of leadership that began to permeate all aspects of her handling, from haltering to trailer-loading.

She was in training with me for a little over a month and during that time I loaded her in a trailer on only two different occasions. Our training time was spent overcoming her disrespectful attitude. We worked in the round pen, arena and out on trail to build a connection by freeing up her feet. If I put a leg on to urge her forward, she was very sluggish. Her response was “umm, maybe tomorrow.” The owner hadn’t been riding her with spurs, so if he used leg—and she refused to increase her speed—he had no recourse to escalate his leg cue. She continued to slow her pace, and he accepted the speed he was given. Not a good recipe for leadership.

If I put a leg on and there was no response, I increased the pressure immediately. If she ignored the increased pressure, I rolled my spur (not stabbed, rolled the rowel of my spur against her side until she moved off). I was 100 percent consistent until all I had to do was increase my energy and apply light leg pressure. She willingly moved off, without delay. As she continued to progress, I attempted loading her in the trailer to see where we were in our training efforts. She walked right in but duplicated her old behavior by bolting out backward. This had become a habit, and she was testing me. As soon as all four feet were out of the trailer safely, I continued her back-up propulsion with energy for about five seconds, then tried loading again. Each time she bolted backwards, I didn’t try stopping or resisting her attempt. I just followed her out and amplified the back-up in speed and distance once she was safely out of the trailer. She repeated her escape attempt two or three more times, then gave it up. She decided it was easier and less work to stay in the trailer.

Will this work on all horses that bolt out backwards? Well… it depends.

It worked on her. When the owner brought his trailer on the day she was going home, she loaded right up for him. She stood still for tying and closing the divider. Success. This wasn’t a trailer-loading issue, it was an issue of leadership that began to permeate all aspects of her handling, from haltering to trailer-loading. The owner has a new understanding and is committed to keeping her moving forward freely.

–Sheryl

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