Can trailer loading be FUN? – One pony’s liberty loading adventure

My ten year old student, Saskia, has her very own new pony, Robin.  Robin is like a beautiful little fairy horse, light and springy on her feet.  She likes to make her own decisions.  That’s a good thing!  Sometimes people describe their horses or ponies as “stubborn.”  We can offer these ponies decisions to make and activities to do that will help them feel empowered and engaged.  With a creative approach there is nothing for a pony to rebel against.

One day on the way back from a play day in the ocean Robin was determined not to get in the trailer.  (Perhaps she fancied herself a sea horse).  She blew up, reared and banged her head on the trailer door while loading which inflamed the issue.

How did Saskia and I help Robin to volunteer to walk into the trailer without a lead rope the next day after her accident?

Saskia and I didn’t break a sweat in our lesson.  Actually we laughed quite a bit.  And the laughter was very important in keeping our energy light and inviting for Robin.  Would you rather get in a car with a stern, angry driver yelling at you or some laughing ladies with sparkling eyes?

The rules were like this:

1) No bad decisions.  Robin could choose her activities.Saskia_pony_robin

2) Have fun.  If the lesson wasn’t fun, it was over.

3) Be creative.  Think of activities that might inspire Robin to participate.

4) Don’t make the lesson all about the trailer.  Do other things too.

5) Reward lots.  Rewarding involved petting, praise, walking over to eat grass, and eating treats.

6) No grazing without consent in the field.  Grazing was a privilege and not the main activity.

7) Good ground manners.  Robin had to be respectful of Saskia’s space at all times.

Even though Robin had smacked her head on the trailer door the previous day she walked in by herself, completely relaxed and trusting after 35 minutes of stress free playing around.  A portion of that time was not spent at the trailer at all!

Saskia had the trailer set up in a field and she also had numerous objects placed around the field ahead of time.  We had brightly coloured balls of various sizes, a spinning pin wheel, hoola hoops, wooden spools and a rolled up foamy to play with.  (Note that in Robin’s case she is a brave pony and none of these items were scary to her.  If the items had been terrifying for her that would have been another lesson.)

Every time Robin expressed interest in an obstacle she was rewarded.  She received rewards for putting her nose or her feet on any obstacle.  That included the trailer ramp.  She was rewarded for looking in the trailer windows too.  Robin became very good at this game and was keen to touch the balls and the rolled up foamy.  She even touched these objects if we weren’t focusing on them.

sask_facing_awayWe started putting the obstacles closer to the trailer and even in the trailer.  If Robin wanted to touch a ball she had to step up on the trailer ramp to reach it or put her nose through an open window.

We kept the treats in the trailer and would bring them out to reward her for anything good that she did.  Soon she was following us back to the trailer to see if she might talk us into giving out treats for free.

It didn’t take long before Robin stepped fully into the trailer all of her own accord.

We quit the session and then Saskia replicated this lesson over the next few days until the trailer was a non-issue.

This weekend Saskia was riding Robin in the costume class at the exhibition. How did she get there?

In the trailer of course!  Have a fun time with this lesson and let me know if you have questions.

Thanks,

Heather

 

Comments 9

  1. What a beautiful story. It made me feel very unwound (and that’s a good thing!) Horses (and their humans) are sooooo lucky to have people like you in their lives. I look forward to doing some Liberty work with you in the future. Any clinics planned??

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      Thanks Karen! I look forward to working with you as well! I’m preparing my place for sale and will be looking for a new horse property soon in the area to offer my workshops. Next year I will have a selection of opportunities for people and horses to learn liberty as well as riding. 🙂

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  2. Thank you for all you share, I was in a deadlock with my mare and the new dimension you brought in our relationship helps us to move on.
    My mare is easily scared, she seems to have a deep fear “to be attacked “, in any situation and any moment of the day. We can step into the trailer but suddenly she decides to get down in a hurry to check if there might be something coming outside.
    I know this means she does not consider me as an efficient protection, and I try to improve my leadership on the floor.

    It gets better but we are far from staying attached in the trailer with the bar locked.
    Do you have an advise ?
    France is unfortunately to far from your place to come to a clinic…
    Any clinic planned in south-west of France …? One can dream !

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      Thanks! It’s great to hear from you. It’s very common for horses to walk in a trailer, but then immediately want to back out. There are some things you can do though which I’ve had success with.
      A) Keep you energy low and quiet. It’s very important that you not feel a strong attachment to her staying in the trailer. Just breath and move into ease in your mind and body. When horses feel our desperation they feel trapped. I will actually talk out loud, “Let’s just get you out of here. I don’t want you staying in here anymore.” I want them to start feeling like the trailer is the fun place and I’m actually interfering with their good time by keeping them out of it.
      B) Back her out of the trailer before she does it herself. Act like you just want to practice backing out for fun and never planned for her to stay. Gradually as you sense her wanting to stay longer then you will encourage her to do so.
      C) Make the trailer a very positive place. Give out her favourite treats, scratches and lots of enthusiastic praise with your voice.
      D) Do not try to hold her in the trailer. Most horses will throw their heads up and back out if you pull on the lead.
      E) Teach her very clearly on the ground that a tap on the hindquarters means for her to move a hind foot forward. You can use this cue approaching the trailer, and in the trailer when she is in a calm mental space.
      F) You can slow down how fast you give out the treats in the trailer as she starts to get more comfortable. Sometimes I will hold a carrot and let them take bites off of it rather than just letting them take the whole thing. You want to find ways for her to discover that staying in the trailer 30 seconds longer, then minutes longer is perfectly fine.

      It would be a dream of mine to come do a clinic in the south-west of France! LOL I was in Holland last year and plan to come again so France wouldn’t be so far off. 😉 Rally the people and I will come play!

  3. Thank you very much for your advices, having these points on my mind will help us to move on.
    I can see her attitude change, she is more calm and confident, even relieved that our relationship changes.
    And I reach what I had been seeking all theses years, her sincere interest.

    Holland is very far but who knows, maybe I will have an opportunity to come to one of your clinics in the futur.
    Have a nice winter !

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