I had a call from a lady I had trained a horse for a few years ago.

She said she could not get the horse in a trailer coming back from a trail ride. She had apparently spent two hours trying to load him and then gave up. He was left tied to a tree with hay and water, and people were camping nearby to check on him. The lady asked me to bring a bigger trailer to help load him. I told her that I thought we should be able to get him back in the trailer she brought him in.

So I met her at her house and we took her rig, which was an older two-horse trailer behind a pickup. On the way I asked her about the problem, and what she had been doing about it. She said she had been giving him the drug “ace” (short for Acepromazine) when she had encountered resistance from him when asking him to do things like get in a horse trailer, and sometimes riding him. I asked her how much “groundwork” she had been doing with him to test communication and response (remember – I call this down-to-earth Jesus Christ stuff). She gave the usual response, saying she didn’t have time, but also that she “kinda didn’t feel like” doing it either. I told her that groundwork was the first thing I would do when we arrived at her horse.

When we showed up at the horse tied to the tree, there was a group of people standing around.

Mike Daniels

Mike Daniels

One of them came up to me and said, “I’ve been messing with horses for many years, and the main thing about getting them in the trailer is to not crowd them, and take your time.”

I thanked him for the advice, but told him that I wasn’t interested in loading him yet. Besides, this horse already knew how to get in a trailer, I just needed to “reshape his world view.”

I wanted to test the horse’s skills as we both moved together on the ground. I started out by checking to see if the horse would mimic my movement forward and backward. He was a little sluggish in matching my movement, so I had my four-foot stick ready in the rear to motivate his acceleration when I increased my speed.  Likewise, I had the stick ready for him to run into in the front when he was not keying into my body language as I stopped and backed up.

When he became sharp in that respect, I then began testing lateral movement such as turning on the front end, hind end, and moving sideways. Sideways movement does take quite a bit of energy, but the horse knew that if he didn’t give me that energy he would run into the stick. I then played the cutting horse game with him, asking him to stop, turn, go left, then stop, turn, and go right quickly and briskly.

As I observed him huffing and puffing after about 10 minutes of these exercises, I then headed him toward the trailer. The walk to the trailer became a time to rest after the workout, and when we arrived, the horse immediately put two feet in the trailer — bam, bam. I then petted him with the stick softly praising him for stepping halfway into the trailer.

After allowing the horse to relish his new resting place for about 30 seconds, I began tapping his rear end with the stick to ask him to finish loading. He then chose to back out, so I spent about another five minutes on our ground exercises, asking for even more sharpness and response as we both danced together on the ground. As his lungs began showing signs of work, I offered him the trailer as a resting place again. This time he loaded into the trailer completely, all four feet – bam, bam, bam, bam.

About that time someone yelled out “shut the back door!”

I said, “if he wants to back out, I’ll let him. I want to know for sure he wants to stay in there before I close the back door.”

About 20 seconds after he had put all four feet in the trailer, he decided to back out again. I then gave him about a three-minute workout before offering him rest in the trailer again. He went into the trailer better than ever with no hesitation, and I left the back door open as before. I waited a few minutes, and even tugged on his tail to see if maybe he would like another workout before we headed down the road. He seemed to be content to munch hay and grain in the trailer, so I chose to close the door so we could take him home.

Here is a common example of what is happening today. Many horse owners feel they do not have time, or just do not feel like dancing with their horse on the ground though it would do them both a world of good. Horse sense is identical to common sense, causing a thinking person to weigh two hours of unsuccessful frustration against 20 minutes of mutual beneficial exercise to determine which is by far the better deal. Not only will this get you running circles around people half your age, it will give you something to trade your horse when he lacks courage to respond to your requests. We get a horse that will only get better and even begin to volunteer to get in the trailer as well as other things on their own, while we both get sharper physically and mentally.

I used to think of ground work as not as dignified as riding, but I now realize it’s one way to tune the athlete in me that my horse needs in order to really enjoy me as a rider once I get on his back. No one wants a dance partner who will not practice their part to perfect the unity of two bodies moving together in harmony (treat your horse with a real treat). One other valuable thing in trailer loading is timing (remember God’s Ninth Commandment: do not lie). This is critical for crystal clear communication. We must be sensitive enough to see when a horse is trying and when they are not so we can time our tapping to motivate, and our petting to reward as accurately as possible.

In this way, we get to imitate our creator God here in two ways: We shape our horse’s environment so the trailer becomes a resting place rather than a place to avoid, and we also imitate Jesus Christ by being a working boss developing respect moving with our horse, rather than the armchair boss, causing disrespect with drugs or a sweet feed bribe.

Our horse is smart enough to see through the insincerity of a pacifier, versus the true love of partnership in action.

In my next column I will talk about what can normally be accomplished in the first 30 hours of a horse’s training.

Mike Daniels is a horsemanship trainer and barefoot hoof-trimming specialist from Raymondville. Email: rlhorse58@yahoo.com.

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