Something I learned a long time ago in the horse world was never to offer help to someone that doesn’t ask for it. I go through my life trying to always be kind, I smile at strangers, wish shopkeepers a nice day and generally try to spread a little bit of happiness in whatever way I can. As a youth with this kind of attitude, it regularly got me abruptly told to mind my own business, and occasionally sworn at when offering to help people having loading trouble at shows. Don’t get me wrong, I know when a horse won’t go on a box in a public place, horse experts come running from every direction brandishing lunge lines and feed buckets but that’s never been my way, even before I figured out what I was doing. Anyway, after one time too many I figured it was better to wait until asked, but always be ready to help.
Relatively recently I got a call to work with a horse that didn’t want to load onto a trailer. The horse didn’t just struggle to load, from what I was told, she had a few major behavioural problems too. When I arrived on the yard a week or two later I saw an older gentleman opening up the back ramp on a trailer. I wandered over and asked if I was in the right place and if he was the man who had contacted me. The man looked me up and down, frowned and said no quite abruptly and went back to what he was doing. Oh, I said, I don’t suppose you know if there is a gentleman here by that name? The man didn’t speak, but gestured up the yard without looking at me. I thanked him anyway, and went up the gravel track where I was greeted my client, a much more friendly fellow.
While we were talking about the little mare, another horse that I later found out had been sold, was brought out and headed for the trailer that the older gentleman had been getting ready. There was a group of people with the horse, a mixture of young and old and it soon became apparent that the horse had no interest in getting on the trailer. About five minutes of pulling goes by before I start working with the little mare that I’d come to see. My trailer was parked up so I couldn’t see what was happening with the other horse, but I could hear it well enough.
The gentleman that had got in touch with me didn’t lie about the horses troubles. If you haven’t seen how I work when I load troubled horses, take a look at the many loading videos on the groundwork channel. As I approached the trailer, the horse sped up and rushed down the side of the trailer. I had my flag with me and I asked her to move round so she was straight to walk into the trailer. As I lifted the stick, she went straight up on her hind legs and tried to box me with her front feet. I worked through this for about ten minutes before she really started to try. I remembered her owner saying they were moving her to a new yard that day, so after another five minutes when she had walked all the way onto the trailer I asked the question. It had been 15 minutes, so I asked if he wanted me to fix the loading all together or if he wanted to get going. He asked that I get it sorted.
After a little more rearing, she started to get a lot less troubled and figure out that the trailer was the good place. All in all, it was about 40 minutes before I gave her back to her owner and let him lead her on. As we were finishing off, an old friend of mine turned up, unbeknown to me she had a horse on that yard. When we were all finished and the horse was driving down the road I headed over for a catch up. Glancing over, I noticed that the horse that wouldn’t load earlier was further away from the trailer than when they started. A lunge line was attached to the trailer, and there was a small crowd stood behind the horse trying to ‘encourage’ him in. I explained to my friend why I wasn’t already over there helping and we started discussing other things.
Five minutes later my friend whispers, they’re coming to ask for your help as I heard footsteps approaching behind me. A lady that had been stood with the older man that I saw when I arrived was walking over. When she arrived, what came out of her mouth sums up the biggest problem with so many aspects of the horse world. “Can I use that halter”. That sent a mixture of feelings rushing through my brain, but what came next surprised me even more. She said “I do Parelli, but I’ve left my halter and carrot stick at home. I didn’t know he didn’t load”
Now, anyone that knows me and knows my work will know that I’m very different to Parelli, and I disagree with a lot of things they teach, however, I’m still respectful of it, and the trainers themselves. I’ve not studied under any Parelli trainer, but I’m 99.9% certain, that like me, anyone that does use the Parelli training methods would know that the halter itself is not equivalent to a magic wand, and if you don’t possess the knowledge, timing, consistency and the ability to move a horses feet in a way that makes him feel safe and supported, then all the halters and sticks in the world won’t compensate for your lack of skills. It’s a belief that echoes throughout the horse world, and it’s a tragic one. If the horse won’t stop, bigger bit, if a horse won’t go, bigger spur or whip, if a horse won’t load, magic halter!
I so wanted to say that the halter wasn’t the problem, but I held it in. Instead I said I only had half an hour to spare, hoping she would say would I mind helping them for that half hour, especially after they saw me get the other one in in 15 minutes but sadly no, she didn’t take, and went and asked someone else. I couldn’t bare to see my halter and lead that has done so much good for so many horses be used as a tool of abuse. That might sound crazy to some people, but to me that halter has a lot of good energy about it, a good aura so to speak. I couldn’t see that tainted, so I left, smiling at the older man who now had an even grumpier face than when I arrived.
The following day it was eating me up wondering what happened so I got in touch with my friend. She said the arguing went on for another 20 minutes or so before she went over and suggested they drop the front ramp (not something I advise by the way because of exactly what happened next)
I always leave the front ramp up when I load, too many horses walk on and believe they are walking straight through and then either panic when they hit the bar, and run backwards, or if the bar isn’t up, rush and send the person flying. That’s what this horse did. When they finally got the horse in the trailer and started to drive away, they heard a lot of banging. When they investigated, they saw that the horse was trying to throw himself on the floor. They unloaded the horse and decided not to buy it.
It saddens me so much that a person’s incompetence can cause so much stress to a horse. The lesson to be learned from this story is that there is no substitute for knowledge, timing, consistency and being able to move the horses feet in a way that makes them feel safe. I can’t be sure, as I’d left by that point, but I’m pretty confident that the horse was that stressed and upset by the time they got him in that he just wanted to give up.
On a happier note, that horse has a chance to find an owner that will spend the time getting the loading thing worked out, rather than someone that wants to rush in and get a quick fix