Tuesday, July 2, 2013

New freedom

Having a trailer and a vehicle capable of pulling one has brought such a new freedom into my life with the horses! Additionally, its made me recognize that I really want to teach my horses to unload themselves with only a little guidance in way of some tail pulling on my part. A friend of mine has taught all of her horses to self load and unload in this manner and, frankly, I think its brilliant.

About 15 miles from where I keep my horses there is a big ring. Its at the 4-H camp. The current ring isn't perfect, and a new 250' x 150' covered arena will be installed by autumn, but what is available now is very pleasant in comparison to just the barnyard.

Sunday morning I trailered both of my horses over to this ring. I've only loaded/unloaded both horses once before from this trailer and that was merely for experimental practice. Q is sometimes hit or miss with trailering, though she definitely prefers trailers that don't have any kind of tack storage at the rear that cause the entry-way for horses to be narrower. Fortunately, this little 2-horse straight load falls into the Q-like category.

All the same, I loaded Griffin first. I primed the hay rack area with a handful of grain, led him on without issue. Q had heard the grain and witnessed Griffin having zero issue and also loaded up, NBD. I slipped out the little escape door on Q's side, hung the butt chains**, closed the trailer, and off we went! Excellent.

The drive to this ring from my barn is almost flat - unheard of for WV. My car handled the drive with two horses in tow with no issue. I'm a slow and steady driver with that trailer in tow anyway because I don't want to toss my horses around. I would never tow two of them anywhere that wasn't flat with my car, but with a flat drive? My car easily handled them!

A horse-loving friend who hasn't had much time with horses in the past 10 years met me at the ring. I was glad she was there because I really wasn't sure how the unloading would go with the two of them. Q especially as she is used to either being stalled in and unable to move due to a divider until the other horse is unloaded, or is always the first horse off the trailer. I planned to take her off first this time, too. My friend placed a hand on Griffin's rear to steady him while I unloaded Q without issue, and then Griffin was unloaded.

My friend had a great time riding and getting to know Q. She has trained dogs for years and has a lot of past experience with horses. The highlight of the day - beyond riding and having fun - was when my friend taught Q that it was acceptable to go over the bridge. Such a good girl.

I rode Q for a bit as my friend watched from the rail. She had observed that Q will do a flying lead change and wondered if I could trigger it. I have a distinct feeling Q probably does know a cue for this, but I am unaware of it. So I cantered Q in a figure 8 as my friend watched and called to me each time Q did a flying change. I tried to cue it, but I failed epically. Q however, did do flying changes as she felt uncomfortable on the wrong lead. This gives me a lot of hope for pairing a distinct cue to the skill in the future.

Post-ride, we hosed both horses down (level concrete surface proved that Griffin is taller than Q now), and loaded them back up with minimal issue - minimal because Griffin did "have a moment" getting on. Because I was apprehensive about unloading both horses on my own at home, I left Griffin untied, tied Q, and left both butt chains undone. I'd leave Q untied, too, but since she has wizarded her way into a mess with a free head in the past in other trailers, I don't trust her to have that option - even if there isn't space to turn.

Upon arriving at the barn, I opened the trailer door. Both horses stood patiently waiting. Good! I walked around to the escape door, slipped through beside Q, untied her, and backed her off. As she backed off, Griffin did the same of his own accord (remember he wasn't tied). As he backed I was easily able to grab his lead, too. What good horses! I'm glad to know that I seem to have a method that will work for loading/unloading both of them until I can train them to do it themselves. :-)

**Seriously? Butt chains? Small chains at that. Its really the only negative thing about this trailer - those chains won't do jack if tested, I bet. I've seen horses lean on chains like that with their chests and watched them pop under slight pressure many a time when used as a deterrent in barn stall doors. Is this typical for stall doors, no, but did they save the lives of horses when a tragic barn fire occurred, YES. The horses respected those chains 99% of the time (were only inside for a few hours a day to avoid the worst weather), and it was fortunate that they had the chains and not doors when a tragic fire occurred and burned this barn to the ground several years ago. The one horse with a stall door (she always disrespected the chain) perished. Digression aside, the butt chains in this trailer aren't of great concern to me since it is only a 2-horse trailer that I will largely only ever use for one horse - and when only one horse I don't use them at all.

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