Nube was a beanpole of a yearling. If he and Ernest weren’t trying to get me bucked off a horse… if he wasn’t eating his body weight in hay every hour… if he wasn’t listening to the Grandfather Horse tell stories about me… if he wasn’t sleeping with donkeys… sometimes Nube came to work with me.
I did some of my training at a barn across a 20-acre pasture. On those days Dodger and I ponyed Nube up the hill, and the two of them waited while I trained. We came home to cheering masses. In our own minds.
Some days, I took him to work with me in the horse trailer. I’d lead him to the back of the trailer, give him a minute to think about it, and he self-loaded soon after. Humans shouldn’t be in metal boxes with horses because it makes the horse nervous. The space is too small. Nube was more challenged coming out of the trailer. He did a bit of a Spanish walk.
If it was a short day at another farm, sometimes he hung out next to the client’s horses, or sometimes by himself with a haybag. After an hour or two of lessons, I loaded him back up and brought him home to the cheering masses. Or maybe the braying asses.
Horse training is simply the collection of good experiences for the horse. Their willingness to be with us grows because good things happen.
Then one day it changed. While getting ready to step into the trailer, Nube bumped his foreleg on the back of the trailer. I could hear the clang of his shin bone hitting metal. We walked it off and then grazed for a while.
Dang, I’ll do anything to not pick a fight behind a horse trailer. I’ve met horses afraid of the ground behind a trailer way more than they ever feared the trailer itself. It might as well be a boxing ring for the number of fights that go on there. The back of a trailer is a place for patience and praise. It’s the worst place to pick a fight, and now my trailer had gone and done just that, severely punishing Nube for lifting his leg.
We went back to the trailer and Nube said no. Slowly, just one step at a time, until he could stand with his head near the trailer door. We exchanged calming signals, and there was no reason to get greedy. I put him back in the pen and told him he was a good boy. More than enough for one day.
I like to look at the latest trailers like you do. There are some beautiful rigs out there with living quarters nicer than my house and almost as big. There are horse boxes. It’s a kind of U-Haul truck of a horse trailer with a huge ramp. Looking inside a brand new one at a clinic, I watched the owner load her horse from a side ramp. Inside were two sets of horse stocks, side by side, and no more room than an old two-horse straight load. The tack area was lovely, and it had a small kitchen. Don’t we haul horses to get away from kitchens?
When I look at trailers, I try to see them as a horse would. The horse box looked safer than a trailer but also seemed dark. The best horse trailer is the one that fits your horse and they must be comfortable in it, in horse terms. They don’t care if it’s tricked out for humans.
I’m old school. Maybe I should be embarrassed. I own one of the cheapest trailers made. It’s a four-horse stock trailer, plain white, with slats in the walls so horses can see out. Make it tall and wide. It has a divider between the front and back and I use it as a two-horse trailer, so the horse is traveling loose in a stall like the big transports do. I’ve never met a horse that wouldn’t go into it.
But now Nube isn’t all that thrilled. He’s had an awful experience at the trailer. A week later, we tried again but he hadn’t forgotten a thing. He was a smart young horse, and he learned fast. He took the trailer at its word.
When a task is hard, we cut it into smaller pieces, because we are the ones who have creative thought. I like to think I’m smarter than a horse trailer. That’s where the cheating came in. I moved my truck and trailer, backing to a slight incline on my land. I stopped so the back of my trailer was almost flush with the ground. I’ve known this cheat for so long, I can’t remember where I heard it first.
I brought Nube there and asked if he’d go on the trailer and he immediately walked in without hesitation. We did it twice. His anxiety coming out was better, too. I told him he was a good boy and put him up. In the next few months, we parked there when I wanted to load him. Wherever we went, I did the same. I found a little incline or shallow ditch, just a few inches. I made it easy to get in and out for Nube. I can’t erase that pain memory, but I won’t let it get worse.
He doesn’t need to be perfect all at once. We do so much damage correcting horses, making them wrong, insisting on perfection, and accepting nothing less. Especially with youngsters, the things we do now are the foundation of how they will relate to humans in the future. You are a predator or a partner, your choice. Let it be that simple.
Water the good you want to grow. Let the bad wilt away from neglect.
It wasn’t long until we had collected enough good experiences and confidence that we went back to loading as we always had. The entire experience faded away but our trust had grown in the process. Was it cheating? Should I have made him do it the hard way? Because that sounds like something a human would do.
What I didn’t know then, was that as he got older and his health began to come apart, the trailer would become a place of solace. Trailering is a common cause of Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome. Against the odds, when Nube felt gastric discomfort, getting into the trailer resolved it as soon as all four hooves were inside. No driving, it worked like crating a dog.
We just collect good memories. They’re all we want.
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Anna Blake, Relaxed & Forward
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