Butt Strapped

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

It’s about trailering horses, a process that can be complicated and for years foiled me.

My beloved Quarter Horse, Dolly, on reaching her mid-twenties became arthritic and eventually couldn’t step high enough to enter my large “three-horse slant” trailer. She was rideable if one didn’t ask too much and I searched for a second trailer, with an entry ramp. I found an older trailer in good condition, a two-horse, straight-in, with a ramp. Dolly’s young years were prior to slant trailers and she traveled in straight-ins.

Dolly easily loaded into my new trailer, and I liked pulling it. Smaller than my three-horse, easier to maneuver, and best of all could fit in small parking areas. I’d unload, ride, reload, and without much effort circle the rig to leave.

Needing a healthier horse to ride in complex, somewhat strenuous areas, I went looking and wound up with two full sisters, Sunni and Rosie. Neither had been trained to a straight-in and vigorously refused to enter the small trailer. The big slant suited them, that seemed okay.

For years after I lost Dolly, her little trailer sat, parked, unused, neglected. Occasionally recalling how easily it pulled, I wished to use, but getting Sunni and Rosie inside required a trainer. I didn’t know who to ask to train my mares, especially Rosie who’s sensitive and can be challenging. Getting them correctly into a straight-in seemed impossible.

My friend, Noell, who raises Appaloosa horses, popped up at Costco while I was working. During our quick catch-up, I told her about the long-ignored trailer and my horses’ dislike of it. Noell said she could train them and that she’d do it.

For several hours split into two days, Noell worked patiently and softly, beginning with the easier Sunni. She encouraged Sunni step-by-step onto the ramp, wasn’t upset during numerous back-ups and re-starts, and taught Sunni words, like “Step forward”, “all the way in”, “wait now”, “step back”, and “okay out”. Finally, Sunni felt brave, stepped inside and stood awaiting instruction. Noell let her stand several moments before hooking a confining butt-chain. Sunni backed into it and calmly stopped. She was trailered!

Rosie was very resistant and challenging. Noell worked more insistently but no less patiently with her and finally managed to reduce Rosie’s defensiveness. We decided to pause training and to resume the next afternoon. That evening, my friend Anna and I rode both horses, and rode them again the next morning. We got home with exercised, calm horses just before Noell arrived.

She began working with Rosie as before with Sunni. At first Rosie resisted, but less so, and before long, she began to listen and enter fully before quickly exiting the trailer. Noell worked until Rosie slowed down, watched for signals, listened for commands. In little over an hour, Rosie was standing calmly in the trailer and confined by a butt strap.

I set hay on the trailer’s feed shelves and fetched Sunni. She at a hand signal entered the trailer, and the two side-by-side munched grass hay. They appeared relaxed and happy.

I’m impressed about Noell’s confidence and competence during that training. She points out to me that Sunni is a very easy horse, she’s willing to please. On the other hand, Rosie is highly sensitive and more cautious. Noell cautions me to remain very calm in working with Rosie. She responds in a heartbeat to her handler’s nervousness by becoming nervous, too.

Dear Friends: Maybe it’s less about “trailering” and more about “relationships”. Diana

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