I don’t remember exactly when my dear horse of the past 11 years became a bad loader, but I can recall with excruciating clarity the times it has come back to bite us in the… well, let’s just say he can be a real twerp about it.
We bought Ducky as a wee little 4-year-old off the track to be my children’s hunter, and he was absolutely superb at that job, which is why we have tolerated his various trailering transgressions. The first time we really got ourselves in a pickle with him was back in 2010—we were hauling from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to Lexington, Ky., for a horse show with two trucks and trailers, about a 10-hour trip. My trainer and I were driving the two-horse following a client and her three-horse, and the client called and said her truck had started hauling crooked, and she needed to stop to have someone look at it.
We pulled off the highway into the nearest mechanic shop, which happened to be the auto center attached to a Walmart. You can’t have horses in trailers that aren’t attached to trucks, so we had to unload Ducky and the client’s hunter while the truck was being fixed.
It took about an hour to get it all sorted out, and we were pretty damn miserable by then—it was July, about 100 degrees and 100 percent humidity, and we were trying to convince hot show horses to stand on grass easements in a parking lot while every other person who walked by asked if they could pet them, and we had to say, “Only if you like your 5 to 1 odds of having your foot stomped by a 1,000-pound spook.”
Finally we were hooked up and ready to load. The other horse jumped right on the trailer, and—you guessed it—Ducky was having none of it. He wouldn’t go farther than putting a single foot on the ramp before applying the parking brake with every stubborn bone in his body.
We knew that he could sometimes be a little temperamental loading, sometimes it took a try or two, but this was different. This time he had that look of determination in his eye that Seabiscuit got before crushing War Admiral, except instead of applying himself to outrun a Triple Crown winner he was obstinately refusing to move a single inch up this ramp.
We tried all the tricks—re-approaching, letting him stand on the ramp for a while, offering grain and hay, having two people hold a longe line behind his butt. We started to accumulate a crowd of Walmart shoppers who just wanted to watch these three sweaty, red-faced girls get outsmarted by this bay twerp.
About an hour into this ordeal I went and got the longe whip to stand by the side of the ramp and tap him on the butt. I was using the approximate force of a conductor tapping a music stand every time he went to take a backwards step, but someone driving out of the lot still felt the need to roll down the window of their probably ice cold air-conditioned car to yell, “I’m calling PETA on you for hitting that horse!” to which my trainer replied, “IF THEY CAN LOAD THIS HORSE, CALL THEM!”
Needless to say, it was a long day.
Someone stopped by to offer an ear of corn from their groceries to entice him, which was very sweet but did not entice him at all. Finally, three hours into this process, when we had all given up and were wondering if we should start riding him home, Ducky just decided he would get on and walked on.
I could have killed him if I wasn’t so busy making sure we got the butt bar up before he changed his mind. My trainer and I walked into the gas station attached to the Walmart to buy massive Gatorades, and the gas station attendant recognized us (we were minor Walmart celebrities at this point). We then finished the remaining four hours of our haul, unloaded at the horse park at 1:30 in the morning and returned at 5:30 a.m. to feed, and Ducky did not have a single ounce of shame about the entire situation.
Ducky loaded without issue to go home from that horse show and loaded totally normally for a number of years after it. What I should have learned from this situation it that he particularly doesn’t like loading in strange and stressful situations, and that I should avoid putting him in those situations unless I would like to spend four-plus hours of my life loading him.
Fast forward five years, I am a senior in college about to graduate from the University of Missouri, and I get this idea in my head. I want to take pictures with Ducky in front of the famous Mizzou columns. They’re the most recognizable landmark on campus, and there is a huge field of grass in front of them—how cool would it be to do my senior pictures with my horse on campus?
I got permission from the school to do it on a Sunday morning in October when campus was pretty quiet, and it was exactly as awesome as I thought it would be. Ducky was a total rock star for the shoot; he didn’t freak out or start calling or anything. I even rode him around bareback for a few pictures.
A couple of students or joggers came by and thought it was hilarious, stopping for pictures, but we were all wrapped up and ready to leave by about 10 a.m., before anyone was really milling around. Mizzou’s campus is right in the heart of downtown Columbia, so we planned to load in the roundabout in front of the commons and head on our merry way.
But little did we know that somewhere in that pea sized brain of his, Ducky was hearing the call of his stubborn past self. “Don’t loaaaaaad,” the asinine voice whispers. “You have all the powerrrrrr!” And indeed he did.
For the first 20 minutes I held out hope that he was just a little confused by the situation and the weird setting, but when a half hour had come and gone, and the closest he’d gotten to the trailer was one toe on the ramp, I knew we had a problem.
I trained with a different local woman while I was in school, and she couldn’t believe he wouldn’t get on—she had no issues with him in the year she’d known him. But this bish knew. This bish had history with the dark side of Ducky.
We went through the litany of tricks, we accumulated a crowd of Snapchatting students, and then the trainer had an idea. Before I boarded with her, I had briefly kept Ducky at a college riding stable about two blocks from downtown Columbia. Maybe if we walked him to that stable, he would recognize where he was and feel more comfortable loading.
We would have to walk through the entirety of downtown Columbia, a sizeable city with a population of 120,000 people, but it was the best idea anyone had, so my friend from the barn Alex Hagelston and I each clipped a lead rope to Ducky and started walking.
We walked past the Chipotle I frequented for lunch, the coffee shops and book stores we went to, the Shot Bar I frequented on the weekends for shots and was tempted to stop in now—we were literally strolling down the city sidewalk and through crosswalks at noon on a Sunday with a horse. A car full of frat boys stopped to take pictures, and eventually a police officer rolled up and offered to give us an escort to the stable.
So by the time we were walking past a downtown church with mass letting out, we were two girls and a horse being followed by a truck, trailer and a cop car with its lights flashing, just parading down the middle of the street. The priest was standing on the steps shaking people’s hands as they were walking out, and everyone turned in unison to watch the single horse parade go by, with the priest remarking, “Well there is something you don’t see every day!”
Alex and I could hardly hold on to him we were laughing so hard, and Ducky being the shameless devil he is was totally unfazed by the entire situation. In fact, he looked rather irritated we were keeping him from grazing on all the nice manicured grass we walked by.
We got to the stable, Ducky loaded in about five minutes, and once again I resisted the urge to smother him with his hay net.
I wish I could tell you that was the end of my trailering drama, but as anyone who trailers horses will tell you the list goes on and on—bumper pulls coming unhitched when the jack hits a speed bump, someone dropping the wrong sales horse off for a trial, and I did haul my trailer around for a good bit of time this past summer with a rented UHaul truck.
It seems ever since horses were smart enough to make us start hauling their bums around everyone has a story to share about the many and varied mishaps that can crop up—what’s your story? Leave it below in the comments or email it to firstname.lastname@example.org–you may just have it featured in a Chronicle story!