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January 10, 2014

Trailering With Your Human, Part 2

Place your toes as close to the ramp as possible without actually climbing on, advises Jitterbug. Photo by Coree Reuter

After a somewhat exhausting show season (one combined test and one horse trial, during which I did 100 percent of the work), I have finally had an opportunity to collect a few additional notes on trailering.

I collected my notes while stalling the ride home from our first show this summer. I collected my notes during a particularly uncomfortable session with a strange Human who thought he was a trainer. Last but not least, I collected my last few notes while standing halfway up the ramp ahead of an impending rainstorm at a local park.

If you’ve read my introductory column on this topic you’ll know that I very much believe in identifying your concerns about the trailer while keeping your cool. I am proud to say that in the last few months, I have honed a variety of more specific techniques to do exactly that.

The Plant-And-Stare

Everyone needs a method from which to base their teaching, and it should work on both Humans who are both subtle and not-so-much (if the whole farm can hear you screaming and I still haven’t moved, it may be time to revise course). My favorite is the Plant-And-Stare, which is best accomplished by a horse of respectable size and entails planting your perfectly pedicured feet at a chosen point and simply refusing to budge.

I like to place my toes as close to the ramp as possible without actually climbing on. Humans live on hope, and this is the best way to give them a false sense of it.

It’s very easy to let yourself get intimidated by a Human, especially an angry one, but always remember that no matter how small you are, or how stout your Human has grown (we have just had the holidays, after all), you’re always bigger. You’re also bigger than the stereotypical instruments that Humans like to threaten your hiney with: brooms, plastic bags, longe whips, and linked arms are among the favorite choices.

Relax. Arms are very breakable.

Average successful duration: Two hours and up. My record is six, but if properly prepared (aka, if I’ve just had breakfast and don’t require a snack break), I think I could last about 18.

The Bunny Hop

The Bunny Hop is an excellent option for my lighter-loined compatriots, especially when dealing with Humans who get overly insistent about forward motion.

Oh, I’ve got forward motion, buddy. And it just may break through that inadequately-cushioned divider.

After I’ve tried the plant-and-stare for a few minutes (or a few days), I enjoy leaping forward as if launching toward the grand prix water jump my Human is too yellow to point me at. This is most effective if you can leap straight toward the coaxing Human, similar to a game of chicken with a freight train. I limit my forward motion to enormous leaps before pretending to scare myself and exiting the trailer through any possible exit, including the Human’s door.

This allows you to start a psychological conflict within your Human—you did, after all, do as you were asked.

If I happen to land on her foot, well…

Those shoes weren’t doing her any favors, anyway.

Average successful duration: Depends on how long you can go before you break one of your Human’s toes (50 points if you can get anything above the knee!) Up to 30 minutes.

The Bar Walk

I may enjoy a Guinness now and then but I’ve certainly never been tipsy. (My Human is too cheap to buy me enough Guinness for that. Once, she brought me some sort of “lite lager,” assuming I wouldn’t notice. I sneezed it all over her tank top.)

However, pull a skinny, stinky two-horse in front of my barn and I will suddenly have a great deal of difficulty walking in a straight line—especially if it leans up the ramp.

The Bar Walk is a good alternative to the Bunny Hop. It’s critical to move slowly, and pretend not to notice the ramp in front of you. I like to take two steps onto the ramp with my front toes, while angling with my hips gradually in one direction or another. I have yet to see anything wipe a smile off my Human’s face quicker than realizing I have my head in the trailer…at a right angle.

Average successful duration: Until they bring you some cookies to wake you up 

The Mack Truck

When you’ve found yourself in an undesirable situation, it’s sometimes best to back out.

I refer to this as the “Mack Truck,” because when I back out of an insufficiently-bedded stall, an unfashionable turnout sheet, or a trailer, I commit wholeheartedly. I’m so committed that, palms peeling, my Human has begun squeaking as soon as I shift into reverse, sometimes in a similar manner to the same beeping sound that the garbage truck makes every Thursday morning.

If the initial backwards ballet down the ramp doesn’t convince her that this is a day better spent hand-grazing than traveling, I’m happy to continue backing up…all the way across the yard and into the barn aisle.

Rinse those grass stains off and repeat.

Average successful duration: It depends on how quick she is at bandaging her rope burn.

The Peace Out

While I do advocate patience with Humans, we all have our limits. I firmly believe that the only reason we have saints is that their patience was never tested by a wailing, sobbing, fully-grown Human having a temper tantrum over the fact that I don’t accept anything less than alfalfa.

It’s very simple to transition the Mack Truck into a Peace Out, with a simple upward twist of the chin. This is how I chose to end the most recent travel training session with my Human and what I am told was “a professional” Human—professional at what, I’m not sure—and spent about 20 minutes examining the pasture quality at the far end of the farm.

Average successful duration: As long as it takes for your Human to pass out, commence her mental breakdown, or take up softball.

All’s fair in love, war, and trailering, my friends. Happy travels!

Jitterbug

By the way, my Human and I are up for some Equestrian Social Media Awards... Specifically in Categories #1 and #10. Show us some love! 

Jitterbug is a Michigan-bred Professional Draft Cross who skillfully avoided saddles until age 5. Since then, she has been lauded for her talent in successfully managing humans while training herself to one day achieve eventing greatness. Jitter and her human live in central Kentucky.
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Photo by Dark Horse Photography.