Thursday 19 July 2012

One step forward. Two steps backwards. Shake those pellets like a polaroid picture.

We can all name many "tsk-tsk-tsk" moments in the horse world - ones that come along with the pithy and fucking irritating know-it-all statements.  The ones usually preceded by "well you know what they say,.."

A popular one is:

"If you are schooling at the show, you should have stayed home and schooled there, long before the show..."

Which never entirely made sense to me, since a good portion of shows are called "schooling shows".  One would think schooling there was the goal.  No, no...not if you are a catty onlooker observing a good train wreck. No schooling allowed.

(Actually here in Ontario, they are called "bronze" shows.  As in...maybe this live action moment should be cast in bronze, like one of those tacky rearing horse statues that western people own).

Disobedience - 2

(It might also have something to do with the Olympics).  

Or, they are called "Discovery" shows - where you discover you don't know what the hell you are doing. 

Regardless, another "school at home, long before the event, not at the event" (tsk-tsk-tsk) moment is, of course, loading your horse on a trailer.  

(And, it is worth saying (so I will say it) - just like Al mentioned, way back on page 63 of Complete Horsemanship or whatever it was... when it comes to trailer loading, while schooling at home, or after the event, whenever really...if there is any potential that you may lose your cool and whack your horse with anything, do it out behind the barn.  On a Thursday night at 9:00 pm or something, when no one is around. Not on a Saturday morning.

And - advice to lady of  "Trainer Beats Horse at Fair and No One Stops Her" video  fame... most definitely don't storm around waving your arms like a rabid freak and trying to hit a line drive to centre field using your horse's bum as a ball when you try to get him on a trailer coming home from a horse show.  Maintain a calm zen-like appearance, (try not to let anyone see the lava dripping from your ears.  Maybe wear a hat or kertchef.  Visor?  Babushka?),  speak in a European language if you can, (it makes you sound knowledgeable - try to make that brrrrr noise a lot), and crack his ass raw with a longe whip instead.  Don't ask me why - it is one of the world's great mysteries - however this is for some reason an acceptable form of "motivation" in many people's eyes, whereas weilding a plastic bat just makes you look like a lunatic to everyone).  

Where was I... oh yes...The bad news for me was...regardless of the date or time I chose - when it was showtime-goodbye-we-gotta-go-time - in March, at MVA - the mud was so deep I would never have ever gotten the trailer pulled out from behind the barn with a 2-wheel drive F-150, unaccompanied by a tractor and some good chains. So, as sound as Al's advice may be, it was simply not an option.  Any loading related whacking would unfortunately take place on that sunny Saturday afternoon of the event, in the rutted gravel lane, in plain sight of everyone.  

But do not fear, dear readers - I did not intend to do any whacking at all.  Seriously!  I  had a plan.  I would take my time and school my horse, teaching her to load, AS I loaded her onto the trailer.  I had all day!  What could go wrong here.

And to help me with this... I had a secret weapon (no, no - not a plastic bat).  I had Dressage Today's "teach your horse to load" issue, taken straight from its place of honour right beside my toilet.  I was well read, and ready to load my horse using their step by step, stress free method.  Kumba-yaaaaa my lord....Kum-baaaa-yaaaaaaa

Oh Dressage Curmudgeon... how could you possibly THINK you could school your horse patiently on trailer loading, while ACTUALLY trailer loading, without the input of 20 railbirds.  You fool. 

Sigh.  Damn you, italics person. You are right again. 

I was googling around this morning to try to find the link to this golden oldie online, but alas, no luck.  And I long since passed my 50kg box of back issues on to someone else. So, unfortunately I can't exactly share this program with you today.

But as I recall, the gist of it was something like this -

1. All forward motion in the direction of the trailer is rewarded with copious patting and treats, no matter how miniscule the effort may be. 
2. If horse does not move forward - you give him irritating little tap-tap-taps on the hip with a dressage whip until he does. 
3. When you get sick of giving irritating little tap-tap-taps - you then make him march backwards - yes, backwards - wherever.  Then, begin again. (tap-tap-tap)
4. If horse plants on the ramp - back him out.  And start again, (tap-tap-tap) lavishly rewarding each little forward gesture.  
5. If horse doesn't plant on the ramp - well, back him out anyways.  Mix it up a little.

It is kind of an equine mindfuck strategy. Tap-tap-tap...irritate, back up, repeat...and ultimately hope to reward sometime before you both die of old age.  Long story short - horse never gets to make the decision to NOT move. Somewhere.

Now - if horse WANTS to go backwards - you make going backwards very unpleasant, by going backwards for a really long time, until he wants nothing more than to go forwards.  Every step forward (or weight shift in a shoulderly direction, somewhat cooperative look in horse's eye, whatever) is rewarded enthusiastically.  Any step backwards earns the horse a Vulcan skin pinch in the chest and maybe some shanking, followed by 50 metres of backing up.

After a while of this low grade irritation and backing eventually decides that you are a big pain in his ass, and really he wants nothing more than to flee into the trailer where it is quiet and hide from you with the tasty looking haynet and pail of pellets.  (Or, I guess if he is prone to striking... until the Vulcan skin pinch / shanking leads him to rear up and knock your head right off of your shoulders.  I don't remember how this was covered in the Dressage Today article, but in 2012, the mantra is always "wear your helmet" so let's go with that).

Well, I am sure you can see the problem here.  None of the T(rail)er birds had read the article.  I guess really I should have had some sort of an education session before the event - with the PowerPoint, Mission Statement, and lots of talk about Testicles and other Low Hanging Fruit.

Because every time Ms. V tentatively approached the trailer, stopped, planted - and got asked to move backwards by me after only limited tap-tap-tapping and absolutely no hellfire raining down upon her... My self designated Guru Grandpa MVA ran at her, waving his arms to get her to go forward again.  And every time I tried to politely tell him to fuck right off, I had a plan - he began explaining to me that the goal was to get the horse to go IN the trailer.  IN - IN - like, as in FORWARD.  What the hell are you backing her up for?? (the "you moron" part was understood, not actually verbalized).

At which time the engineering mind of Mr. Motard would engage, and start explaining to me that yes, it did make more sense to get a horse to go IN a trailer, by moving her FORWARD. 

Well, that made two against one.  And so, joining in on the fun, the crowd at MVA began enthusiastically arm waving, asking if I had a longe whip, shaking pellets etc.  

No amount of "I am TRYING A CONCEPT HERE, PEOPLE".  Or "GO AWAY, ASSHOLES" (politely worded) would help.  Every time I tried to move her backwards (instead of adhering to the tried and true and well accepted strategy of letting her plant and yanking away at her face from inside the trailer while they flailed around behind her) was met by mass confusion and sideways glances meant to convey the message "WTF is this woman doing???"

I am sure you can imagine the reaction when I backed her out BEFORE she planted a few times - ("whaaah the faaaakkk - she was going in! She was almost in!") I think they were preparing the straight-jacket for me in the tackroom. 

Well, I tried, Dressage Today.  Really I did try.  But - I am afraid to say - I am only human, and having a lot of patience with other humans has never been my strong suit. It was just all too much to handle and I decided that if I EVER wanted this strategy to work, I had better just throw in the towel now and try it again at a much later date, in a much quieter venue.  And so - I gave up.  I let the throng descend upon us and GRRR- CLUCK -CLUCK-CLUCK-SHOO-SHOO-SHOO-Craaack!- CAAM-ONN her up into the trailer, slammed the doors shut, and off we went to Liliput.  Sorry. 

Now, in defense of the article - I must say that I did park the trailer securely at Liliput on our arrival, and over the next few months, schooled at home using the method described for a few minutes each evening - and EUREKA - it totally worked.  To the point where I was eventually able to self load Ms. V and head off to ship-in lessons on Friday afternoons, with only minimal amounts of stress and Diarrhea.  For either of us. 

But I can still remember the sight of Grandpa MVA in the rearview mirror, his arms up and shaking his head, in the universal gesture of  "good riddance to that fucking moron woman". 


  1. lol this made me laugh so much- mostly because it's true.
    However, I now successfully use the tap-tap-tap method to great success despite the other boarders at the barn thinking this was the cherry on the dressage-riders-are-fucking-nuts theory. :)

  2. Glad to hear it worked :)

    I think every horseperson has their "super duper won't fail" method of trailer loading. And every horse has its opinion about said method.

    If I want mine on the trailer, put her BFF girlfriend in there first, and mine will not only self-load, she will TROT onto the trailer. However, I know that if I then offloaded the BFF and left her behind, my mare would never. get. on. a. trailer. again. EVER!

    In general, my "method" for loading her by herself is "outpatient her stubborn." A few peppermints and a second person behind her lifting a dressage whip whenever she stops moving forward also helps.

  3. The tap-tap-tap works, but I have done it for 2.5 hours on an "unloadable" horse before he finally walked in. I then spent another 1/2 hour unloading and loading him multiple times. my shoulder was sore, but he had a swollen spot on the top of his croup. Ya gotta out-last them. I happily have a trailer with a door in front, so the horse can see through to daylight. Helps a lot, especially with the young ones. I am constantly amazed that we can actually load a flight animal into a metal box, tie them in there, and then rattle down the highway with them. It says a lot for horses that they will ever load in a trailer a second time.

  4. Have also used the tap tap taparoo method and it worked like a charm. Needed to do it only once now she loads like a dream!

  5. ROFLMAO!!!!! Yup. While loading a notoriously difficult racehorse had an old guy who knew everything try to make me use his super seekret inner tube and come-along (as in motor contraption with cable, mounted on the front of his truck) gadget. Um, no. This horse when confined turned into psycho horse, and will hurt itself and everyone around it. Trick to her was to work in lunge circles, only allowed to stop and rest with head in trailer door... pretty soon the trailer was her bestest friiieeeend. Humming old song 'you can't even load your own horse, be damned if you'll try mine...'

  6. ROFLMAO...I am laughing with you on this.

    Why is it that when you truly need help, there is never anyone there? When you just want to work on something at your own pace...there is always more 'helpers' than you can shake a stick at?...And inevitably...they are generally absolutely useless!