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Wizard Ride 180: Nobody Beats The Wiz

September 20, 2010

Ready to Go!

Saturday, 9/18/2010

Nobody Beats The Wiz**… but some folks suggested doing so after seeing his antics on Saturday.

I arrived at the barn early Saturday morning and prepared Wizard for our trip to Assunpink Wildlife Management Area. While I packed my tack, I turned Wizard loose in the big arena for a few minutes so he could stretch his legs. After a good grooming, we were ready to go. The weather was picture-perfect: 70s and not a drop of rain.

The trailer pulled up to the property around 8:30 and we prepared to load Wizard. It was a two-horse trailer with a ramp. Wizard has not been trailered off the property in several years so I did not know how he would be. We have done a lot of ground work over the past two years, so I knew we had all the cues needed to walk up, stop, and back up. My plan was to begin purposefully but methodically. I carried a dressage whip in one hand, and led him forward at a brisk walk. I looked straight ahead into the trailer, and we walked up part of the ramp. Wizard got a front foot on the ramp and stopped. Okay, it’s a start. Each time he balked, we circled back (I made sure to keep his feet moving when I asked him to do so) and tried again. After a few attempts, he was almost entirely on the trailer. I slid a little awkwardly under the chest bar, asking him to step one more step forward so my friends could fasten the clip in the back and put the ramp up. But Wizard resisted that last step forward, scared himself, and flew back HARD off the trailer. I rarely let go of a lead rope on a horse, but he was moving so fast that I would have gotten myself hurt if I held on. He did not get more than a few steps away from the trailer before we started again.

With each attempt, I tried my hardest to keep my cool and make my cues clear to him. We had an added challenge because the divider in the trailer did not swing to the side so the entrance into his stall was quite narrow. Another challenge was the ramp, which had a strong spring connecting it to the trailer, so it did not touch the ground when it was open- it looked a bit like a diving board. To make the ramp more inviting, my friend stood on it. I think the additional person standing on the ramp made things more challenging to Wizard, but as a girl with no truck or trailer of my own, I cannot be picky when my friends offer a lift!

So the attempts continued. For a long time. Some were good tries and some were bad. Wizard began doing the typical evasions, including swinging his hind end off the side of the ramp, backing up, and barging to the other side. When he was responsive, I gave him a few mental breaks. When he was resistant, I tried to keep him thinking and moving. It was exhausting and a bit of a helpless feeling. I’ve loaded dozens of horses onto trailers when I worked at my old barn, but usually my old trainer was around to coach me with the tough cookies.

A funny thing happens when you struggle to get a horse to load on a trailer: you get an audience. Before long, I had a dozen people watching the struggle. And when that many people are watching something, there are bound to be some opinions. I accepted a few suggestions and allowed them to try a few things. One girl backed him up a few times. One let him chill out and eat peppermints. Nothing was working, so I asked one person to hold his lead rope and lead him on while I stood by his hip, asking him to go forward by touching him with the dressage whip. Wizard is so sensitive that just a whisper of the whip is enough for him to get the idea. After a few more tries, and with me leaning on him whenever he tried to bail off the side, we got him on the trailer. Once he was fastened in, he munched his hay contentedly and was ready to roll.

The drive to the park was good, and we were the only ones in the unloading area when we arrived. After the show we put on during the loading process, I was prepared for anything as I unloaded him. This time, he surprised me with his calm demeanor. He carefully backed off the trailer and looked around with curiosity. He picked at a little grass as I led him around. I was thrilled!

Once we saw that Wizard was relaxed, my friends quickly went to their barn to tack up their mares and meet up with me. While I waited, I grazed Wizard some more and tied him to the trailer. He munched on hay and stood like a gentleman. He was great! We were all tacked up when my friends returned on horseback. I mounted up and the ride began. At the very beginning of the ride, I could feel Wizard’s bottled energy. He was a little overwhelmed and anxious but mostly interested in his surroundings. We walked for about 10-15 minutes through the first few fields. We tried a trot as a group and the first time, Wizard was a little too excited and bounced more than he trotted. We walked some more and then tried again and it was a success! Wizard snorted excitedly with each stride, ears forward, neck arched.

We rotated from leader to follower to the middle horse throughout the ride. Sometimes when he was in the back, he chewed anxiously on the bit, but by the end of the ride, he was comfortable at any spot in the pack. He liked the lead the best. After a few nice trot sets, we tried a canter. At first, he awkwardly transitioned from trot back to canter, then to tranter, and then he got the hang of things and moved along quite well. I would have never imagined a year ago that we’d be cantering in big open fields with two other horses like this. It was such a wonderful feeling.

We rode through wooded trails, crossed a stream, and reached a lake. I don’t know if Wizard has ever seen a lake before. At first, he danced a little on the shore but when he saw the mares stopping to take a drink, he took a drink as well. He had all four feet in the lake and played a little with the water.

After our quick stop, we continued our ride. More trotting, more hills, and then some hand galloping- wheee! There’s no feeling quite like flying along a grassy path with three horses, all purring excitedly as they rip across the field. After the excitement, we cooled them at a walk for the rest of the ride. Wizard’s walk is BIG, much faster than the Morgan and Arabian/Saddlebred mares’ walk. I had to pull him up or circle many times to let them catch up :^)

We reached the trailer and I untacked him and let him graze while my friends dropped the mares off at their barn. I intentionally led Wizard past the trailer a few times. He felt relaxed and good. I sponged him off and we were ready for Take Two of Trailer Loading when my friends returned.

It started off well, encouraging him gently, getting feet on the ramp, etc. But then he became more resistant then he was at the farm. He backed up more forcefully, and was balking harder. When he backed harder, we urged him more, not allowing him to stop. Wizard reared straight up, spun to the right, and almost came down on my friend who was on the ramp. I saw his hooves swing past her head as she ducked. I kept hold of the lead rope and made sure not to let him stop after rearing. I did not want to reward his behavior. Thankfully, my friend was fine, but it was one of the scariest things I’ve seen in a long time. I plan to wear a helmet from now on if I’m in a trailering pickle like the one we were in.

Consistent with Murphy’s Law of Trailering, a group of people showed up, offering suggestions and asking questions. One girl (thank you, whoever you are!) worked with me to do the racehorse gate-loading exercise, and we locked arms and pushed Wizard’s hind end with all our might. It showed some success, but did not get him on the trailer. They suggested whips, brooms, longe lines, everything imaginable.

Somehow, it crossed my friend’s mind to try moving the trailer divider (the one that was not supposed to move). With a little fiddling, we got it to move. And once the divider was moved, I had way more room to work with Wizard as he stepped on the trailer. Once I could give him the forward cue from the angle that we usually use, he was on the trailer within a few tries. We gave him his hay and he was on his way home.

The trailering was exhausting. I don’t own a trailer, but now I’d like to borrow one from a buddy and see if we can do a little work with loading. Technically, a well-trained horse should be able to load on any kind of trailer, but this was certainly not the best one for us to start our adventure. It was perfectly safe, but not as inviting as a big airy stock trailer.

In the future, I think I would try A) a more inviting trailer to start and B) backing Wizard off with each positive step forward. Backing him off would relieve the mental pressure and prepare him for the next step forward. I like the idea of trailering cues to be similar to riding cues, so forward is forward, whether we are longeing, riding, or stepping on a trailer. There are a lot of methods, from Clinton Anderson to Pat Parelli to John Lyons to operant conditioning to old-fashioned load-em-up, and I’d like to find the method that is the most consistent with our training. And I’d prefer to avoid beating the Wiz :^)

Leave it to a horse to humble you. I slept well that night. Although the trailering experience was exhausting, the ride was superb and I hope to do it again soon.

** For readers who are not from the New York/New Jersey area, The Wiz was an electronics store and the slogan/jingle was, “Nobody Beats The Wiz!”

5 Comments leave one →
  1. September 20, 2010 7:32 am

    Glad everything went ok. I hate trailering, mostly because of Murpy’s Law. I have found my horses load better when I’m the only one around. If they see or sense other people, they almost always give me a hard time. I was at a clinic a few weeks ago and saw two really bad examples of trailer loading. Both attracted large crowds. Before I go out (which we seldom do), I usually work at least every other day stepping them up on the trailer for two weeks. I am so envious of people that their horses just walk right up on the trailer like that’s their place in life to be. 🙂 I suppose, however, they’re horses have been on the trailer a lot more than mine will ever be.

    One thing that has helped get people away in the past was just become boring. Until the bystanders left, I just let the horses graze near the trailer. It usually took between 5 and 15 minutes and they would leave.

    I’ve never beat my horses on the trailer. I don’t think that harsh methods of loading will make them prone to want to load again. Some people say you can train them by getting them used to walking on tarps and boards, but I say phooey. Our horses will walk across those things, but try to load them in a trailer at the spur of a moment, oh no you’ve got to be crazy. At any rate, I’d say practice with the real thing, attached to a truck or tractor so it doesn’t roll off on you (unless perhaps it’s completely level and one of those huge gooseneck trailers would would take a F450 or tornado to move).

    Good luck. I dread going out because of what you described in your post. I can definitely relate.

  2. September 20, 2010 11:08 am

    “we got him on the trailer. Once he was fastened in, he munched his hay contentedly and was ready to roll”

    doesn’t this part always make you crazy?????? I can understand if they are afraid, and therefore less inclined to load, but when you do get them on and they are so “whatevah” about it, THAT is when I’d like to beat them (but don’t of course).

    I, also do not have a truck/trailer and it makes this part of horse owning so much harder. Like anything, more practice = better skills but when you don’t have the equipment to practice it makes things way more difficult.

    One thing I did think about, and don’t know if it is a factor or not, letting him graze outside the trailer makes the outside more inviting? Or not, I don’t know your boy, of course, but it’s something to think about.

  3. September 20, 2010 8:21 pm

    Of course Nobody Beat the Wiz !
    The toughest one to beat was the one in Garden State Plaza.

    Good luck to The Wiz.
    Better to tangle with him than say….Crazy Eddie ! 😀


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