Note: If you missed Part 1, you can read it here.
So after finally getting all four of my horses into a trailer and moved 10 minutes down the road to our new place, we spent the winter settling in and strengthening relationship. It was too wet to get a trailer into their field anyway.
We continued heading out on the road for walks and progressed from a halter to a neck loop for all but little Jax. In fact, when we arrived at the new place, Jax asked to be almost completely left alone. He watched me like a hawk, but he did not want to do anything, nor have anything asked of him. No problem! I had plenty to keep me engaged with the other three.
It’s times like this that I see how having a few horses can be so much better for the horse! There were a few years (in my youth) where I only had one horse and I now see the amount of expectation (pressure) I put on my solo mare. When you have two or more horses, if one horse doesn’t want to be with you, or doesn’t like an activity – no problem. You just hang with the other one. With 5 horse there is always someone interested in my ideas!
Field Trailer – No expectations!
As soon as the ground hardened up in the Spring, I hired Kevin Garecki to bring his light, open slat, stock trailer over and just park it in their field for an hour, then drive it away without anything being asked of them. My intuition told me that this was the first step in loosening the trailer-trauma they had suffered.
I expected them to run the hell away from the trailer and then eye it sideways from a good distance as they grazed. I felt the healing would come from the trailer being there, BUT nothing being asked of them, and then it drives away, and the whole experience is positive, zero pressure, zero expectation and it just re-wires some neural pathways and creates new body memories.
The minute Kevan drives his rig down the barn road, the horses are alert and jazzed up. They do not act this way when the hay truck, gravel truck, or excavator arrives! But they are snorting and side-stepping before Kevan even brings the trailer into view. The horses are completely at liberty, and not wearing halters.
Kevan drives his rig through the paddock, out into the field and turns the truck around (so that he can just drive straight out when we’re done) and then parks and turns off the engine. From the second he drives into their field, they start tearing around like their tails are on fire!
They race up and down the field, around the thickets and back out the other side. As Kevan is parking the truck, they are racing, snorting, bucking and kicking. Even after he turns off the engine, they continue bolting around for a good 15-20 minutes. Kevan (bless him) takes this opportunity to shoot some fabulous photos:
Montaro and Jax stop their racing and bucking only to spar:
Even the resident coyotes come out to watch the spectacle:
I realize they are finally engaging in the natural body response to discharge trauma that they were denied during previous trailer rides. You can hardly buck or race around inside a trailer, after all! As they flush out their crap (fear, trapped!, stuck, wrong!, terror, etc) their running slows to trotting and head tossing:
And then instead of grazing warily, whilst staying the hell away from the trailer, they come over to explore it thoroughly. Audelina slowly approaches and has a bowel movement about 6 feet away from the trailer, but it is formed (yay – no diarrhea or bowel spasming!). You can see I’ve put a ball here, further signalling that this is about play:
They look, sniff, touch, nuzzle, bop, and explore the trailer thoroughly. They are equally fascinated with the truck:
Jax gets inside the trailer and stands there proudly. Which seems to goad Montaro a bit and he comes up to the opening and puts a foot on the ledge. Then Audelina comes over and also peers at Jax, who is now projecting a combination of, “Hah, suckers!” and “Yikes, if they come in here, I’m screwed!” – because Jax is moved around by both Aude and Taro, so if they come in, he has to leave.
And then Aude and Taro move away, and Zorra comes in for a look. This goes on for a good half an hour with Jax coming on and off the trailer and the others slowly, tentatively, putting a foot of two inside the trailer, going away, coming back. Then I decide to go get some carrots.
I use carrots to lure Montaro up to the trailer door and then I put a piece of carrot on the floor where he can easily reach it – and he does – then I back up and put the next one down. I am using the carrots to get him to move closer and closer and see if he will come inside to get the carrots. I’ve started with Montaro, because Jax won’t try to push past him. Nope. Montaro won’t put more than 2 hooves up on the trailer ledge. That’s fine, I give him the rest of the carrots and praise him for trying.
Over the next half hour, I do the same thing with all of them. Jax comes all the way inside no problem (and I actually have to shoo him out after a while), but none of the others will. Aude puts one foot on the ledge though – hooray! They are all rewarded equally for trying.
Unwinding The Body
At some point, they are all milling around the trailer and I am standing on the ledge just inside the trailer, and I see Montaro searching the ground just beside the right rear corner of the trailer.
What’s he doing, is he… he’s not! Yes, he LIES DOWN right next to the rear corner of the trailer. And then proceeds to flip onto his back to roll and scratch on the dirt. And then rolls onto his other side which, YES, traps his legs underneath the trailer!!
I am watching aghast as he struggles to free himself and these are the thoughts flitting at warp speed through my head:
- Should I help Taro? Should I get a rope… and put it… somewhere…??
- Shit! What if he damages Kevan’s trailer. Jeez, Kevan probably already thinks I’m nuts, if he comes back here and sees this, he probably won’t ever come out here again!
- I wonder WHY Taro laid down and rolled right here?? This makes no sense. His body awareness and agility is like a Ninja – he wouldn’t do this ‘by accident’… what is really going on here?
Montaro’s legs are fully underneath the back of the trailer and he is struggling like mad to free himself. The trailer is rocking back and forth. He is completely trapped. And then… he is up. He gives himself an almighty shake, snorts, and walks calmly away. Nobody but me saw anything or said anything. What the what?
And then I realize: he has re-enacted his trauma of being trapped by the trailer; from his current place of support and empowerment, and changed the story. He was trapped, but this time, he freed himself. He is no longer a victim.
I am reminded of the work of physiotherapist, John F. Barnes, who facilitates a very similar process for his human clients. In his book, Healing Ancient Wounds, John says that accident victims will often contort into unbelievable positions on his table as their bodies re-create the accident trauma and then unwind the damage. He teaches his students how to support this unwinding and assist the process the client’s body wisdom has initiated as the pathway to their healing.
Field Trailer – Round 2
Kevan is then really busy as it’s summer and he has clients all over BC and Alberta. The next time he can come out is October. By this time, Audelina has birthed Juno – who has never seen a horse trailer.
We do the same thing, but this time, I put halters on everyone (except Juno) before Kevan arrives. I want them to link up the idea of halter + trailer, without trauma and pain from having their face pulled on.
We do pretty much the same thing as before. The horses are excited when the trailer arrives, and run around a bit. But you can see from this video how intensely curious they all are. And how they are waiting for Kevan to open the trailer door so they can explore, and how quickly they put a foot or two up on the ledge. Jax wants to go inside continually, but Montaro decides it’s “his” trailer and shoos everyone else away.
Juno has nothing but curiosity and after seeing Jax go in a few times, he just hops right on in there with Jax. Done! Juno’s first trailer experience – totally relaxed, playful, and happy.
I’m reminded of a video I once watched where this guy had his trailer parked in the horses’ field. He came out and called to them and all three of them came tearing over the field, from way at the back – where you could hardly see them – and straight into the trailer. He had trained them by putting their grain in there every day. In the video he is chuckling and talking about how none of them ever refuse to get on the trailer, ever. He has made the trailer their happy place – something they look forward to.
Here’s some video I shot when Kevan first arrived on the second session of just parking the trailer in their field:
You’re gonna have to wait a month or more for Part 3 of this saga – as my new custom-built horse trailer is scheduled to arrive mid-September and then the games will begin! I’ll take some videos and shoot some photos, so y’all can see what happens. Now that most of their trauma and fear about trailers has been cleared, it will be interesting to see how they progress with getting on and me driving them around – especially Aude. How fast will she progress from her previous sweat-drenched-dripping state? I am SO looking forward to being able to trailer out to wilderness areas and go trekking together!
Of course, being spatially-challenged, I’m going to have to practice my ass off to be able to back up and park a 20-foot trailer reliably 🙂
UPDATE: Click here for the next installment on Trailer Play with my brand new custom-stock trailer!
Jini Patel Thompson is a natural health writer and Lazer Tapping instructor. She began riding at age 2 in Kenya, and got her first horse at age 8 in Alberta, and so continues a life-long journey and love affair with these amazing creatures.
14 thoughts on “Adventures In Trailer Training – From Betrayal to Solidarity – Part 2”
I loved this- I’m in the middle of doing a similar ‘rehab’ with my own horses. Wonderful to see the support that the herd gave one another in their explorations. Unfortunately, one downside of ‘in- demonising’ my horsebox is their use of it as a scratching post- big horse ass “lookit me and how NOT frightened I am” scratching. I’m hopeful the horsebox will survive the process lol. Fab video and blog- I really enjoy it and love how you don’t ‘paper over the cracks’ to give the impression of never getting it wrong. Wonderful. X Dee
Yes, exactly! I’ve heard some horses will chew all the rubber bits too. So you just gotta keep an eye on them and some horses you can leave the trailer there, but others you’ll have to just put it in their field for a few hours while you’re there to oversee – that’s my crew for sure! I’m glad you enjoy the ‘realness’ – thanks for letting me know. Learning & growth with horses is often a hot mess, and I prefer to show the mess, but also how – when relationship/intimacy is placed above all else – it somehow always comes out good in the end for all of us 🙂
Jini …I want to say first how really incredible the photos are that Kevin took…he really captured some amazing images? I have said to you before….I really connect with the visual and your videos and such beautiful photography are so appreciated??
So looking forward to the continuation of your exploration with the trailer. As you know I am doing a lot of exploring with Banner, Bullet & Dreamer. The progress with making it a safe fun enojoyable experience has been therapeutic for us all. Hearing your journey is so in tune with what we are experiencing. I to can’t wait to get to a point where we all feel so calm & relaxed that I don’t have to have 6 bowel movements, when I want to head to the lake with Dreamer. I so relate to Aude and her bowel issues… LOL. Also she is such a big girl I don’t blame her for not wanting to get in she looks like she would barely fit? I think you said you were getting an extra big trailer? Im so grateful Dreamer loves to explore but I have come to realize …he is very unconfident in the trailer, & experiences the extreme sweats, sometimes. Even though he was mostly loading ok. I think some of it is going by himself. I usually meet up with other people so he has been going by himself which I don’t think he has done a lot before me? I actually though think most of it is me & my energy …so our sessions are mostly about controlling my excitement and energy. I have discovered even though I am a liberty/halter free Junkie…that Dreamer gets more comfort from the halter then he does from being free. We will keep exploring until we are both comfortable with all ways. Bullet has been my catalyst and now I have imersed myself in finding a peaceful enjoyable memory pattern for all of us in regards to trailering. I feel grateful for Banner he is my Jax and loves the trailer. But Bullet has come so far it helps me see how much things can improve & has definitely helped both of us replace some bad memories with good ones. So happy I am working with myself and Dreamer before we repeated what happened with Bullet & I getting stuck at the lake?…Horses are the best teachers. Here’s to all of us trying to conquer and make peace with ….one of the big ones with horses…trailering. ✌?️❤️?
I don’t think I’ll ever forget your Lake story Michelle – truly that’s got to be everyone’s worst nightmare with trailering! But I’m so impressed with how far you’ve come (as per your video with Bullet). Have you started moving the trailer to different locations around your house and pasture to give him practice with changing parameters? Or even if you’ve got a friend down the road where you can drive the trailer there, then walk him to it. I’m actually going to do that with mine when I get it. Luckily I have a dead-end with a big turning circle at the end of the road. So I can lead them down there and practice getting on and off. Then once they have that down, I’ll close the door and drive them 3 minutes to home! I’ll definitely have to start super small like that with Audelina.
And yes! I ordered the biggest trailer I could without going into a reinforced structure – which would have been a $15,000 surcharge. So the one I ordered (from Featherlite who do custom-builds) is a nice big open stock trailer, 8 feet tall and 8 feet wide, 20 feet long, with one dividing gate in the middle. So I can have it be 2 box stalls, or clip the gate to the side and in an emergency probably get all 5 in there loose together (fingers crossed I never have to do that). I also had them leave 3 rows of slats open to the air, so the feeling would be as light and open as possible.
It’s interesting too with the halter safety – Zorra was like that too when I first started working with her. She would ask me to go get the halter. Then, as she became more confident, she didn’t need or want it anymore. It will be interesting to see how she prefers to get in my new trailer – with or without? I’m also pretty sure that if I put the trailer in the closed-off paddock area (after they’ve had plenty of time to play with it at liberty in their field), with only 2 horses in there, then put up a bag of alfalfa in each ‘stall’ that it won’t take long before they go right in. Maybe I’ll just pair each of them with Jax! Because he will beeline it right in there and then they will be left with a choice – go in, or stand there and watch him eat it all! For Aude, or anyone who shows anxiety, I will put the second hay net really close to the door, so she just has to reach her head in to begin with. Then bit by bit – as I feel she’s ready, move it gradually further back. And I’m going to follow your lead and bring a chair out there, so I can put it right near the trailer, or even sit on a stool inside and SHOW them through my own energy how we can just chill out in there.
I am SO looking forward to this no longer being a crazy, awful, stressful event! I think it’s also pretty logical that helping our horses feel comfortable and fluent in a trailer would take this long, because it’s actually a really unnatural, unsafe thing we’re asking them to do!
P S…Bullet loves the truck to✌?️❤️?
Of course he does! I actually had a photographer out who was scared of horses, so I put her in my truck and drove into their field and they figured it was a new game – so they raced the truck, cut in front of it, played chicken with it, tried to poke their heads close in to the window as we’re driving and about 10 other slightly crazy things. Who knew horses could have SO much fun playing with a moving truck??
Jini…no I have not started moving around the trailer yet. Dreamer is still on the beggining part of the spectrum so until I feel he’s getting rock solid I haven’t taken him anywhere or moved the trailer. I did help my neighbor taker her poor mini horse that ended up having a brain tumor to the vet last week (yes she had to be put down) and when I returned home my boys were all over the trailer. Dreamer was super close to the mini and actually alerted me to her need for medical attention. A very dramatic long story. Anyway I felt he really received closure from smelling and examining the trailer. The other two also seemed to have some healing from being able to smell and perceive what happened. But as you know I am good with follow up so will keep you posted as we go. I was also wondering how long until the hoof stories videos will be coming? I promise I don’t mean to rush im just so very curious? I so appreciate all your shared learnings??. I just feel I am in such a pivotal place and I don’t want to trim and mess up what the hoofs wants, but I don’t want to neglect either? Such a perplexing things hoofs? ✌?️❤️?
I love that Michelle, and I love how in tune you are with listening to your horses and letting them lead. Kesia actually referenced you in our last filming session – she said something like, “We have a reader named Michelle and she has always reminded me to just watch the hoof, listen and feel for what the horse is trying to do with the hoof.” So you’re there with us in spirit! As to how long – I actually have NO idea! As we are following the horses stories/journeys and letting each one unfold as they choose.
What I CAN tell you is to just keep doing what you’re doing! Listening and hands-off as much as possible. I will get a picture of Montaro’s hooves for you. Right after I posted the ugly-fugly pics for you with the massive crack up the hoof, Kesia came out. And yes, he had let his hooves get that bad for a purpose – which he then revealed, and we have the entire thing on film!
He got me to lock Aude and Jax in the paddock (so there was no need for him to keep order, or anyone who might press in on him) and then he told me to leave. Whereupon he proceeded to teach Kesia a new way to trim a hoof that none of us have ever seen before. No kidding. We were all gobsmacked – even our camera guy, who knows next to nothing about horses. I don’t think we could adequately instruct you just using words, so I am very sorry, but you will have to wait for the video! If you want it faster, talk to the herd!
BUT as long as you just keep listening to your crew, follow the wisdom of their body, of their hooves, you’ll be just fine. TRUST YOURSELF. You’ve got this Michelle. Meditate or do yoga before you go out there with your trimming tools if you find it hard to hold that listening space. I promise, as soon as we have anything ready to go, you’ll be one of the first to know.
And here’s the front hooves.
Ok Michelle – here’s the back hooves after Kesia’s visit.
Thanks…& I am holding off on trimming for at least another week. My husband just left for a long road trip to move his mom to of all places right now….Houston ?
Anyway the hooves are so rock hard in this hot super dry summer…it was 112 degree yesterday…(yes way to hot) so we use the grinder to do there hooves. I think when he returns we will slightly clean up and round a bit….Dreamers and Bullets hooves where the hoof seems to be asking for it….(thanks Kesia for mentioning me) & also at the same time trying to listen to what they think is correct for them? Then just ask Banner what he would like to have done. I am still learning to tap into my intuitive senses and don’t fully trust them completely yet☹️…(I am getting better though) ..but Banner has been very clear about his hooves so it should be easy to follow his requests. Each time during our one on one sessions he very willingly lets me clean and pick out any parts of his hooves that are ready to be released. It has been a good system so far and he is moving very well ….for him anyway. They look awful, chipped, cracked and very wonky shaped, but are functioning better then they have when we were trimming him to look, the so called correct way! I thank you so much for your words of encouragement. It is very reassuring knowing you gals are in my corner and helps give me strength & patience to keep honing my intuition and even more importantly listening to my horses✌?️❤️?
You go Michelle!
Great story. I love hearing how the horses process their own trauma. It reminds me of a book I recently read called “Waking the Tiger” by Peter Levine. He talks about how wild animals process trauma and then how that relates to humans. Montaro was like a story straight out of that book. We learn so much when we allow horses to do what they need to do. Sometimes as I’m watching something unfold that they need, I just say a prayer and surrender the outcome. Thankfully we’ve survived every one. When I think back on those incidences, every one of them involved movement after the fact, whether it was trotting all the way home (loose) or a very forward walk that didn’t let up until 1 1/2 hours later when we got home. Thank you for sharing. I look forward to the next installment.
Yes, that’s exactly it Mary: “Say a prayer and surrender the outcome”! And like you, we’ve survived every one and gone only deeper in relationship. Good point about the movement – in every instance where my young ones have held it together under extreme duress, the second they are back home and I remove the rope or halter, they EXPLODE and tear off bucking, twisting, kicking – and I see just how much they have held in and kept under control! But I never really related the other piece of that explosive movement – which was the necessary process of discharging the stressful event. Now that you’ve linked those up, I think how horrible for stabled horses who go through all kinds of trauma in the ring and then are put right back in their stall! Awful. Yet one more reason they need so much vet care etc.