“That horse just won’t get into that trailer”

Recently, I watched as a man and a woman were trying to get their horse into a trailer at a trailhead.  The lady was in front of the horse pulling for all she was worth, and the man was behind the horse pushing on the horse’s butt so hard his face was turning red (the man, not the horse). 

Before going over to help my mind flashed back to a somewhat similar situation a few years back.  My wife and I were driving to the car wash.  It was a warm, no very hot, Saturday afternoon in Phoenix.  Trisha’s phone rang and after she answered it I heard her say, “Ok just be careful, we are just a few minutes from there and we will come help you”.  She hung up, looked at me and said, “Tom needs help”.  I knew right away who she was talking about.  Tom was one of her Clients she had been working with who owned two young, very green horses.  One of his horses was at our house and the other was at his house.  He had decided to take the horse to a friend’s house and was trying to load him in his two-horse slant trailer.  The horse wanted no part of getting in the trailer.    

As we pulled up in front of Tom’s house, it looked as if there had been a car accident in front of the place.  The asphalt street in front of the house had landscaping stones spewed all over it. The stones came from Toms front yard where he had a beautiful fountain with landscape stone all over the ground around the fountain.  There was an SUV with a horse trailer attached in front of the house. I noticed both rear doors of the horse trailer were opened.  There was a long rope tied to one side of the rear of the trailer and four men (one being Tom) standing next to the trailer.  One of the men had a cut hand with blood on his shirt.  They were all covered in sweat and looked as if they had been fighting. 

We got out of our truck and walked up to where they were standing.  We were met by Tom. His shirt was torn, and he was soaked in sweat.  His young horse (Ranger) stood tied next to the side of the trailer.  The first words out of Toms mouth were “That horse just won’t get into that trailer”.  He went on to explain, they had been trying to get him on for several hours.  In the beginning Ranger walked up to the trailer and Tom’s friend said, “you pull on his lead rope and I will push him in”.   Ranger had another idea!  As Tom pulled and his friend pushed on the horse’s butt, Ranger showed them both a 1,000lb. horse who does not want to be moved by two 200 lb. men cannot be moved by force.  First, he simply backed up, right over Toms friend, knocking him to the asphalt.  Well, now anger (and perhaps just a little fear) got the best of them.  “Oh ya”, said Toms friend “I’ll show you”.  Again he tried pushing and Tom pulled for all he was worth using the center post of the trailer frame as a leverage point for his lead rope.  This time Ranger reared up, throwing his head side to side and pulled the rope through Tom’s hand.  As he explained he held his hands up showing us the rope burns.   

Tom went on, about this time his neighbor came out of his house.  He was accompanied by another fellow who told Tom he was a “cowboy in a former life” and he knew all about loading horses in a trailer.  He suggested they use a rope around the horse’s butt.  They would tie one side of the rope to the side of the trailer then pull the rope around the horse’s butt.  Someone would pull the rope as they all tried to push Ranger in the trailer.  “This works every time” said the young man with the cowboy hat.  “Sounds reasonable”, Tom thought.  Out came the long rope.    You might imagine what happened when Ranger felt that rope pulling across his skin.  He reared so high and his back feet slid on the pavement.  He fell over backward, and you guessed it the young man in the cowboy hat also ended up with sever rope burns to his hands. 

Trish immediately went to the horse to look for injuries.  She calmed him by petting his neck and the top of his poll, which was undoubtably sore from all the pulling on the halter.  Once Trish decided Ranger was OK, she began walking him in small circles.  I told Tom and his friend to stand next to each of the rear doors.  I told them Trish would walk the horse on the trailer and I would be behind him.  As soon as the horse got on the trailer their job was to close both doors and latch them even though Trish was inside the trailer with the horse.

Trish and I have loaded literally hundreds of horses on trailers people have said would never get on using this method. 

I went to my truck and retrieved a buggy whip we always keep in the back of the truck.  After a few more gentle circles Trish told me “He’s ready”.  I said ok and told the two men to get behind the trailer doors.  As Trish walked up to the trailer leading Ranger, she kept talking in a low calm voice, “It’s OK buddy, it’s a good place in here”.  At the door Ranger stopped and sniffed the trailer floor.  Trish stepped in and I slowly walked up just tapping the end of the whip on the ground, not threatening him but letting him know I was there.   I stopped when I saw him start to raise one foot.  Trish and I both encouraged him, “Good boy, what a good boy”.  He started to back up and I started saying “load, load” and at the same time I shook the whip, so it made a cutting noise through the air – never touching the horse.  Ranger jumped into the trailer to be safe with his new friend, Trish, and to get away from that scary whip noise.  The two men behind the doors closed them quickly and latched the latch.  Ranger was in the trailer with no drama in less than five minutes.  Trish tied him in the trailer then closed the center partition and came to the door and said, “OK you can let me out”. 

You might imagine Tom and his friends and neighbor’s embarrassment.  I told them we were lucky, and that they must have tired him out before we came.   The young man in the cowboy hat did not say a word he just walked to the neighbor’s house and went inside. 

I explained to Tom you cannot overpower a horse.  He (the horse) must decide to do the right thing and usually will if you approach the situation correctly.  Horses, being flight animals want to run from a situation where they fear they are in danger.  Their thought is to get to safety.  In this case safety was to move away from the whip noise and get with his new, calm friend.  Tom’s reply was, “I wish we would have called you a couple hours ago”!

At the trail head I walked up to the young man pushing on the horse’s butt and said, “Can I be of help”?  He replied, “This horse just won’t get into this trailer”!  I looked over at Trish who was walking in our direction holding the lunge whip and said, “maybe we can help.”