In the last post on trailering, I explained that though our Quarterhorse (Zip) was very compliant with getting into the trailer, we had some… ahem… “challenges” loading and trailering our Haflinger cross (Jasper). Under the tutelage of our faithful trainer, Rachel, we put together a plan to teach him to load well.
It was a very good plan, in part because the schedule included a two-month stint where I would leave Texas for New Hampshire, get set up in the new job, do some work on the new property, and then fly back to Texas to find the family and horses ready to start the cross-country trailering adventure. In other words, my wonderful bride got to be in charge of all the hard work: Teaching Jasper to load, taking care of the household back home, schooling the kids, packing up our stuff, and attending a couple births, all the while keeping the house in show-ready condition so that we could sell it. In case you didn’t know it, I’m married to Wonderwoman.
Wonderwoman went right to work on Rachel’s training plan. The basic idea, she said, was to work the dickens out of Jasper outside the trailer and to give him a rest any time he made a move to load. Since Jasper his happier at rest than at work, we would make him understand that the trailer was a happy place instead of a metal trap that made lots of noise while moving unpredictably. It was a simple concept that actually worked quite well. Through daily sessions, Martha worked Jasper on the Longe Line, moving him around in tight circles, changing directions all the time, and gradually working him towards the open trailer. BTW, if you’ve never worked a Longe Line you don’t realize how much effort it is to do it well and to keep the horse moving, but Wonderwoman kept at it.
I kept tabs on the progress from NH, hearing the little victories. Over the course of two months, the reports moved from “He put two hooves in the trailer without any prodding today!” to “I had him loaded in less than 10 minutes!” It took longer than Rachel thought it might, but what Wonderwoman managed to accomplish was pretty amazing.
By the time I returned, Jasper was loading up pretty easily. It still wasn’t his favorite place, but he’d get in with just a little work, and then calmly stand in the closed trailer. When we took the horses on the short drive to the vet for their pre-travel health certificates, we had no problems. This cross-country horse trailering adventure was getting less and less daunting in my mind’s eye.
Have I mentioned that my mind’s eye wears a rose-colored contact lens?
The morning of the big move arrived, and we finished packing, drove to the barn, hooked up the trailer, filled up the water tank, did one last check of the tires and connections, and loaded the horses in record time. No problems. Soon we were driving northeast on the Interstate, Wonderwoman following in our packed-out minivan. All was well. Our little convoy was chugging along smoothly as we crossed the border into Oklahoma.
And then Jasper came to the realization that this trip was taking a bit longer than the last one.
The “rig” we were in was pretty stout. We’re weren’t in a little pickup truck pulling a light aluminum straight-load trailer. No, we were driving full-size F-250 crew cab diesel pulling a heavy-duty steel two-horse slant. The truck is a bit over 7,000 lbs empty, and the trailer weighs in at 3,200. With the horses, hay, water, luggage, and tack, we were traveling down the highway at about 6.5 tons gross. I tell you this to give you an appreciation of how strong a horse is, especially a horse in a place he has decided definitely isn’t his happy place.
When Jasper started rocking back in forth in the trailer, we started swerving as if we’d been hit by a sudden crosswind… a crosswind similar to what a driver might feel if a tractor trailer drove past his VW bug at somewhere double normal highway speeds…
…on the Autobahn.
OK, I’m exaggerating a bit. But just a bit. The bottom line is that a 1,100 lb horse can cause some consternation, even when enclosed as part of a 13,000 lb package. Imagine a 220 lb high school football player bouncing off the walls of a 2,600 lb compact car and you’ve got a similar effect.
We slowed down and pulled over at the next rest area to check on the horses. I was half expecting to see Jasper turned around in his stall, and dents in the steel walls. Fortunately that was not the case, but when we opened his window to offer some water he nearly came through the porthole. We were able to calm him down, but he made it obvious that this was very far from his happy place. Very.
The rest of the day went smoother. Jasper resigned himself to the trailer, but was unhappy. We could tell he was unhappy because he wasn’t eating except at rest stops, and there are very few things that distract Jasper from food. More worrying, he wouldn’t drink at all. The only way we could get water into him was by soaking hay in a bucket and then feeding him that at the rest stops. Zip, on the other hand, was going through hay at an impressive rate and filled up with water pretty well at every stop.
By the time we rolled into the first “horse hotel” in Missouri we were a bit worried about what was going to happen when we opened the door. Everyone took their places – one of the girls at the window and tie-in, another at the door and butt bar, Wonderwoman ready to lead him out, my son safely ensconced in the truck, and me holding the Handy Stick and the mobile phone, ready to call 9-1-1. However, loading was somewhat uneventful, though Jasper definitely was ready to get out. The horses both were very happy to walk around the pasture with the girls while we cleaned out the trailer and set up their stalls for the night. By the time we finished that, Zip and Jasper seemed to be very much themselves again, especially after a good brushing. Their ears were perked and when we walked them into their adjacent stalls, Jasper even took a little food and water. Zip plowed through his hay, happy to be out of the trailer, but none the worse for wear.
We loaded up the kids and drove the 1/4 mile down to the “people hotel” for the night to get settled. We all fell asleep pretty quick, as we were exhausted.
For some reason, I woke up at about 2am with a feeling something wasn’t quite right. I was correct.