Posts Tagged ‘horse trailering’

(Mis) Adventures in Long Distance Horse Trailering, Part 4

Our oldest daughter got tired of waiting for me to finish the story, so here is her account of the next day, after the horses had enjoyed a couple days’ break from trailering. Her words start here:

Aww, Dad, you stopped right before the best part!

Anyways, while Dad and Mr. G were hitching up the trailer and whatnot, my siblings, our friends, and I decided to take a walk with the horses in the G’s field. This was partly for our exercise and partly so that Mr. Anti-Trailer wouldn’t see the scary metal box that these crazy humans made him stand in.


After a little while, Jasper decided to walk off, pulling my sister so hard that she dropped his lead rope. We recaught him and walked on.

When we returned, the two G girls were each proudly walking a horse (with help). While I put Zip’s trailer halter on, the youngest of our friends, who was scratching Zip’s neck, much to his snorty pleasure, looked up a me and said, “I think I’m addicted to horses.”

Horse hugs

We pushed all the stuff we’d used back into the trailer (five or so bales of hay make it hard to do this), and took out our trusty Handy Stick. We knew we were ready for anything a twelve-hundred pound horse with a sharp pair of hooves could throw at us.

As usual, we weren’t.

Jasper usually knows that Mom is boss. But, it depends on her tone of voice. If she says “Mister Jabba-Wabba baby, do you wanna get in da twaiwer?” then he will refuse for the rest of the session. If she says “Come on, buster. Let’s get in,” he says “Whoa. She means business here.” (OK, I’m exaggerating – Mom never talks to him like a baby – but she did learn to be firmer with him).

Who's longing who?

At least, that was how it happened in Texas when our feisty steed knew he was going to only have to stay in there, with his haybag full, for five minutes or so. But this day he said, “Wait a second. I’m not wearing my rope halter. I’m wearing the web one with the blue fuzzy things on it. and everybody’s hugging each other like they’re leaving. You know, I think I’m staying in there for a while. Nope, not gonna do it.”

Bllpbllpppptt!!!!! That's what I think about trailers!

With that, he threw out buck and a rear, and galloped off over our friends’ lush lawn. A fairy-tale picture, I know, a Horse with a long mane running, free, over a green meadow.

That is, until you notice the dangling lead and the fact that your fairy-tale mount is gamely crossing a road and going for those tasty flowers in the neighbor’s yard.

Mom, Dad and I ran after him, shaking the treats. Jasper said, “Uh-uh. I know where you’re taking me.”
Mom and Dad cornered him by going around opposite sides of the neighbor’s house, and Dad finally caught his lead rope. Jasper hung his head.

Dad now took over. After longing the escapee for a few minutes, he tried to lead Jasper into the trailer. Jasper refused.

Let me deviate from the plot. May I say that sweet old Zip had been waiting patiently in said trailer for about half an hour, now?

We longed Jasper whenever he refused to get in the trailer. After a long time (our friends, after seeing Jasper’s various bucks, kicks, and rears, decided to watch from afar) we finally got him in.

Drat! Foiled again!

We were headed to Ohio. More adventures were in store.

On the road again!

Fall Trail Ride, Bear Brook State Park

Just a bit south, the trees aren’t nearly as far along.  Some pics from this weekend:

One of the few trees that was well along in Autumn glory!

In somewhat of a last minute whim, we decided to go for a trail ride down the road a bit at Bear Brook State Park, the largest State Park in New Hampshire.  The trailering went very smoothly, with Jasper loading up without any fuss whatsoever.  If you’ve read some of our posts on trailering (here, here, and here), you know that’s an amazing feat.

Bear Brook was active with an Orienteering competition going on, but aside from a few folks hustling down the trails with maps and compasses, and a large and very polite group of mountain bikers (that we met three separate times in different places), it was relatively quiet on the trails.


It's not called "The Granite State" for nothing

After driving into the park and unloading, the girls got Zip and Jasper saddled up for the ride.

As you can see, Jasper doesn’t miss many meals.  Most Haflingers don’t.

Soon we were off, down the trails. This is the view those of us who weren’t riding got for most of the day.

If you're not the lead dog, the view never changes

The kids did decide to wait for us once we got to the picnic site.  After all, I had the lunches in my backpack.

Jasper watched us ruefully as we ate our PB&J and apples.  When we didn’t give in, he took to the blueberry bushes.

Zip, on the other hand, waited patiently.  He did, however, make it known that his rump needed some scratching.  Whereas some horses turn their rear ends towards you as a sign of aggression, Zip does so because he loves butt-scratches more than Homer Simpson.

Meanwhile, our son took some time to throw rocks into the pond


We took the long way back.  This one section of the trail was magnificent with huge White Pines.  I thought it looked like a huge palace hallway (much like the Temples in Luxor, though obviously a lot greener).

Hall of the Forest King

On the way home, the horses entertained the kids by slurping through their tongues as they quenched their thirsts.

The other pause that refreshes

All things come to an end, and even this trail ride did eventually.  Walking and riding are tiring…

To top it all off, Jasper jumped right into the trailer again afterwards.  It was a great day all around.

(Mis) Adventures in Long-Distance Horse Trailering, Part 2

Last time, you may recall, we had just finished the first long day of our cross-country move with our family, goods, and two horses.  Texas to Missouri had taken us a bit longer than we’d expected but it had been relatively smooth.  Zip (our Quarter Horse) had taken the situation in very good stride, while Jasper (our Haflinger Cross) was much more perterbed.

Not his favorite place

After getting the horses settled into the horse motel – I’ll write a review sometime, as they were great – we settled down for the night in the luxurious Motel 6 just down the road.  Soon we were fast asleep.   For some reason, I woke up at 2am, thinking something wasn’t quite right, and since I couldn’t figure out what that something was and couldn’t fall back asleep, I slipped out of bed, tossed on my clothes, and drove down to the stables to see if the horses couldn’t sleep either.

Zip was just fine – relaxed, leg cocked, hay feeder empty, water half-gone. 

Jasper was not just fine.

He was neighing, pacing, circling, and otherwise working up a pretty good sweat.  He hadn’t drunk much water, and really hadn’t touched his hay at all.  He was not in his happy place.

He calmed down quickly when I started talking to him, and when I figured it was safe I got in the stall with him.  Although he wasn’t pacing or neighing, he still was sweating, snorting, and breathing pretty hard.  Most importantly, he had the “wild eye” – that look horses get when they’re scared or worried.

I couldn’t quite figure out what was going on.  The change in scenery didn’t make sense as the cause.  Jasper’s not a nervous horse in general, and he hadn’t shown any signs of anxiety earlier in the year when we’d changed from his old herd to the pasture he’d lived in for our last months in Texas.  No coyotes were howling nearby.  Even if there had been, Jasper is a herd defender – the kind of horse that moves towards a threat, not away.  No problems with his legs or hooves.  No injuries.  I attributed the nervousness to leftover stress from the trailer ride, so I decided I’d get him out and see if he could walk his nerves away.

I slipped the halter on, clipped on his lead rope, and walked him down the wide aisle and out of the barn.  As soon as we stepped outside it was like a switch turned off.  He calmed down immediately.

Hindsight is 20-20, but unfortunately it only works when the event is behind you.  As soon as I looked up and saw the stars, and heard Jasper’s breathing slow down, I got my hindsight.

You see, Jasper spent at least the past several years, and I’ll bet all the time before that,  in a pasture.  In fact, the place we bought him from in Oklahoma had the herd out in a large pasture with only a tree-line barrier for shelter. 

Picking up Zip and Jasper in Oklahoma

The large pasture we’d kept the two of them in over the past few months had a 3-sided runout shed available, but we had noticed that even during a severe snow and ice storm, neither horse had gone in the shed.  We’d arrived that morning to find them chasing each other through the snow, their backs covered in ice.  Hoofprints up to the entrance showed that they’d taken a look at the shed and decided they’d rather hang out in the open.

Like ice off a horse's back

For all we know, Jasper had never ever spent any appreciable time with a roof over his head, much less walls around him.  Making him do this for the first time after a long trailer ride, in a strange barn… well, that was asking a bit much of him.

We had a long day of driving ahead of us, and it was about 3am by this time, so I needed to get him back to bed so that I could do the same.  We had a long day of driving ahead of us.  I walked him back into the stall hand fed him some soaked hay, then backed off to watch him for a bit.  He seemed pretty calm, so I headed back to the truck.  I waited a bit, didn’t hear any neighing, and so I continued on to the motel for a couple more hours of shuteye.

The next morning Jasper seemed pretty well-sorted, though a bit more excited than normal.  We figured that was just nerves from the night, and as my wife and I hooked up the trailer, the girls took the horses out to lunge them and get some energy out.  They hollered that he was pretty jumpy, and so my wife went over to help.

I turn around just in time to see him hit the ground.

(Yes, this is a “hook” to get you to read the next one, but I know lots of you are soft-hearted, especially when it comes to horses.  Spoiler alert – if you go to our farm’s webpage you’ll see that Jasper is doing just fine today)

Adventures in Long Distance Horse Trailering, Part 1

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.

Rachel (our trainer and mentor) working Jasper on the longe line

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.

Notice the two expressions: apprehension on the left, determination on the right

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.

Where's the Fuel Station?

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.

Not a Happy Camper

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.

Click Here to Read Part 2.

The Simplicity of Horse Trailering

When you start thinking of horses and horse ownership, lots of images start playing in your mind’s eye.  At first, most of them probably are the romantic cuts, drawn mainly from watching The Man from Snowy River and Open Range too many times.

As you get closer to making that decision to actually buy a horse, those images might start to include scenes of the more practical sort like feeding and training (and if you’re the Dad, you have visions of your wallet being wrung like an old dishrag).  But still your mind’s eye is adulterated by the filmmaking industry, which even when they do cover “difficult” or “headstrong” horses, the problems are overcome easily in the course of a two hour feature film.  I apologize if I am the first to break this news, but Secretariat, Black Beauty and National Velvet are works of fiction.

Trailering is simple. So is astrophysics.

There’s a reason that even those movies that touch on horse training never show real people getting real horses into a trailer.  That reason is that every actor has a clause in his or her contract with injunctions against the actor being made to look like an incompetent fool and against smaller injustices, such as being kicked to death or squashed between a steel wall and one thousand pounds of horse.

On the outset, it really doesn’t seem to be too complicated.  The horse seems to trust you.  You feed, water, groom him, and clean up his poop.  In return, he lets you ride him and seems to follow your commands reasonably well.  When you walk him around the arena or lunge him in the round pen, he follows your leads just fine.  Surely he’ll follow you out of the pasture and into a trailer.  This is simple, right?

This leads me to one of my cardinal rules of horses, one that I’ve adapted from two decades of military service.  If anyone says “this is simple,” it’s time to take cover.

Let’s look at this from the horse’s perspective.  You are a herd animal.  You like to be with other animals, particularly with other horses.  You crave stability, firm ground, and readily available forage, and new things tend to make you nervous.  You are created to live and thrive in open country where you can detect predators at a distance and use your speed to elude them.  And now this human, obviously off his rocker (he collects poop for heaven’s sake!), wants to lead you alone into a dark metal box that moves when you step in it.  You outweigh him by half a ton.

Trailering, it turns out, is one of the most difficult things with some horses.  Like so many things with horses, we find out we are hoodwinked on this fact.  After signing the contracts on our two horses, Jasper balks a bit at getting into the trailer, but his previous owner gets him in with a bit of urging.  “He’s a bit trailer shy,” she says.  Zip, on the other hand, walks in with no questions, just a point of the finger.  We have no idea that: 1) Zip is the product of years of training combined with his overly-compliant personality and 2) One should view the words “a bit..” attached to any possible vice by a person trying to sell a horse as a bright red warning flag.

After a short trip to the vet for a health check and tests, Rachel our horse trainer gets Zip and Jasper back into the trailer with “a bit” of effort, and we make the two hour drive back to the barn near our house where we will board them for the next few months.  After unloading them into a paddock and feeding and watering them, we head home.

The next morning, we arrive to work with the horses, and Rachel suggests we start with a trailering lesson for Jasper.  We’re excited, because Rachel is the type of horse trainer who can get horses to do just about anything.  In fact, when we were looking at horses to buy, one of the owners took his horse off the market after seeing Rachel work with him, and in one session getting the mare to do several things he had told us she flat out was incapable of.

Rachel demonstrates, lunging him around and back and forth in front of the trailer for quite a while, working him into a sweat before walking him towards the trailer.  He wants nothing of it, so she brings him out and works him some more… and some more… and some more.  After about an hour, he walks in tentatively, then comes right out.  Rachel declares victory and tells us that we need to do this every day until he gets right in.  “It might take a week or so before that happens,” she says.

This is simple, right?

(Read more in my post, “Adventures in Long-Distance Horse Trailering, Part 1“)