Friday, 14 October 2016

Bucking up buttercup

Following Sunday's accident, I really was not sure about how I would manage my Thursday lesson. We all know when something scary happens, the sooner we get back at it (whether that be driving after an accident, riding after a fall or trailer off-loading after getting kicked in the face) the better.

These things can wiggle their way into your subconscious and make easy stuff so, so hard.

So I set to planning (something I LOVE to do) and tried to create for myself a step-by-step plan for safety, just to get me through the worst of it which to me was the idea of heading back to the same place so soon in the same trailer with the same horse.

Standing still pre-lesson - too unsure to move

First I parked the truck and trailer in my barn yard and started ground work with Savvy in the arena, just to relax us both and make sure she was listening and yielding well in all directions. Then I moved to loading her in the trailer with the idea being that the trailer would be her rest place from working. She is really good about going in, but wants to come out immediately and fast. I would let her come out, but without hesitation, just send her right back in. We did this over and over until finally she was willingly starting to spend more time standing still on her own. At this point, I started to ask for a back-up cue. I decided to use pulling gently on her tail along with the verbal cue of 'back'. She really started to get the hang of it after many, many repetitions.

This was going very well so the next step was to close the door, give her a minute and then at a moment that she is behaving well, open the door, make her wait and then give the backup cue.

After two days (of many hours spent) on this, she still wasn't at a place in my mind I would call safe. Sure, she was doing all the things I asked but even after all of the practice, she was still acting fearful despite me remaining calm, methodical and rewarding her with tons of praise and cookies for her efforts. But it was progress.

By the middle of Wednesday I decided to remove the centre divider. I knew I was being quite stubborn in my head about not doing this earlier. I really wanted her to learn the straight load because I liked the peace of mind of her not being able to leap around when I am driving (like she used to do in my previous stock trailer).
I am glad I did. She was immediately much calmer. I could load her in, close the door and then go up to the front and safely tie her. I was able to walk away and let her stand in the trailer like this with no fuss. Then off-loading was easier because I could put her lead rope on and unhook her from the front tie, then she could turn around and I could get hold of her lead rope by opening the top half of the back door. Then I could open the door and easily make her stand quietly and not come out until I asked her.

With all our practicing I noticed the rubber floor mats that came with the trailer were actually slippery for Savvy. They had horizontal lines in the rubber, that although great for sweeping them clean, made it easy for her hooves to slide. So, I grabbed my large mat out of the tack shed which had tiny bumps instead of lines in the rubber and this stopped her sliding completely.

There was nothing else I could do to prepare, I just now had to do it.

It all went perfectly well! Savvy surprisingly travelled pretty quiet and off-loaded really well. Teaching her the wait after I opened the back door still worked even with the excitement of being somewhere unfamiliar.

And the lesson was a blast! We toodled all over the place and introduced her to jumps with flower baskets.  We 'jumped' (stepped over) cross rails and I was so pleased with Savvy's level-headedness throughout it all.

Standing still post-lesson - too tired to move!
When ever she was unsure, she would slow down or even stop and then step over despite my best pony club kicks. It was too funny to get frustrated. She was really trying and I know from our dressage work, when she is struggling mentally with a challenge she will slow down or stop. It wasn't about refusing; she just wasn't sure about jumping flowers. Once she learned she could safely step over, she really got into it and by the end, she actually tried to jump a little. Also, once coach moved the flowers away from the middle, Savvy really seemed to be much more forward and confident. I loved how we did because no matter how unsure Savvy was about something, she would really try to sort out how to do it and never felt scared or unsafe; just confused!

Living the big life over tiny sticks


  1. first of all, she looks adorable in that video - i love her little ears!!! secondly (and arguably more importantly), good for you for working so hard to create a good positive solution to what could have been an ugly problem!!!

    1. Oh my gosh I know, she's such a cutie! It was worth the work to get her there and get the butterflies out of my system a.s.a.p.

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks! I can be a bit determined (stubborn) at times and occasionally it works in my favor. :)

  3. Good for you for tackling the trailering.

    1. It had to be done! I need my freedom and not being able to trailer out is just not an option. :)

  4. So proud of you for working through your problems carefully and methodically and getting it done! The mental fear is always the toughest part of an accident I think.

    1. Thank you! I am really glad I jumped on the problem right away and sorted things out. Confidence is a precious thing and it is something I need to actively fight for and protect what little I have! :P