Riley came to me for training as a 2-year old with the goal of helping him overcome his many fear issues. One of his biggest hurdles was trailer loading and this still plagues him 13 years later. We trailer out a few times a month and he always loads, but with varying levels of anxiety. Over the last 6 weeks I have used a Horse Speak® routine that has had amazing, lasting effects. This routine takes less than two minutes and has a calming, grounding, centering effect on both the horse and the human.
The sequence I use was discovered during a filming session for the 2020 Horse Speak® Buttons Webinar Series at my farm. (visithttps://horse-speak.teachable.com/) One aspect of our work involved combining a “Hold Hand” and a breath on two Buttons simultaneously. With Riley standing at liberty in the barn aisle Sharon instructed me to place a soft, open palm on Riley’s Follow Me Button and the other one on the Bridge of the Nose Button. I held for one breath, released, and paused, repeating it three times. After a short set of three I stepped away and relaxed. When I stepped back Riley took a sideways step towards me, saying “Do it again.” I did as he requested, repeating the series multiple times. Previously, he had been nudgy and restless. After each sequence he became calmer and calmer, softening his eyes, deepening his breathing and lowering his head.
From there we practiced a few Therapy Back-Ups, using the “scooping” hand towards different Buttons to see how he responded. The Sit-Down Button was the one that seemed to settle and ground him the most.
I was asked to repeat these two exercises for three days to see what affect it might have. On day three we were trailering out for a trail ride with a friend. I went through these two exercises in the barn aisle and headed out to the trailer. Once outside I repeated our routine of walking one time around the truck and trailer while answering all of Riley’s questions about the surrounding environment. His anxiety has always stemmed from what is OUTSIDE the trailer, not the trailer itself.
After circling the truck, I ask him to wait by the ramp while I check the inside of the trailer. I check for bees, anything loose or rattily and fluff the hay. This is a useful practice for safety and shows the horse the coast is clear. Once back outside I toss the rope over his back, answer his questions by looking where he looks and then letting out a deep audible breath, showing him all is safe and then point into the trailer. When he stops halfway in I place my palm on his Hip Drive Button and breathe deeply, showing him that I have his back. After a moment or two he either walks in or backs off. It typically takes three requests for him to load all the way in. Once loaded I praise him for a job well done and give him a treat. There is nothing natural about a prey animal willingly becoming trapped in a metal box on wheels!
For the last six years his loading sequence is to walk partway on, back off a few times, poop (creating a “Safety Pile”) and then calmly walk all the way in. On a rare occasion, perhaps twice a year, I have needed to raise my intention by moving a whip up and down behind him and if that fails slapping the ground with it. This is only after we’ve checked all the boxes and he just needs some extra convincing that it is safe to load. This always works. He calmly walks right in as if to say, “Okay, now I believe that you have my back.” This is an example of using a Level IV Intensity that is FOR the horse, not against him, and it is always enough.
The Next Few Loading Sessions
Ever since I began this practice of three holds with breath on the Buttons and three steps of Therapy Back-Up prior to loading, Riley has go on calmly and quickly. It has been astonishing!
His biggest challenge has always been loading to come back home. The environments can vary from show grounds, to a busy dairy farm, to a driveway near houses and a fairly busy road. At these places it can take quite a while to convince him that all is safe. After using this technique only once at home he loaded at the busy farm on the second request. The next trip out he loaded upon my first request. Yesterday, while doing my interior trailer check at home he came in before I had time to get out. I had to ask him to unload and then reload, which he was happy to do.
Combining these two Horse Speak techniques with self-awareness are just a sample of how you can help calm your horse from the inside out, letting him know that you have his back. Happy Trailering 😊
Click here to view a free video of the Horse Speak Therapy Back-up: https://horse-speak.teachable.com/courses