March 1 was just three months ago. In those three months he's been professionally trained and so have I. He's been on trail rides, arena practices, and won a ribbon in a sanctioned dressage show. I'm proud of all those things but I am most proud of events like today. With the help of Milt, Horse Expert Fantastico, Merlin was broken of his trailer woes. It took some "tough love" but within twenty minutes he was walking up (sometimes jogging up) with me without so much as a tiny fuss.
How did we do it? This might sound primal, but it was damn necessary and not nearly as rough as it sounds. Horses are not Golden Retrievers. We weigh 175 pounds and they weigh a thousand. We needed more help, so Milt took a long rope with a snap at one end and ran it all the way through the trailer and out a window, then back around to him. His plan was to pull the horse forward using that pulley system while using the rope end near him as pressure and a block from behind. So Merlin was being both urged forward and pressured at the same time by this rope system. The rope on his halter was not meant to yank him, but keep him from turning around. Milt stressed that the HORSE had to decide to be on the trailer, not us. He fought for a while, feet planted firmly on the ground. We waited. Whenever we stopped the pressure he moved forward and got grain. Then Milt said to give his bum a few smacks with a crop, that it would be the last straw of annoyance and he'd load up. So there we were. Me in the trailer with the short lead rope, Milt pulling back with all his might(on the rump rope, not the horses face) and using the rope around his rear, and Patty with a crop smacking his great ass.
After he realized that he could resist and be smacked on the butt with a light crop with a rope pressing into his hindquarter or walk softly up into a bucket of grain he stopped being such a mule. All it took was two times with the rope method and then over and over we did it with nothing but a carriage whip if we needed some reinforcement from behind.
When the trailer portion of the lesson was over Milt rode him for an evaluation and to test him crossing over water. We walked down the driveway to a meadown across the road and Milt put him through his paces. He walked, trotted, cantered, and went through waist-high grass without eating.
Since Merlin isn't thrilled about streams, Milt basically made him stand it one. He started pawing the water, taking great spraying mouthfuls and loving it! Then without any issue he walked right up and down the rocky stream! What a sight, all that was!
We also got to try on a driving harness and hitch him up to a forecart. Sadly, no driving today as the rig wasn't pony-modified and too large for him. But we learned what he needed (24 inch hames, a 23 inch collar pad, and a haflinger-sized harness). It was still a treat to see him hitched up, calm as a saint, and waiting for a chance to drive down the road.
I think this pony will do it all. I really do.
P.S. This sounds rather violent. It wasn't. We were not causing Merlin emotional or physical pain. The "force" was the pressure of a rope behind his hindquarters and another on his halter holding his head so he couldn't turn around. The "whipping" of the crop was the same tap I give him in the dressage arena. I trust Milt, who trained Steele (who used to jump out of round pens and rear up in the cart harness!) and I trust Patty. No animals were harmed in the loading of this pony.
P.P.S. For more information on our exact technique used, check out pages 400-401 of Storey's Guide to Training Horses under the section "Loading the Spoiled Horse!" It explains the halter rope pull and rump rope method of loading in detail.