Monday, May 28, 2012

training day

Today was a full day dedicated to Merlin and his trailer-stubborness. I was warned when I first picked him up that he was a fussy loader, but that day we left his old farm he walked right into the trailer as if it was the land of grain and honey. A few weeks later we loaded him up again for our first ever trail ride and again, not a single problem. I quickly learned this was our honeymoon period.

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.


Anonymous janet gordon said...

Glad he's doing your bidding now. The old rope around the bum trick works very often with loading problem horses
You need to practice this new skill often with a treat given once he's in then back him out and go about your other business. Nice to see you getting the better of his tricks. It will add to your enjoyment and add to his usefulness.

May 28, 2012 at 7:43 PM  
Blogger Lynnanne said...

Well, how cool is that... seeing that black beauty load without a hitch. Good job to you both! :)

May 28, 2012 at 7:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yum yum, what a handsome boy. So beautiful and learning to please. You are most wise to have engaged an expert. A good lesson for us all.

May 28, 2012 at 8:35 PM  
Blogger HotFlashHomestead said...

What you did today is standard practice for many horse owners, including myself. Some horses just don't like to load, and using this method they can't get what they want (which is to go back to the pasture or barn). Congrats on learning this very necessary technique!

May 28, 2012 at 9:11 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...


May 28, 2012 at 9:38 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

A LOT of people use the butt-rope trick. I have even done the - two people hold hands and you use your arms as a butt-rope. Not nearly as easy but does the trick.
Also if you are on your own and he balks - get the butt-rope use it like you were shown and also a long line (lunge line or whatever) and lead that up through the trailer in a similar fashion. Basically you will be driving him in from behind. Best of luck.

May 28, 2012 at 9:39 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Oh Jenna. This soooo does not sound violent! If the worst that happens to Merlin while you have him is that he has a rope go around his backside, he has it made! Just take a look at Brian Ross' latest expose on the abuse of some of the Tennessee Walker horses...

I am glad to see that Milt had you working with Merlin. It is tough when a horse will do as asked by the trainer but turn around and not do the same thing for the owner! (which is where I am currently at with my new horse).

Whips, if used correctly, are just an extension of one's arm and you are spot on. Horses are so much bigger than we are-we often need all the help we can get when working with them!!! :)
Lisa in Maine

May 28, 2012 at 9:40 PM  
Blogger macbew said...

I didn't think it sounded at all violent, just some encourgement during his training. The video was impressive.

May 28, 2012 at 9:51 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth from the Berkshires said...

That video was awesome. Well done, both of you!!

May 28, 2012 at 9:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Totally non-violent, instead a safe, easy way to load a horse. You may have to repeat a few times, but it is definitly an easy training aid. I even had to to it to my mini-horse who did not want to load. Yeah!

May 28, 2012 at 9:56 PM  
Blogger PattyW said...

We had a great day. Full of learning and opening doors to more adventures. It was so important to have a knowledgable horseman get Merlin through these hurdles. He took only two times to be convinced that the trailer was a happy place to be - and there is sweet feed in there too. After that he jumped right on. No one and certainly no animal was harmed. Merlin is much safer to load after today and happier to do it. Good for you Jenna and Merlin.

May 28, 2012 at 10:53 PM  
Blogger The Kelly's Adventures in KY said...

Way to go Jenna! Glad you and Merlin had a successful training session with Milt!

May 29, 2012 at 7:42 AM  
Blogger The Kelly's Adventures in KY said...

Way to go Jenna! Glad you and Merlin had a successful training session with Milt!

May 29, 2012 at 7:42 AM  
Blogger Jamie said...

We've used the same technique with a lunge line or with two people holding hands and making an "arm" rope as mentioned above. Glad Merlin figured out it was easier to do what you want than to be mule-ish!

May 29, 2012 at 8:12 AM  
Anonymous Alicia (Nika) said...

That's awesome, Jenna. I have seen that trick used before.

May 29, 2012 at 9:21 AM  
Blogger Tina - Our Rustic Roots said...

We did that same thing with a bull when I was a kid, it wasn't violent then, either. Glad it went so well! It's certainly more safe for you AND Merlin now, which is so important.

May 29, 2012 at 2:40 PM  
Anonymous Linda said...

Anyone that has loaded horses has had to use this method at one time or another. As Jenna said there is no harm to the animal and it is so nice after the training that you horse will load easily.
Alot of times when we would cross water with our horses when they started pawing the water if you were not careful they would want to lie down in the water with you to cool off. Merlin has such a beautiful shiny coat.

May 29, 2012 at 3:37 PM  
Blogger The Village Queen said...

Well done! Thats not a violent technique at all, it works and has been used for years. I used it 30 years ago on my big stubborn part quarter horse who hated being trailered most of the times. Some days he would walk right in, and some days it was a 2 hour fight. But I never let him win even if we missed the show. The final cure was putting the trailer in the pasture, securing it, and then feeding him in it for a month. That got to be his happy place and rarely had trouble after that.
Merlin has a lot of pony in him, obstinate just for the sake of it and a fast way to his heart is through his stomach! Good boy!

May 29, 2012 at 3:40 PM  
Blogger Kara said...

This is a great technique! And it doesn't sound mean at all, horses move away from pressure, you're just helping him make the "right" choice..

Great Job!

May 29, 2012 at 3:48 PM  
Blogger Kara said...

This is a great technique! And it doesn't sound mean at all, horses move away from pressure, you're just helping him make the "right" choice..

Great Job!

May 29, 2012 at 3:51 PM  
Blogger Karen said...

No need to apologise for the methods used. Not violent at all.

May 29, 2012 at 9:04 PM  
Blogger Lauren said...


May 29, 2012 at 10:05 PM  
Blogger Sue Steeves said...

Great job you two! I have also used this method many a time :)

p.s. Merlin is looking fit as a fiddle!

May 30, 2012 at 8:49 PM  

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