Golden Creek Equine has been busy with both the facilities and the horses. Racing season is again upon us at Fonner Park in Grand Island, NE. Renee (Whatsallthedrama) and Geno (Geno’s Bambino) left for track and will begin training on February 14th. We expect that they will be ready to race in about a month. The other racehorses are at home working on their fitness for the Arapahoe season in Colorado and the Wyoming season in mid-summer. Our project horses are coming along well. Socks is preparing for the Colorado racing season. He is still as agreeable and easy to train as they come! Vinny is standing his first season at stud, so we are excited to see what his foals look like next spring. In the meantime, Vinny is continuing training so he can begin showing in reining in the fall or next spring. He has become a fun horse with a great personality. Dexter is lungeing over four foot fences now and jumping with a rider over three foot fences. He is working on his confidence, but the boy has beautiful form and a lot of power!
The facility is moving forward in preparation for the summer. The arena has a good base. The sand and GGT Textile additive will be installed this March. The obstacle course is also underway with the designing and layout of materials. We will post pictures of the obstacle course as construction moves forward. We are open to suggestions on obstacles, if you would like to see something specific. The water obstacle will even be ready for summer use!
Both Kate and one of her students, Michelle, have been accepted to compete at the 2016 Thoroughbred Makeover in Lexington, Kentucky. Michelle will be competing in show hunter on Cattybanker, a horse we brought home from Arapahoe. Kate is waiting to see how the horses race before deciding who to take.
This blog, however, is going to focus on trailer loading, a common and frustrating problem. We recently had difficulty loading Geno. We only had muddy or icy ground available, which limited the techniques that we could use. When faced with a difficult loading situation, the first thing to do is remember to stay calm. It is not appropriate to practice trailer loading for the first time when there are time constraints. Try to pick a time when you have several hours to dedicate to it. This helps alleviate the urgency and lower the anxiety that is present with trailer loading. Second, wrap the horses legs. This is, unfortunately, often overlooked. Many years ago, we learned this lesson on a horse that was refusing to load. When he finally did load and started to back out to finish for the day, he slipped and cut his fetlock. It took stitches and several months to heal properly. Shipping boots can be inexpensive and easy to apply. We often use bell boots on all four legs to prevent cuts to the coronet band.
Once the horse is wrapped, find the most flat and dry spot available to you. A wet or slick surface is not always avoidable, as we found with Geno, but it is much safer to work on dry surfaces. You may also want to look for a location far from obstacles, such as fences, hydrants, etc. You will want to have a treat bucket in the trailer within easy reach and a long whip, such as a buggy whip. A breakaway halter is often a good idea, as well, because a horse can easily catch the halter on a latch and panic.
The goal with trailer loading is to keep the horse quiet and work on the response to the aids. You will practice basic leading with the trailer as an obstacle. If you think about the goal of the training session as improving your horse’s response to the aids rather than actually getting the horse on the trailer, it helps reduce the frustration involved with the exercise. Practice standing on the trailer, putting a little bit of pressure on the halter, and using the whip as gently as possible to bring the horse forward. A single step or the smallest movement forward will suffice. Release the pet the horse. If the horse moves backwards, apply light pressure and touch with the whip. Follow the horse backwards until he makes a slight move forward. Release then ask again for forward motion. Continue using the lightest pressure possible to teach the horse how to come forward off the lead rope and from the whip. If the horse becomes crooked, use the whip on either side of the horse to teach him to move sideways. This will mean that you can stand at the trailer door and control the horse’s direction side to side and front to back. Remember to practice backing the horse away from the trailer, as well.
The treats can be used to reward the horse’s efforts, such as a hoof on the ramp or trailer floor. If the horse and handler remain calm, trailer loading becomes much more safe. This can be one of the most dangerous things that we teach the horses. Most horses will stall outside the trailer for several minutes to several hours then finally load. It is also common to repeat the procedure several days in a row before the horse readily loads and unloads without anxiety.
In the years of teaching horses to load, this has been the most reliable method for us. Other methods have their place and may work better for some, but this is one more to add to the tool box for the future.
Happy riding and trailering!