Monday, September 06, 2010

Bar and his outing trauma

Bar says thanks for the interesting adventures, but told us in no uncertain terms yesterday that he needs a little time to get used to all of this new stuff. This became a little more apparent when we went to load up for what should have been a routine outing to Willow Creek with our normal herd--Steve, Lena, Bar, and me.

We walked both horses down to the trailer, just like we'd done time after time BRSTA (Before Recent Scary Trailer Adventures). Normally, as long as Lena is standing there ready to load, Bar hops right in. Not this time. Nothing I did (or that Steve did from behind) could convince Bar to load for me. So we switched, and Steve loaded with me goosing from behind. That was okay, until I shut the divider and Lena wasn't in the trailer with him. It was like dynamite in a small container--exactly how he used to be when we'd load him in the front, which is why Lena used to have to ride in front. Thankfully, he will now settle out with a touch of my hand and at least stop crashing into the divider, though he still pawed until Lena loaded next to him.

It's just because I told Howie how great Bar trailers these days, I know it.

Our ride was great--it was an absolutely gorgeous day in Northern California. Our only mistake was starting out a hair too late and ending up stuck in traffic in Guerneville for 45 minutes. Amazingly, both horses were fairly calm and quiet during the stop.

On the trail, Bar was strong and steady and kept plugging away, both up and downhill. He would stop to rest sometimes, and I let him. It was never long, but it seemed to keep him from getting as tired and stumbly as he has in the past--especially on the downhill parts. It also seemed to help him focus better on his feet and on taking smaller steps with those big, long Thoroughbred legs, rather than rushing himself. He even handled an encounter with other horses on the trail with calm, quiet curiosity--a far stretch from his early fits of agitation in similar situations. We all had a nice rest stop under the fern-covered tree at the top--a tree that manages to keep the area underneath it wet enough year-round there was a tasty buffet of green grass for the horses to enjoy.

When we were done and had them tied to the trailer after untacking, he was relaxed and even dozing a little in the sun. He got his rubdown and was standing comfortably, hind foot cocked, quietly observing his surroundings.

Then I went to visit the bushes and didn't notice that Steve had untied Lena and they were over checking out the other horse trailers parked nearby (comparison shopping). I don't even know what made me turn around, but there was Bar, pulling back, spinning side to side, and very obviously agitated. I called down to Steve and just asked him to bring Lena where Bar could see her. He did--all the while speaking soothingly to Bar--and immediately the big, brown horse settled.

Until we tried to load them again.

Same routine. He would not get in the trailer for me, but finally did for Steve, then bounced--hard--until we got Lena loaded.

I'm vaguely disappointed, not particularly surprised, and actively thinking of ways to help him through this. I'm staving off guilt by remembering how much fun he had both at the beach and out at Ragle, and I really don't regret the last two trips at all. I just wish I'd known more before, but if I had, I might not have gone. If I hadn't gone, I wouldn't be learning how to be a better horse trainer. Right?

I do feel a little like I've triggered some horrid childhood memory, though. Sigh.

Our next step is either a ride with Katie and Sammy--she's familiar and she rides in front--or a ride with Katie, Sammy, Steve, and Lena. Probably both, in whatever order presents itself. I want him to trust me and look to me first, but he's a horse and he's a herd animal. Listening to him--taking his anxieties into consideration by keeping a familiar horse in the mix as we introduce new things--seems like the right step back to where we were before. That nice calm place where he jumped right into the trailer, stood calmly while Lena loaded, and didn't worry when he couldn't see her.

Just like on the downhill side of the mountain, sometimes you just have to take baby steps to get where you're going.


Anonymous said...

Three steps forwards, two steps back, that's the way it is with horses. He's just telling you where his comfort point is right now - it'll keep moving so he can do more and more for you, but you already know that takes time and patience. Sounds like he's doing pretty good, and really, really trying for you!

Unknown said...

We did this to help a horse for a while: We took his buddy over to the window so he could see/hear/smell him as he himself loaded. Then we loaded and unload three times.

It reduced the panic significantly.

You have to push through, that's the only way he's going to get better - if you keep gently forcing the issue.

Dave (aka Buckskins Rule) said...

What Kate & Breathe said. The fact that you were able to calm him down shows progress.

I have hauled Smokey quite a few times this year by himself. Getting him into an empty trailer has gotten progressively easier, and he spends quite a bit less time bellowing once we arrive at our destination, with no sign of any of his herdmates.

Bar will get there, because you are helping him on the journey.