Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Loading Darby on the trailer today: Failed.

I had been loading him nearly every day since the last show because loading him after that show became a humiliating fiasco. Many nice strangers helped me with that, especially a lovely dark-haired woman who introduced herself, mid-struggle, as Martina. About the time I was ready to give up and try again later, a woman stuck her head around the corner of the trailer and said, "Can I help?" Martina said to me, "Now we'll get him loaded." I wondered, who is this person?

The new arrival said, "I'm going to take him away from the trailer and work with him for a minute." I turned the lead-rope over to her. She led Darby a little way out behind the trailer and began walking and stopping him. She carried a dressage whip and when he did not respond to her, she tapped him with it. Tap, tap, tap, until she received the response she wanted. Then she led him to the trailer and handed me the end of the lead rope. I was in the trailer, she behind, still tapping with the whip.

I'm not going to say Darby walked right in--there was constant tapping and a couple of times where he ran backwards until he hit the end of the lead rope and had to be urged forward again. But within five minutes he was on the trailer with the door closed behind him. I ducked out the people door at the front of the trailer.

"Thank you so much," I said to my savior. I stuck out my hand and told her my name. "Sue Black," she said in response, shaking my hand. She shook her head. "Two-year-old stallions," she said. "You got to get in their heads and convince them that you're the leader."

So since that day, a little over a month ago, I have been feeding Darby his breakfast on the trailer and last week we went to our second show and came home with no problem. Then Tim needed the truck over the weekend so I haven't loaded Darby for four days and this morning he wasn't having any of it. I tried to begin where we had left off, with him going in the trailer without me going in first. Why am I so stupid? He kept backing up. So then I began go with that program and shanked him backward. Then we get to the place where he won't even walk up to the trailer and I realize we have really gone backward, in space and in training, and I'm thinking Oh shit how could I be so stupid.

So I ease Darby up to the trailer, thankful that I have taught him to target on my hand. One tentative step at a time he works with me and I am so grateful that he is giving me this and that I haven't totally screwed him up. We get up to the door of the trailer and I walk in, up to where his breakfast is. I stand next to his bowl and lean toward him, putting out my hand for him to target on. He leans forward and touches my hand, then puts one front foot in the trailer, then two, target again, then the left hind leg, then the right. He takes a bite of his grain then backs off the trailer.

We do it again, target, walk, target, walk, back to basics. He gets on and off the trailer four times, the last time his bowl is empty and I pick it up and carry it off the trailer with us. We return to the barn. I am contrite and humbled. I put Darby in cross-ties and begin brushing him. He loves being brushed more than any horse I've worked with; he stands very still except for leaning into the brushing. I brush for a long time, working for his forgiveness which he gives much too easily.

When will I learn? Basics, stupid, basics. When you get in trouble you have to go back to the basics.

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