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August 30, 2012

Trailering With Your Human, Part 1

You can give your Human the impression that you're considering going on the dreaded trailer by sniffing the ramp while keeping your feet firmly planted. Photo by Coree Reuter.

Across the country, horse show season is in full swing, and you know what that means—potentially long rides in hot trailers with inadequate snack options (I asked for alfalfa, not grass hay, stewardess!) next to that one gelding in the barn who spits when he snorts.

A common misconception among horses, I’ve found, is that the most appalling part about climbing into a trailer is its obvious tendency to house Monsters. What’s really terrifying is that the whole process is a subtle power play by your Human, and it’s very dangerous to let him or her think it’s OK to play at being your leader successfully.

Showing Humans can be fun, but often they want to take you to a busy, noisy event long before they are ready for it. Besides, I’m not sure if it’s worth one more bumpy ride that leaves me more wobbly than that one week I convinced my Human to feed me Guinness in my dinner.

Work To Your Strengths

As with any activity, it’s important to consider your individual strengths and weaknesses when choosing a trailer resistance tactic. For those who are inclined toward haute ecole, jumping and rearing on the grass behind the ramp is a fantastic idea—if you exhaust (or terrify) your lazy Human fast enough, she might give up on the idea of trying to show you at all.

Readers with a well-oiled reverse gear should consider that flying backwards off, or away, from the trailer is fantastically effective. Humans can rarely keep up with you, and a good, firm jerk on their limbs is a sure reminder that they are dealing with a much greater force than themselves—a reminder that will no doubt continue to ache well into the rest of the week.

Personally, I like to take advantage of my, ah, ample hindquarters during these silly tiffs. I pick a point on the ground, usually just behind the base of the ramp, and plant my front toes on that point. I learned early on that passive resistance is much easier than any sort of activity. When my Human tries to push or startle me from behind, I stand firm, and when she tries to pull me from the front, I use the neck extension tactics I learned from a donkey in my hometown. This gives her the illusion that I’m considering climbing aboard, and it really relieves some chiropractic stress brought on by her insistent whining. If absolutely necessary, I can lean extremely far forward, rocking onto my tiptoes (to nab a treat) without actually moving my feet.

This tactic works wonders, particularly if you have recently put on a few pounds. I recommend testing it out in your barn’s crossties while your Human is grumphing her way into her tall boots. Use the crossties for balance. Extra points if you break them in the process.

Highlight Your Areas Of Concern

My major issue with the trailer is leadership control, but when I get bored of obsessing about that, I find the lack of amenities on the thing upsetting. My Human used to coax me forward with a particular kind of cookie (No, any Meadow Mint will not do, I need the pink ones), but it quickly occurred to me that there had to be better stuff out there. Now she tries to load me with 14 percent sweet feed. That’s more like it.

If the darkness of the trailer isn’t to your liking, refuse to get on until they open up some windows or, if you stall long enough, are forced to turn on the interior lights after dusk.

If you find yourself getting a bit claustrophobic, begin refusing to load if there is any sort of bar or divider up. If you climb aboard and hear the Human fooling with bolts or chains on the butt bar, back out immediately. Do this repeatedly until she gets the point.

Play To Your Human’s Areas Of Concern

If for some reason you are tricked into putting your front feet into the trailer, always remember that unless your Human is woefully fashion unaware and has bought you one of those head bumper things meant for a human mental patient, you can always threaten concussion. Lean against her tension on your lead when she gets too pushy, and raise your head to just below the ceiling of the trailer. She’ll be forced to release enough slack that you can probably back out. And, if the process gets harrowing enough for her, she may take your head bumper and check herself into the nearest mental health clinic.

If you feel the need to walk a few steps onto the ramp to appease her sobbing and pleading, make sure you are crooked. Bump into dividers and butt bars, or even the side of the trailer if you need to. If she can’t see that you “may have bruised yourself!” in this silly game through her tears of frustration, become very spooky about dividers, walls, doors, windows and basically anything solid.

Keep Your Emotions In Check

As easy as it is to get frustrated with your Human, remember—the average homo sapien IQ is light years behind yours, even with all that extra brain space. It takes them time to process. Getting emotional with them is only going to ruin your pedicure and could prompt them to pull out a longe whip or a broom. As always, remain firm in your convictions to avoid that trailer, and eventually they will start to get the message.

I love answering reader questions, and the barn finally got wi-fi! If you have quandaries about how to manage your human, please email me at JItterbugCOTH@gmail.com, and you may see your question appear in a future column.

 

Jitterbug is a Michigan-bred Professional Draft Cross who skillfully avoided saddles until age 5. Since then, she has been lauded for her talent in successfully managing humans while training herself to one day achieve eventing greatness. Jitter and her human live in central Kentucky. Photo by Dark Horse Photography.