Like some other new horse owners, we bought a two year old filly with little or no practical knowledge or experience of horses. Misty was our family cob. I ‘started’ her with a traditional training book in one hand and a lunge whip in the other. And yes, many, mistakes were made. We were very lucky to have chosen a patient and good-natured horse.
My children had recently joined the local pony club and one thing I did know was that loading ponies into a horse box/trailer/float was frequently a huge problem. (See Shadow’s story) This, I decided, would not be a problem for us. So I borrowed a horse box and parked it in the field. Initially we fed Misty close to the ramp, then moved the bucket onto the ramp and gradually further and further into the box. She quickly learned that it was a great place to go….very rewarding. During the hotter days, she discovered that it offered a great escape from flies.
We never lead her or asked her to go in. She simply made her own arrangements. There was a front ramp so she could walk out and with no partition in a two-horse box, she could also turn around to come out herself.
So with a completely confident pony, we decided to formalise the training. The partition went back in and we lead Misty into the box. There was always a treat to be had inside and by now the sight of a horsebox was sufficient to have her attempt to tow her handler up the ramp! The one thing we did not train well was the backing off to unload. We had a front unload for years and it was never an issue.
Some years later, we had to ask her to back off. She happily obliged but then fell off the final step and gave herself a fright. At that point clicker training had come into my life and so it was easy to teach her to back out one step at a time with a click and treat after each step. We then warned her when she reached that step down with a verbal cue “step”.
Now she will happily back to close to the edge of the ramp and wait for her cue to tell her to step down.
When we moved to Kerry we were a completely horse-free family……not for long. Our eldest daughter, Ruth, discovered the local trekking centre and it quickly became her second home. I followed on then daughter number two and the rest is history.
I took part in my first hunt by accident (a story for another day) but then Fran, the owner of the trekking centre offered me one of her ponies, a 14 hand 2″ Connemara to go hunting (on the grounds that he was “pure useless at jumping”). Shadow LOVED hunting. He also proved to be very capable of jumping as I discovered one day when we came around a corner on a grassy track at speed to be faced with a five-bar gate…we sailed over it!
Subsequently, Ruth took him to her first hunt. Her father borrowed a horse box and set off with daughter and pony to the meet. A great day was had and Ruth and Shadow returned hours later, both still in a state of huge excitement. In fact Shadow was nowhere near ready to go home…..he wanted to go round again.
At this point in the family’s equine career, my husband knew that a horse had an end that kicked and an end that bit and very little else. He was not in any way prepared for a pony that wouldn’t load. Ruth, at about 12 years of age and with a year of pony club experience knew not a lot more. She made several attempts at loading Shadow without success, when, as they do, the “experts” all arrived.
Hubby, knowing no better, left them at it. There were whips, brushes and lunge lines applied to his rear. He was pulled and tugged. Feed was produced in an attempt to bribe him….all to no avail. One by one the “experts” drifted away leaving child and pony at the base of the ramp. Finally four strong lads strolled over. “Having a problem?” “fraid so”.
Without breaking stride, they divided up and each one dropped down beside a leg, got their shoulders in and bodily lifted Shadow onto the ramp. Like a flash they picked up the ramp and lifted….higher and higher, as Shadow contracted his body to keep himself back as far as he could until, finally, gravity took over and he shot into the box…..clunk, click and a “There you go Boss.” and the lads went on their way!!!!!