This splendid chap whose real glory is hidden under his pyjamas, is Okey. His owner telephoned me on Saturday because although Okey had won his dressage competition, he then refused to load to come home. Eventually she rode him all 14 miles. Lots of horses seem to refuse more often away from home which would seem to be counter-intuitive; you'd think they'd be pleased to go home and relax. I don't know whether it is the excitement of the event or the weariness of the owner or the thought of more work (travelling is definitely hard physical work for horses) that puts them off. However, in Okey's case it seems that he wasn't entirely happy to go on at home either and tends to piaffe and bounce when the ramp is closed. As with all these things, I think there is an initial cause for the behaviour and an effective-ness to the behaviour which work in unison.
Today we made a gentle start on both. It had been evident to his owner that Okey wasn't very happy to be approached from behind when he was in the trailer. The temptation had been to get him in and the ramp closed pretty quickly without using a back bar. For safety reasons I prefer to work with a back bar and accordingly I needed to persuade Okey to trust people at his rear. I spent time making friends with his bottom - approaching him, rubbing him and then walking away, before doing some desensitisation with a fake bar (pipe lagging). Once he accepted this I began to use the real bar and to ask him to take a step forward when he felt it's presence behind him. Once I was able to put it in place and secured it without him minding, we had more time to very quietly and slowly close the ramp. The net result was that when the ramp was closed there was no drama, no piaffing and no bouncing. All the time that we were practising, Okey was being asked to load with very gentle pressure on the Dually with a very obvious release for each positive step and a clickered reward once he was all the way in. Very subtly we were asking him to flow on and off more readily and to trust us not to make it frightening for him. Now that all the foundations are in place, his owner and her husband will be able to practice on their own and I may or may not be needed the first time they decide to load him elsewhere.
Incidentally, I also got this e-mail from Jane with Mars recently: "You won't believe this but I loaded Mars into a lorry today and we went for a little ride! We put another horse up first who we knew would travel well, loaded his lordship, tied him up, shut the ramp and went! He did a couple of half rears but then settled, and unloaded quietly at the end! So now I need to buy a lorry ... x"