I have been remiss in this area of his schooling. I am fairly confident that in his previous life as racehorse and hunter/jumper he was trailered quite a lot. But it has been my experience that not every one trailers their horses like endurance riders do. We (or I should now say, they) have very high expectations as to how horses should approach trailering. We (they) insist that horses should load quietly. So quietly in fact that they should want to get in even when you haven't completely opened the door. They should try to open the door themselves to save you the trouble. In fact, they should attempt to close the door behind themselves.
And that's not all. Once you've arrived at base camp, oops, I mean your destination, they should come off the trailer in exactly the opposite way that they loaded. They should look over their shoulder and really study where they are. They should ask at least three times, are you really sure that you want me to get off? And once you've convinced them that, yes, you do want them off, they should do it very, very slowly and immediately upon exiting they should drop their heads and look for something to eat.
And that's still not all. (I told you that endurance riders have tremendous expectations!) Once everyone is unloaded, your horse should be delighted to stand at the trailer all day long. He shouldn't mind that his buddy has walked away. He shouldn't mind that other horses are calling to him. He should have his head so far into his hay bag that he has completely forgotten about anything else. And when he pops his head out of the hay bag to get a breath of fresh air, he should look around for YOU, his trusted partner, and whicker at you softly when he makes eye contact. His whicker will say, Oh! There you are. I love you and trust you to take very good care of me. I will not run away, even if my rope becomes loose because I love standing by this trailer.
And when it's time to go home, your horse should nudge the door open and load himself while you're struggling with the hay bag that you refilled and are now trying to cram past his big butt.
That's how endurance riders trailer their horses.
I don't think that has been Sydney's experience, and I have been a bit remiss in his education. So I decided that I had better get to work. Fortunately he does have some pretty good experience already, and I have already done quite a bit of load and unload practice to help him navigate my pretty tall step-up. While I haven't driven him around, I have spent some time asking him to load quietly and unload just as quietly. My work must have paid off because he did both things very well on Monday's field trip.
Cha Ching's Mom boards less than ten miles away. It's an easy drive with two stop lights and three left turns. It seemed like the perfect destination for Sydney's first trip of 2012. He loaded up without a single bit of hesitation and unloaded even quieter. When I got in position to unload him, he looked over his shoulder and out the door for several seconds. He took a couple of short steps and listened for my cue that the step was coming. Just as he got to the edge of the floor, I reminded him to steeeeep, which he did. One foot hit the ground, the other foot hit the ground, he paused for a moment, Good boy, and quietly shuffled the rest of the way out. He didn't look for anything to eat, but I did have a horse treat in my hand that he took happily, if not completely focused on me.
I led him around the barn area for a few minutes waiting for his head to come down and for that deep breath to escape his body. Within just minutes I could see the tension slipping away. He was still quite curious and a bit of a lookey-lou, but I was okay with that. I saddled him up, put him on the lunge line for just a few minutes, and then did as quiet of a ride as I could. My goal for the trip was for him to never get excited. (There's a post coming about that in a day or so.)
After riding, I unsaddled, groomed, offered more hay and water, and then went to visit with Cha Ching's Mom for just a moment to give Sydney an opportunity to show how he would behave once I was out of sight. He didn't disappoint me. I gave him a few minutes alone, and then I stepped into his line of sight and called his name. He turned to look at me and seemed relieved to finally have found me. There were no theatrics though and he remained calm and happy.
We loaded up and made the short drive home. He stepped off quietly and was happy to be turned out for a few minutes to roll and amble in the warm California sunshine. It was a very successful day.