Learning Loading, Practicing Patience

by Tabitha Farrar

I’m an impatient person, and I always have been. This is one of the reasons that horses are so good for me, because in order to achieve anything sustainable with a horse, one has to have patience.

Trailer loading is important to practice regularly if you have horses. Loading into a metal box that bangs and echos is a big deal for a flight animal. Yet, we need them to be able to do it. This skill isn’t just for horses that go to shows and competitions and clinics. Trailer loading is important for all horses in case we need to evacuate the property due to fire or flood. It has been on my mind since I started at Medicine Horse Program that I need to have trailer loading sessions with all our horses.

A couple of months ago, we had some new program horses arrive at Medicine Horse Program. Spirit and Noble. Spirit, before coming to MHP, had some gnarly trailer experiences. In fact, he has a scar on his face that is due to an accident that he had in a trailer a couple of years ago. As a result of this experience, Spirit was nervous about any enclosed spaces, and even around things like walking through gateways. In the last month or so, I have been working on Spirit’s trust and confidence about going through gates, in and out of barns, walking over tarps, and other obstacles. He has done really well in a short space of time, and I think that he is going to make a wonderful therapy program horse for Medicine Horse Program.

Today I decided I would trailer load Spirit.

As we approached the trailer. Spirit gave me a flat “No!” The biggest “No!” he has given me over all the training challenges I have asked of him. Sure, the first time I ask him to do something new he would often give me an “Are you sure?” and would question, but this was a big old “Hell no!” He didn’t even want to go near the trailer. As soon as he saw it he ran backwards at full speed. I guess I knew then, that this wasn’t going to be a five minute training session.

I’ve been here many times before with horses. When fear can lead them to do just about anything to get away from what you are asking of them. Yet, no matter how many times I work through something like this with a horse, I always learn something about myself. I learn about what my thoughts do when I am challenge, how my brain often wants me to run away too, and that just because I have thoughts of giving up, doesn’t mean I will.

Getting Spirit onto the trailer the first time took some time. Some parts were dramatic, especially at the start, when he tried to intimidate me into giving up. Some parts were tedious, especially towards the end, where he was almost committing to me, then changing his mind due to his fear. And for me, my challenge was patience and consistency to hold the space and keep asking for his trust as he cycled through all these stages.

When I watch my thoughts in times like this, I can see my own cycle of emotions. I can watch my patience being tested. Thoughts such as: Why did I pick today to do this? This is taking longer than I thought it would. I’m hungry. It’s lunchtime. I want to go home. I should give up, this isn’t going to happen. I have too much else to do today to spend any more time here with this horse.  

It is as if my brain can be having a tantrum all of its own. But I’ve been here so many times before that I know just to let those thoughts pass. Those are just my impatient-brain thoughts. I am used to those. They don’t mean anything. Stay present. Stay calm. Breathe. Stay here, with this horse, right now, and keep asking.

And then, over forty-five minutes into the process I relaxed into and accepted the idea, that it was okay if we stayed here all day. That other things would have to wait. That I was committed. And it was okay to be here a while.

Five minutes later, Spirit was on the trailer.