Friday, November 3, 2006

Trailer Terror

Friday November 3 2006

Trailers and trailering horses always makes me nervous.

An acquaintance of ours had a terrible trailer accident with her horse about 2 weeks ago. She was about to unload him, and she didn’t get him untied before he started backing out. He hit the end of the rope, freaked, reared up, got a front leg caught in the upper part of the trailer (where the horse’s head would be looking out), snapped it in two, then was caught there for a while. I don’t know the details, don’t want to know the details, just know that it was pretty awful.

Spice used to shoot backwards out of the trailer as soon as the door was opened. We’ve always been careful to make sure the horses are untied before any doors are opened, but it still scares me. One guy at a ride saw Spice come shooting backwards out of the trailer, and told us of someone whose horse was still attached when he did that; the horse’s back leg slipped under the trailer and he broke it that way. Trailers are just dangerous even if you do have a horse that doesn’t panic. You and a horse in a small enclosed place…

Spice has gotten better about flying out, and we’ve found that if you put her in last or next to last, she isn’t in such a rush to get out. A friend who was explaining this last accident said, “That’s why it’s so important that your horse will stand in there a while until you ask him to back out.” Common sense of course, but we’ve just never done it. We started that day on working with Spice to stand in there until we ask her to come out. It’s going to take a while.

And then we come to Stormy. Yes, we all know Stormy is The Most Beautiful Horse on the Planet, but, I must come clean, he is not the most intelligent one. When we first got him in our barn on the racetrack, he came with a reputation of being a flipper in the paddock. He never flipped in the two seasons of racing that I had him, but those reputations aren’t made up.

After his racing days were over and I’d had him a while, I witnessed him pull back when tied to a trailer; he panicked and fought and pulled so hard the rope broke and he fell over backwards – luckily not on cement. I saw him another time tied in a stall at the Hunewill Ranch where he jerked back, panicked, and would have done the same thing except the stall was small enough to bump his butt, which scared him into jumping forward, which eased the pressure on his head, which removed the impulse to panic and struggle. He since learned to spend all day tied to a hitching rail when he was being used as a dude horse, but, once a pull-back always a pull-back. He can never be trusted.

He also has a few trailer issues. He will back out of a trailer, but he gets very nervous about it the closer he gets to the end, and when he feels that foot going down to the ground, he panics and throws his head up, which results in a terrific bang on top of the head on the top of the trailer. Happens every time. He panics because he knows the trailer is going to bang his head, which it does because he panics. He’s also panicky when he’s separated from other horses unless we work on this diligently – and being turned out at Hunewill Ranch with 150 horses all summer, he has not been alone at all.

So, that set up the scenario for when Gretchen and I picked him up from the Ranch to haul him down south with Spice and Raffiq. Spice and Raffiq were unloaded and tied to the trailer; we were going to put Stormy in first since he’s the heaviest. (Uh, okay, I must come clean – the fattest.)

Stormy was getting a bit wiggy, because here was a trailer, the thing that bangs his head really hard every time he gets out of one, and it meant he was going somewhere, and that is always nerve-wracking, and even though 2 horses were standing there (and he knows Raffiq), well, it was just terribly unsettling. I led him into the trailer, and slipped his rope through the metal tie loop. Something in my head said something wasn’t right, wait a minute, and, instead of standing quietly facing forward, Stormy turned his head right, which pushed his body into me into the side of the trailer (meaning he was paying absolutely no attention to me), and still my hands wouldn’t start to tie the slip knot, because this did not feel right, and I was just about to call to Gretchen to come close the trailer door, and right then, Stormy shot out the trailer backwards and 15 feet beyond.

My heart was pounding because that right there would have been a disaster – a broken leg, him crashing back into the trailer into me, the rope breaking and smacking him or me in the face, whatever - the death of him if he’d been tied. Kind of makes you feel like throwing up.

I caught Stormy, who was still nerved out, and Gretchen moved Raffiq to the other side of the trailer, where Stormy would be able to see him when he was inside. She got on the door, ready to close it behind us as soon as Stormy got in, but, now that Stormy was wigged out, he didn’t want to go back in the trailer. He’d get close, then refuse and turn his body sideways. If I swing the leadrope at his shoulder, he knows that means to move forward, which he’d do, and get his front feet in the trailer, then jerk back out in panic again. Once, twice, then the third time he went all the way in and Gretchen had the door shut right on our heels. Stormy started to back up, but bumped his butt into the side of the trailer, and he stopped. He then followed me forward, and we stood there, with me petting him, telling him Raffiq was just there outside, (he could see him), and he calmed down. I didn’t tie him up till I was sure he was calm enough. If he panicked with me in there, there was no escape route for me but the back door, which he’d be heading for.

I tied him up, then backed up to swing the compartment door shut. He started moving backwards again, but I patted his big fat butt and told him he was okay, and he stopped moving, and I swung the door shut and pinned him in there. He started moving around, and I patted his butt some more, then slipped out, and we loaded Raffiq in right away. Stormy was fine after that, except maybe for being a little claustrophobic, being so fat and all.

The trip down went smoothly, and once we got to where Stormy was going to stay, I made damn sure Spice and Raffiq and Stormy were all untied, then we unloaded Spice then Raffiq. I wasn’t going to ask Stormy to back out because he’d slam his head again, so I had to let him turn around, which he was going to do as soon as I swung his gate open. Only thing was, he’s so FAT, he almost got stuck turning around, which made him start to get scared, which was going to make him bolt once he got unstuck. Which put me in a vulnerable position, trying to hold the gate open enough for him to swing around.

Anyway, he safely made it out, and he was happily reunited with his buddy Woody from last winter.

We loaded Raffiq and Spice back up and hauled them to their place, where I made Spice stand in the trailer before letting her out. She didn’t like it, didn’t take it well, and when I let her go, she flew backwards out the trailer, which is exactly what we don’t want her to do. I loaded her right back up, which she also didn’t take well, but once in, she stood there a little longer, and didn’t fly back out quite so fast.

That’s what we’re going to be working on this winter with everybody – trailer safety. It won’t guarantee no accidents, but it can reduce at least a few of the possibilities, and (besides being common sense), will just plain reduce trailer trauma for horses and people.

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