In-Hand Harmony

The Trainer’s Horse Refuses To Load

Spruce Mountain Open SpaceThere I was in the Spruce Meadows Open Space parking lot after our ride up around Spruce Mountain.  We rode by ourselves and no one else was in the parking lot.  Our rig was parked at the top of the lot near the gate and the porta-potty, with the truck facing downhill and the trailer door facing the gate.  Tobias refused to get into our trailer — and I am a horsemanship coach who specializes in trailer loading…

The parking lot, sans cattle, the day I returned to take photos.

The parking lot, sans cattle, the day I returned to take photos.

We had ridden at Spruce Mountain about a week ago.  There were signs on the gates indicating that cattle were grazing and to keep the gates closed.  However, the gates were chained and locked open that day and we didn’t see any cattle anywhere.

Today was different.  There were cows in the distance as we left the Spruce Meadows parking lot heading for the Mountain trail.  If I had looked at the grazing map and schedule, I would have known which pasture they were actually in — but I didn’t even see it.  Besides, I wasn’t too concerned about the cows because last year Tobias and I had done a cow sorting clinic together — afterall, he is half Quarter Horse and loved herding cattle!

We encountered several mountain bikers, hikers and brightly clad children climbing rocks along the trail — all of which Tobias was very comfortable with.  It was a gorgeous day to be out with a nice cool breeze once we were out of the open and in the trees.  Since the gates weren’t locked open, we were sure to close gates after us.  Interestingly, even on our way back (and in the parking lot) someone had left the gates open.

The connecting trail between Spruce Meadow parking lot and Spruce Mountain.

The connecting trail between Spruce Meadow parking lot and Spruce Mountain.

A gentleman on his Fox Trotter noticing the cattle.

The day I returned for photos, I met a gentleman and his Fox Trotter. Here they are cresting the ridge and noticing the cattle for the first time.

These two evidently had no problems moving through the cattle that scattered before them.

These two evidently had no problems moving through the cattle that scattered before them.

When we got within eyesight of the parking lot, we realized that the cows had moved from their distant grazing to being spread across both sides of the trail and surrounding the parking lot.   After urging Tobias repeatedly to walk on through the herd and not getting much movement, I released one of the bit buckles on Tobias’ reins, ran it through the bit (so he wouldn’t get caught on his reins if he took off) and led him through — even though Gerri Barnes had said the safest place for me to be with cattle is on my horse.

After unsaddling and bathing Tobias, I asked him to get into the trailer.  A cow (or bull?) on the other side of the parking lot fence must have thought I needed help herding him because it moved toward Tobias at the same time.

That was the tip of the iceberg.  Even though I remained calm and continued to ask Tobias to get into the trailer, my once confident horse became fearful and agitated.  He couldn’t even look inside the trailer and my asking became too much pressure for him — he was ready to blow.

I considered my options:

  1. I could continue using my usual strategies and phases (as outlined in “The Art of Trailer Loading” prior blogs).
  2. I could tie him to a fence post, with cows on the other side — and hope he didn’t freak out or get loose and run down Noe Road — while I moved my trailer to the far end of the parking lot.
  3. I could put him in the round pen in the corner of the parking lot, with cows on the other side — and hope he didn’t decide to jump or barge through the corral (which he is capable of) — and move my trailer.

Curious, aggressive or protective?

When I tried to think of the situation from Tobias’ point of view, or even just a safety point of view, none of these options appealed to me.  So I walked Tobias up and down the fence line in the parking lot, with me in between him and the cattle.  A couple of them stood firmly and watched us — especially the one with the white face and black eyes who was so helpful with herding Tobias into the trailer.

Open Range Cattle GrazingNow, there is a sign that clearly states, “Harrassment of Livestock Stictly Enforced – $300 Fine” and “Keep Your Distance From Cattle.”  I found myself wishing there was a sign telling the cattle the same thing about people and horses — but then again, cattle can’t read.  I ignored the sign and got my stick and string from the trailer and, from our side of the parking lot fence, began herding a few cows from behind our trailer and around the corner to join the other cows.

This took me just a couple minutes with Tobias remaining calmly at my side.  After moving the cattle, I once again asked Tobias to get into the trailer.  He walked right in, I closed things up and we were on our way.

Happy Trails!

The point here is that no matter how much we prepare, we can’t always predict what situations we might get into.  The same strategies that work at home won’t work in every circumstance.  But if we keep calm, look at things from our horse’s point of view, put safety first and get creative, then things will generally turn out pretty well.

Cattle In Open Space
Resources:
A map and schedule of the grazing rotation is posted at the trailhead.

A map and schedule of the grazing rotation is posted at the trailhead.

 

2 thoughts on “The Trainer’s Horse Refuses To Load

  1. Diane

    Very brave of you, Cath, to post this to your blog! But it was an excellent example of what we should all do when faced with an unusual situation: stop, think things through, choose the best option you can come up with. You came through like a champ! Thanks for sharing your adventure!
    Diane

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