I have worked with Candy and her horse Enid on a number of occasions and we have since become good friends. The following is a wonderfully written review by Candy about our first session.
“Enid sometimes loaded, sometimes didn’t and today was obviously not going to be a good day I could guess by the mutinous look on her face that yet again, we were going to spend four to eight hours standing on the ramp arguing about how we are going to get there, until there wasn’t a lot of point in going in the first place. Two hours later, I was still circling to present her to the ramp and backing her up the road to show her who was in charge of ‘backwards’. Each time I stepped backward to encourage her up the ramp, feeding out the lunge line until I got into the box, she would jerk her head and catapult me back out of the lorry, to show me who was in charge of ‘forwards’. Push me-pull you. See-saw, Margery Daw, getting nowhere faster and faster.
Jo happened past, stopped with a cheerful ‘Hi!’ and stood and watched thoughtfully, as we went through our whole routine: getting to the foot of the ramp then backing up several yards at speed, planting all four feet at the bottom of the ramp; circling at the foot of the ramp then deliberately barging past it, sometimes stamping a foot on the ramp in passing protest; getting halfway up the ramp and jumping backwards off either side and rearing up; getting all four feet on the ramp and then falling asleep; getting to the top of the ramp and then throwing up her head to literally hit the roof and then backing off again in a panic; and then back to the beginning again. Enid became more and more hot and agitated and I became more and more cold and despondent. Perhaps we weren’t going to Riding Cub Camp in Rockbourne, after all, as soon it would be dark.
‘Can I help?’ asked Jo, kindly. The miserable look on my face and the mutinous look on my horse’s was enough and Jo went home to collect her pressure halter, gloves and lead ropes, while Enid and I both pulled grass and rested; without speaking.
Jo arrived back, put her pressure halter on Enid and then strangely, appeared to be trying to pull her head down to the ground. ‘Your horse isn’t halter trained.’ announced Jo.
‘Whaddya mean she’s not halter trained!’ I demanded, proudly thinking of the hours I had spent with her successfully teaching her to humbly follow behind me on a long, loose line; rather than haughtily and in outline, dragging me around on the end of a frayed piece of short, tight string.
‘I should be able to put her head anywhere I want.’ explained Jo. ‘This will stop her hitting her head on the roof, let me tell her to sniff the floor to reassure her it is safe and turn her head to tie her up inside. It will also calm her down. When her head is down then endorphins will release to relax her.’ I saw the value in this and immediately resolved to properly ‘halter train’ Enid using ‘pressure and release’ just as Jo was doing.
Jo began. One step forward, two steps back, one step back, three steps forward and countless numerical variations on this theme Jo explained again. ‘This isn’t so much about getting her loaded, it is about obedience training. She needs to learn that I am in charge of every single foot placement and that she doesn’t put any foot anywhere unless I tell her to. You can practice this on the ground with the labyrinth, random poles and raised poles.’
We started work on the ramp. Jo would gradually take up continuous pressure on lead rope, immediately releasing it as a reward for any indication of forward movement. Enid again went through her whole dance routine of evasions but with each evasion, Jo doggedly applied continual pressure until horse was offering forward movement in the direction of lorry and up the ramp until such time as Jo halted her. Each time, Jo stopped to wait for ‘lick and chew’, showing her acceptance of her authority.
After two hours of this, Enid gave in, skipped up the ramp and made to go into the box. To my surprise, Jo stopped her at the top of the ramp. ‘She only goes in when I say so.’ and she made horse back slowly down the ramp, turn a circle in each direction on the ramp and stand quietly at the top of the ramp staring in and being fussed and petted. Jo told me how it takes a long time for horses to adjust their sight from light to dark and it was only fair to allow them time to settle at the top of a ramp, rather than unreasonably expecting them to trustingly walk straight into a black blindness.
Finally, on Jo’s say so, Enid was allowed into the box, whereupon, Jo promptly turned her around to face back out again and halted her at the top of the ramp to make a fuss of her. Jo then led her slowly down the ramp, halting halfway down to stroke and praise her and stroke and praise her again when she was back on the ground. Jo repeated this several times until Enid followed her in and out of the box several times, willingly and without hesitation. Then Jo gave me her rope to lead her in and out before closing the partitions, tying her and bringing up the ramp. And we were off, off to Rockbourne, off to Riding Club Camp!”
We have since worked together to improve Enid’s spatial awareness and we’ve done some loose work to look at ways to improve her way of going. Enid’s loading is much improved and Candy has a method that she can fall back on for those tricky days.