I really enjoyed the dialogue in the comments from yesterday's post. You all offered up some great suggestions and observations. For those of you who didn't follow the comments, here are some of the highlights we discussed and some further thoughts on the subject.
Kate mentioned the sounds their feet make on the ramp can be a concern to the horses. I concur, as well as add that the feel of the ramp under her feet is also disconcerting. I have a flat wooden bridge in my arena which Windy will cross, stand on, turn on, back on – whatever I ask her to do. However, one time I put a little lift under it so it had a slight (SLIGHT!) teeter totter effect and she would not proceed over it. It was the same bridge, same arena, same rider, but a different feel. By the same token, Butter stepped on it and walked right over as if there was no change in the feel of that bridge.
A few of you asked about the configuration of the trailer. It is a straight load, but you can move the stall divider off to either side & open it up, or you can take it all out. (Scroll down to earlier posts of pictures). When I initially tried to load her, I started with leaving it as a standard straight load. I have a bumper pull straight load with considerably narrower stalls and my horses are used to that set-up. In addition, my previous gooseneck had a stationary rear tack, so they always loaded through a narrow door. However, after she refused, I did move the divider off to one side hoping it would give her more of an appearance of a slant load. This didn't seem to make any difference in her approach.
Lisa asked about the inside appearance of this trailer vs. my other ones. Our previous gooseneck and my bumper pull are steel trailers and have white walls. This one is aluminum and all silver. For some horses, I think this could really get their attention, but I really don't think that is what concerns her. I have hauled her in a friend's aluminum trailer as recently as last month and in the past loaded her in stock trailers and other straight loads. This really seems to be ramp related.
I've mentioned how she has slipped on the ramp. The ramp is variegated rubber and isn't slick really. I think why she is slipping is due to the position of her body. She will put her front feet on it, but then shift her weight to her hind end and then slide back down. She is shod right now which makes it easier for her feet to slide. She is not panicked when she slides – it is just like she is backing out and just sliding rather than stepping and having to deal with that feel that disturbs her, she is sliding down it.
The couple times I have gotten her in, I haven't tried to close the doors or latch the butt bar. Only once – that first day – was she relaxed enough that I could, but I didn't bother that day. Incidentally, Butter was loaded in the other stall at that time, so I think that added a sense of comfort to Windy. But since that time, she hasn't settled the couple times she has been in. She stops and backs out. Again, not panicked – but just won't stand quietly and wait.
Yesterday I worked with her for a little bit before I loaded her in my bumper pull to go to a ride. I did what Jonni suggested; sprinkled feed on the ramp and she cleaned it up. I sat down in the trailer with some grain and thought she might try to move in closer to me. She didn't. She just stood at the end of the ramp with her back leg cocked, occasionally nibbling on grass, as if waiting for me to decide what we were going to do next.
Only once did I get her to put her feet on the ramp and that was when I offered her some clover. She took it from my hand and then quietly backed out, sliding those hooves back down the ramp. She will NOT pick up those feet! I lunged her some, I did do the "approach and retreat" with her a few times, but we didn't progress any further than the end of the ramp. She bumps the lip of it with her hooves every time – almost on purpose, and I'm not sure why? Perhaps telling me to move it?
I will say again that she has not panicked. When she has fallen, it's been because she has slipped. When she bumped her head, she had started to back out and I didn't release my hold and she tossed her head and hit it. On the same token, when I got my first two-horse trailer years ago, Blue was panicked when I asked him to load. All of his reactions were defensive. I would classify Windy's reaction as a cross between being confused and defiant. When Windy is afraid, I can see it in her entire body. I saw her grow to be 17hh just last week when a team of Belgian mules came pulling a wagon down the street toward us as we were getting ready for the parade. Her whole body stiffens and her stance is severe. She exhibits none of this when approaching this trailer.
I am going to hang up hay bags of alfalfa so it smells more inviting and toss some dried poop from the other trailer into this one to add a sense of familiarity. I am going to continue these mini-sessions until Colleen can come and help me work with her the Sunday after next. The more she is exposed to it, the easier it will be in a long run. And maybe she will just surprise me and hop right in the next time.
In the meantime, keep your cards and letters coming! Really, I have truly appreciated your feedback and your advice. I'll try to get some pictures next time.