How Spooking the Horses on Purpose Helped Keep Them Safe When It Mattered

It’s my mission in life to scare our horses.

I don’t do this to be cruel; on the contrary, I try to induce their heart attacks from the safety of their home on our farm, so that when we take them out into the big, unpredictable world, they are more likely to remain calm no matter what they encounter.

balloon in barn yard

I had high hopes for Waving Man. They got over him way too quickly.

I never expected the practice to help save their lives.

In October, Matt and I took Yukon and Isabella to a Jonathan Field clinic in British Columbia, where we had a wonderful time riding and learning for three days.

mare and rider

Isabella was 6 1/2 months pregnant at the clinic, which was our last riding hurrah until she foals. Look at that belly!

After the clinic, we were driving to the border with Yukon and Isabella in our 3-horse trailer when we were suddenly struck by an SUV. Thankfully, no one was hurt, but our truck was inoperable, and as the hours ticked away and we waited for help, it became apparent we were going to have to unload the horses in the dark, in the middle of the intersection, with traffic rushing past in an adjacent lane and the lights from the fire trucks and flares blazing away.

Some Good Samaritans gathered to help, including Jonathan Field, who drove his own truck and trailer to the scene in order to transport our horses back to his farm. While fire rescue officials helped block traffic, and Matt and another man stood at the ready to grab a panicking horse, Jonathan unloaded first Isabella, who he handed to me, and then Yukon. Both horses calmly walked off our trailer, sauntered across the intersection and loaded right up into Jonathan’s trailer without any hesitation, not so much as glancing at any of the flashing lights or intimidating fire trucks.

Jonathan shook his head and said, “I’ve never seen anything like it–I can’t believe how calm they were! What a foundation!”

To all the humans there, it was indeed amazing, and we all breathed a huge sigh of relief. But I think that if we could have read our horse’s minds, they would have been thinking something like this:

“Interesting. All this must be another one of our Human’s stupid stunts that always turn out to be nothing to get excited over. Ha. Good try, Human.”

truck and horse trailer

Yikes. Our truck and trailer, shortly after The Wreck. Thankfully, no one was hurt, and we learned that it really is next to impossible to spook the horses.

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Up We Go! The Filly Learns How To Load Into a Horse Trailer

For non-horse people, this won’t seem like a big deal.

To horse, people–well, it’s HUGE.

Four-month-old Wilhelmina had her first trailer-loading lesson today with the help of the wonderful horse trainer Sus Kellogg of Free Horse Farm, and it couldn’t have gone more smoothly.

A horse’s first trailer-loading lesson is hugely important as it creates a memory for the rest of their life, and determines if they’ll associate the horse trailer as a pleasant place to hang out or as a dark, menacing cave they were forced into and will forever fight to avoid. I’ve seen horses lather into a sweat, rear, bolt and injure their owners because they did not want to load into a trailer. So for Wilhelmina’s first lesson, we asked Sus to please guide our girl because Sus is an amazing horsewoman who has impeccable instincts and timing. She’s also very kind; overall, the perfect person to introduce the filly to this milestone. Sus met Wilhelmina shortly after the filly was born and has a real affection for her.

She’s not the only one–Wihelmina has become a barnyard favorite of guests because of her confident, friendly personality. It’s hard to not get overly attached to this little girl, even though we bred her dam, Neela, with the intent to sell that foal. After all, this is a working farm. And I already kept Quill, the colt, Neela’s foal from two years ago. We can’t keep them all!

Still, it will break my heart to part with her someday. For now, she’s still nursing and I don’t intend to wean her until about eight months, so that’s a few more months down the road.

Meanwhile, we enjoy her while we can.

filly

Me and Wilhelmina, with Neela, her dam, in the background. I was going to take a selfie when Matt beat me to the picture. He teased me about cuddling up to the filly, and then…

man and filly

…he couldn’t resist her, either.

So, back to the trailer loading. Sus brought her over her trailer for the lesson, because it’s taller and wider than ours and therefore, less intimidating to a horse.

filly and horse trailer

It looks scary! Wilhelmina paws as she tries to summon up her courage to go inside the trailer (hint: Her “auntie” Mocha is already inside, and her dam, Neela, was within eyeshot).

filly and horse trailer

Hmm, it DOES look interesting! Wilhelmina gets curious about what it’s like inside the horse trailer as Sus patiently waits.

filly and trailer

The front feet are the hardest part! The floor of a horse trailer makes a loud “boom” noise when hooves step on it, which can be very scary. Still, when Sus asked, Wilhelmina obediently gave it a try. A couple of times, she hopped her front feet into the trailer and then scampered back out at the noise. But pretty soon…

filly and horse trailer

…she put all four feet in! We hoped that the filly would feel comfortable enough to pause for a few moments, and perhaps even relax. I would have been happy had she stayed inside for one full minute…

filly inside horse trailer

A full 45-minutes later, Wilhelmina stands hip-shot, totally relaxed and snoozing inside the horse trailer, her “Auntie” Mocha next to her, also hip-shot. We started wishing the filly would come out!

filly and horse trailer

Finally! With her dam, Neela, nickering nearby and reminding her that she hadn’t nursed in more than an hour, Wilhelmina decides it’s time to leave the trailer.

filly unloads trailer

…and calmly steps down.. She was fussed over and then reunited with Neela. Yay!