Sometimes, it’s hard to see the improvements in your situation. You might be somewhat aware that you’re making progress, but the actual proof isn’t readily recognizable in day to day events. For example, when you are raising a puppy, you may realize that he or she is getting bigger. Until someone comments on how the puppy has grown, or until you see some older pictures though, it doesn’t really hit home how much has changed. (Happens with human kids, too!)
I had one of those moments where I got a glimpse of the progress that Sunshine and I have made. Everything just lined up today, and I got a very pleasing surprise.
I had Sunshine in the arena, and was dragging ground poles and rolling barrels around with his “help”. Very astutely, Liz asked if I was making a trailer. I admitted that I was. Dave heard and offered to back a trailer in the arena. After protesting about the amount of work that would require, and hearing that it wasn’t that much work, I decided to accept the generous offer. I was curious to see what would transpire when Sunshine was faced with an open and empty trailer.
The last time loading was attempted with Sunshine, it was during a clinic, and, well, I’ll just say that he didn’t get in the trailer. He shared his opinions about getting in the trailer loud and clear. And, that had been at least a couple of years ago.
As Dave was backing the trailer in, Sunshine and I continued to drag poles and roll barrels, clearing a path for the upgraded challenge. He was on higher alert with the noise and activity. I let him watch what was going on, and when I felt that he was just a little too focused on the events occurring, I would gently make a request. Gently, and insistent and the same time. Something that he is helping me get a better feel for every time we work together. What I like to think of as gentle strength.
As the trailer entered the arena, Sunshine had an outburst. He spooked, and then whirled. As he whirled, his head tipped away from me, and I let go of the rope. I saw it coming, and knew that I was not going to be able to change that chain of events. Sunshine ran a few strides and then stopped. I picked up the rope, and asked him to follow me. We returned to stepping over poles and moving around the arena in a more connected fashion. It worked to bring Sunshine’s state to a more calm and agreeable place.
I shared my plan to start off just walking my red horse by the trailer. I got some validation that the plan sounded appropriate. Always helpful to have validation! My intent was to keep us both in a peaceful and balanced state as we took baby steps toward our challenge. I will confess that I was surprised to see that it was possible. Not only that, it was easy. So easy that I decided that we were going to take another baby step.
My next plan was to walk in the trailer, and just see what Sunshine would do. I was not going to request that he come into the trailer. Of course, I still had my intent to maintain the state we had been able to achieve together. I will share that I had some candy cane pieces in my pocket in case there was need for celebration and rewards.
I walked into the trailer. I had a very long rope, with enough slack that neither of us would feel any pull as I went into the big metal box. It turned out I had way more line available then I needed. I went into the trailer and turned to see Sunshine stepping up onto the ramp. I did not get greedy and ask him to come into the trailer. He continued his forward movement. His front feet were in the trailer and his hind feet were on the ramp. I gave him a piece of candy cane and did a happy dance in my heart. Not too happy, because I did not want to break the state at all. Neither did I ask Sunshine to move further in, nor out, of the trailer. I stuck to my previous plan of walking into the trailer and letting him decide what he did. When he backed out, I stayed in. He came forward again, and got another treat. After that, he backed out, and I followed to keep the pressure out of the situation.
After some maneuvering around the arena, I went back into the trailer. Again, I was followed. More internal heart happy dancing. I decided that this would be the last time I went in the trailer. When Sunshine backed off the ramp, our work with the trailer for the day was done. As Dave drove it out of the arena, I decided that I would unhalter Sunshine, and let him have some time to release his tension through movement. He had done an awesome job today, and I didn’t want to ignore that it was tough for him. I think he left 5 or 6 piles of manure in the arena from the time the trailer started appearing until the final dismount off the ramp.
I believe that was the perfect option for Sunshine. There was some trotting and cantering around the arena with much head swinging. (One of his signature moves.) He allowed me to put his halter on and lead him outside without any fireworks. Or even any sparklers. We have made progress.