Oliver knocked my socks off at the end of our recent Horse Retreat, when he stepped up BY HIMSELF – AT LIBERTY – WITHOUT BEING ASKED – and repeatedly loaded himself into the float / trailer to help one of the visiting horses with their float training.
You might wonder at my assumptions that Oliver was deliberately helping the other horse, until you consider that I’ve been “hearing” horses with lots of validation for a long time now and we got gorgeous validation this time too. 🙂
Here’s the story…
Monyana was here with his owner Wyn for the Horse Retreat and needed to be float / trailer re-trained so he could go home in the same lovely energy that he’d found in the Retreat. Ir was taking FOREVER… but Wyn was committed to helping him to release old emotional stresses and tensions around the float and going slow enough to solve the problem and get him on happily.
Wyn and I looked on in wonder as Oliver strolled up to the float completely by himself – dragging the lead rope along behind him – and loaded himself repeatedly in the same baby step ways that I had used to Release Oliver’s own floating trauma way back when we did his float training.
He even showed Monyana all the ins and outs of getting comfortable on the float, which I’ll talk about in a minute. He completely caught me by surprise because all I was asking of him was to keep this horse company at the time!
Oliver himself had an horrific floating experience before he came to live with me. He exploded in the float while he was travelling – injuring himself and damaging the float, even getting his giant 18 hand body turned around and trying to come out the back.
It was such an enormously big deal that his old owner thought he “had a screw loose” in his brain and the incident was the beginning of her deciding to give him to me.
When I float trained him, it quickly became apparent that even our big float wasn’t big enough for this 18 hand horse. Just standing there relaxed with a low head set, his head was only three or four inches off the roof of the float. Braking a bit hard would cause his head to bang into the roof – even tossing his head at a fly was going to cause him to bang his head. (I’m manifesting a new extended height float for him!)
So not only did we have to do all the steps that it takes to Release the old trauma from his previous floating accident and whatever stresses and tensions had gone on before, we also had to do something to boost his confidence about the roof itself, because if it wasn’t the actual cause of his original trauma, it was at least a contributing factor to the drama of his floating accident.
Then we come to Monyana’s background
Monyana was a four star event horse, on the Australian Olympic team to go to London, when he was vet checked and eliminated for roaring. Roaring is a sound caused by a weakening of a flap in the throat and this weakness causes a restriction in breathing. There’s two of these flaps and their purpose is to open the windpipe for breathing and close the windpipe while eating and drinking. We humans have the same flap/valve in our throats. There’s a common surgery used to tie the flap back
Despite being offered vast sums of money at the time for this incredibly talented performance horse, Wyn decided not to go the surgery route because of the side effects. While I was doing a bit of research for this article, I could see why she would prefer to retire him, because after the tie back of the valve, the horse can get food in their windpipe which can cause coughing and choking as well as the possibility of pneumonia from inhaling their food or drink into their lungs.
We’re going to talk more specifically about roaring in another blog, because it looks like something exciting is happening with Monyana in that regard! Woohooo!
The miracle that was Oliver and Monyana together
Gosh my heart just swells with pride and appreciation for Oliver as I write this bit.
AT LIBERTY, completely UNASKED – I had my attention on Monyana, I wasn’t even looking at Oliver when he started – Oliver demonstrated ALL the float training steps to Monyana – EVERY LITTLE STEP, including a cute little thing where I had taught him to slow down and feel for the roof of the float with his ears. And while Wyn and I looked on in awe, he even showed Monyana that “ears feeling for the roof” thing that I had taught him.
There’s been something special happening around my place and it’s something that happens when our mind is open to the idea that our horse could have a better idea on how to do something than we do – SO LONG AS we pay attention when that happens.
They start coming up with more and even more better ideas! 🙂
It’s bigger than “just” giving the horse a voice and opening up your heart and mind to listen to them. It started off at our place with recognizing that what looked like Sunny bullying other horses at the gate, was actually the lead mare trying to organize everyone to politely stand off for me to come through the gate with a bucket of treats. It was her desire to make me safe, that was behind what I had considered “bad” behavior.
It was our disconnection that was making me unsafe, not her behavior. That’s a BIG DEAL right there folks!
When I made sure that we were connected, it brought a whole new and beautiful energy to that previously crowded gate. She stands everyone off in their place and they wait there politely until I come to them with the treat bucket. She has enormous pride in her job and I appreciate the heck out of her too. It’s all so EASY now!
Then Rapunzel stepped up to the mounting block and offered to be my personal horse the day Bobby retired. Right from the beginning, she has been offering me so much more than I dreamed she could give – you may have seen the posts on Facebook about her beautiful rearing on cue and our exploration of the capriole. You can find the capriole discussion about four posts down this Facebook page at the time of writing this blog.
And THAT gorgeous work came from not making her wrong when she gave me something different to what I asked for. It turned out that she just had a better idea.
And now here was Oliver doing something similar – of his own accord offering something special to Monyana, to Wyn and to me – something bigger than I would have thought to ask him.
You can’t see the look on my face. I’m shaking my head and smiling. 🙂
And here’s the validation
Here’s the validation that I was talking about at the beginning of this blog – Monyana proceeded to work HIS way through all those same steps on line AND AT LIBERTY TOO – including that whole, cute thing that Oliver showed him how to do – feel for the roof with his ears really carefully and experimenting with loading himself from the side of the float – all the pauses, all the baby steps – literally every step that Oliver had showed him. Until Monyana too had a Comfort Zone in the float / trailer.
I’ve known for a long time that horses are incredibly sentient beings – thinking in ways and to depths when they are not afraid, that astounded me. Most humans don’t notice, because most horses are either carrying some kind of stress and tension or they are experiencing it right now, in ways that make them seem not so smart. Us humans aren’t too smart when we’re afraid either.
If you haven’t got the free lessons The 9 Keys to Happiness with Your Horse yet, that bring understanding to this subject and talk about HOW to help a horse Release their fear and anxiety , then grab those freebies at this link. 🙂
My hat comes off to Wyn
I have to take my hat off to Wyn, who meticulously and with astounding patience took the time it took to get every step of this float training done in such a way that Monyana’s body continued to heal. She just didn’t compromise on what felt right and felt good to both her horse and to her. With lots of rests and long breaks and time for processing and healing, it took 3 days to do the job.
I think it was the continuing visible improvement in his body that kept her motivated and on path and the many glorious moments when both their hearts were filled with joy. <3 <3 <3
You’ll have to wait for the next installment about the roll on effect of all that healing! AND I took photos! 🙂
The steps I used to float / trailer train Oliver after his trauma
For the people that are always asking me how to help a horse who is difficult to load, there were a number of steps that I had to take to get Oliver calm and happy about being on the float after such a major trauma:
1. He went on the float obediently even though he was really nervous and unhappy, so I had to stop him on the ramp and work on developing a Comfort Zone instead and once THAT was in place, we could work on going forwards into the float with baby steps to extend his Comfort Zone. He had to first FIND a Comfort Zone around the float and THEN we could extend it to cover the full loading procedure. Does that make sense?
I suspect that this obedience was at the root cause of Oliver’s floating accident. A nervous horse in a float / trailer is a recipe for disaster at some point, because it can take just one thing to go wrong and the proverbial crap can hit the fan.
These days my priority is ALWAYS the Comfort Zone as being more important than getting on the float.
2. Within the practical steps of that float training, we had to do some releasing of trauma from the old floating accident This is wayyy too big a subject for a blog. There’s lesson after lesson in Fast Track to Brilliant Riding about developing the Feel necessary and the systematic application of that Feel to trauma release in all kinds of circumstances. Don’t anyone run out and buy Fast Track today though, because I’m doing my Christmas sale in the next week and I’m planning something special!
3. I taught Oliver how to bring his head down softly and develop a Comfort Zone around that and then how to back up with his head down and I did this BEFORE going into the float and then we continued that conversation, first on the ramp and then gradually further and further inside the float.
4. Then I had to show Oliver how he could find a Comfort Zone with the roof of the float. The roof of the float was part of his stress and tension around the float and his trauma and this was a very big deal. I had one of those moments of insight that flow when you are Present and used the butt of my whip to make a scraping sound on the roof of the float.
Once he’d developed a Comfort Zone around the scraping noise itself, I started to encourage him to reach for the roof gently and slowly with his ears, feeling for the roof of the float and then over a few sessions he developed confidence around being able to feel the roof and know where it was.
5. Then we had to get him so he could back up off the float, stop when asked before he was fully off and step forward again. That to me is a signal that they’re LIKELY to be ready for the next step. Your own Feel though is more important than my story!
6. Then I had to make sure that he was OK with higher energy when he was in the float, with me walking normally and a bit noisy on the ramp. There’s no good creeping around doing float training quietly when sliding the divider into place, doing the breeching gates up, getting the ramp up, then traveling and arrival as well can be noisy, often busy affairs.
7. I’m happy to use food in the float – once there’s no fear. I don’t like to use food or treats to bypass fear or anxiety, that risks biting us on the butt when that fear or anxiety comes whooshing back up when the pressure’s on.
7. And, do you know, as far as I am concerned, I haven’t even finished Oliver’s float training, because I haven’t transported him anywhere. The float was simply too small for him and I am manifesting an extended height float for his comfort and safety.
So that last step in my float training is to take a horse to a bunch of different places close by, preferably with good grass – unload them, give them a pick at the grass, load them back up and bring them home. Then I do that for a few days, with undemanding, feeling good activities at the other end of the short float travel, to create a feel good HABIT of good loading.
Fast Track to Brilliant Riding is the slow paced, step by step “clinic at home with your horse” that will give you the Feel for your horse that’s necessary to do what Wyn did so beautifully. If all you want to do though, is get your horse on the float, then I doubt this program will suit you, because it is LIFE CHANGING…