My daughter, Jamie, joined a local trail-riding club. The trail-riding club meets at a trailhead within a half hour drive of our house. While the organized trail rides are fun for Jamie, there's a problem: she's always late.
I think the club is about ready to banish her. She's never been on time. Not once. It's not because we don't get up early enough. And it's not because we don't allow adequate travel time. Our chronic tardiness is due to a stubborn Morgan named Eddie. Eddie is Jamie's horse, and he doesn't like loading into his trailer.
Jamie says we need to be patient. "Think about it, Dad. To him, the trailer is a mysterious metal box that maybe has a wolf in it. It's natural for him to resist. We need to lower his stress level."
His stress level? What about mine? We've already done everything possible to make this a pleasant, nonthreatening experience for Eddie. We bought a big trailer with excellent airflow. We installed nonslip mats. We made sure that nothing inside can flop, bang, clang, or otherwise upset his fragile emotional balance. Heaven forbid we leave an errant string of binder twine hanging loose.
So right now, everything is packed, and we're all ready to go. We just have to figure out a way to get Eddie into the trailer.
"Jamie, why is he so skittish about this?" I ask as I open the trailer doors.
"He doesn't trust us enough. We need to be assertive, but calm," she enlightens me. And then, with groundless optimism, chirps, "Be ready to latch the chain as soon as he goes in."
"I'm always calm." I want to make that clear.
"If you keep talking, you'll spook him."
"I didn't say anything."
Eddie moves up to the edge of the trailer. He's heard enough arguing. Jamie goes into statue mode, careful not to do or say anything that might break the spell. Anticipation mounts; there's always a chance (theoretical and astronomical) that the horse will step right in, and we can go.
We're fools. As usual, Eddie halts at the opening, peeks his head in and sniffs for predators. No, this is not a good time to go in there. Not a good time at all.
"Oh, for Pete's sake, Jamie!"
"We'll stand here all day if we have to," Jamie informs either me or the horse or both.
"I didn't say anything."
And then, a miracle happens. Out of nowhere and for no reason, Eddie lifts one hoof onto the trailer floor. Jamie and I glance at the hoof and then at each other. Could it be? Is he really going to make this easy for us?
After a moment's reflection, Eddie returns his hoof to the ground.
I get an idea. "Jamie," I whisper, "the next time he does that, I'll get behind him and push. He'll be off balance."
Jamie whispers back, "That's crazy. The last thing you want to do is startle him. He could kick you into next week." She pauses. "Go ahead and give it a try."
"I didn't say anything." I'm back to normal volume.
"Eventually, he's going to get bored, and he'll just walk in. We have to wait him out. We need to be patient and quiet."
The Wait Him Out Period lasts all of 90 seconds. This is followed by the Tap Him On The Butt With A Riding Crop Phase.
"Dad, if I annoy him enough, he'll get in just to get away from it."
"I wanted to get away from it 45 minutes ago."
Horse See, Horse Do
"Let's try something different," says Jamie. "Hold Eddie for a minute."
Jamie disappears into the barn for a couple of minutes and returns with Image, Eddie's pasture pal. Image is an easy loader.
Without a word, Jamie brushes past Eddie and marches Image to the edge of the trailer. The horses nip at each other in greeting as Jamie unlatches Image's lead rope.
Image goes in like a shot.
"Learning by example?"
"Not quite. We're just fooling him. He'll feel a lot better about going in with Image already loaded."
Jamie gives Eddie a pat on the rear and the horse steps inside the trailer. Then, as I latch the back chain, she backs Image out of the trailer.
"That was pure genius, Jamie."
"Maybe. But I'm not sure how many times he'll fall for that."
As with any form of deception, loading trickery has within it the seeds of its own ruin. In this case, Jamie hadn't given any thought about how she was going to get Eddie back in the trailer after the trail ride.
But I didn't say anything.
Bob Goddard is a freelance writer specializing in equine humor. He lives in Ravenna, Michigan, with his wife, Jenny, and two very naughty dogs, Jessie and Elvis. To contact him, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org