Zelda is a very lucky horse. Or maybe I’m a very lucky owner. Yesterday we had an experience that could have been much, much worse. But we were lucky.
The hunt yesterday was about a 25 minute drive from my barn. All on back roads. It was a cold morning, only in the low 20s, and I had my doubts about hunting at all. I guess I should have listened to that tiny voice. Instead, I loaded up Zelda and set off. About 10 minutes into the drive, I heard banging coming from the trailer.
Uh oh. That is NOT the sound you want to hear. I can’t tell you exactly where it was that it happened, but it made me pause. Then I heard it again. A thrashing sound. I pulled over into the Super Stop & Shop parking lot and opened the side door of the trailer. Just as I had feared, Zelda had fallen down. The velcro trailer tie had not released and her new leather halter had not broken. She was stuck with her head at an angle and her front legs under the front bar of the trailer stall. She was very still and I thought she must have hurt herself. I think she was waiting for me to help her. Thank goodness, she’s not a horse that panics easily.
Getting her loose was my first priority. I was able to get the halter off (in retrospect, I’m not sure why I didn’t unfasten the velcro), and lowered the front bar. Getting her up was the next goal. She scrambled to her feet almost immediately once she had some space and I hoped that she didn’t try to charge out the front of the stall through the side bar. But she didn’t. I got the bar up, the halter back on. She was standing solidly on all four legs. There was no blood. I started breathing again.
Zelda started to munch on some hay.
I sat in the car hyperventilating. My shins were killing me and I realized I had bruised them leaning against the running board. I wasn’t sure that I could drive home. I wondered how long I could sit in the car and go nowhere. Every few minutes I got out and I checked on her. She was still eating.
I checked the back of the trailer. I wondered if she had peed and maybe the liquid had frozen. About 7 years ago, Kroni fell in a trailer when that had happened. It was also in November when the temperatures were in the low 20s. The floor of the trailer had turned into a sheet of ice.
That wasn’t the issue, though. The trailer was dry and clean. I hadn’t put shavings down as it was a short trip, but there was nothing wet, nothing slippery. And yet she had lost her footing. A Google search reveals that horses frequently fall down in trailers. Some are wedged solidly in, requiring sedation and several people to remove them. Some end up on their backs, with their legs in their air. Many are injured.
After about a half hour, I worked up the nerve to drive home. It was an excruciating drive, but uneventful. When I pulled into the barn, I could finally feel the tension leave my body. Zelda backed out looking completely unconcerned. She wanted to graze. I checked her over and couldn’t find a scratch on her so I gave her some warm, soaked hay cubes with some bute and I watched her for almost forty five minutes.
Zelda and I really dodged a bullet yesterday. Trailering is one of my least favorite things, but mostly I worry about other drivers, of brakes failing, or something like that. I wasn’t worried that she would fall. She rides well in the trailer and we were going slowly — no sudden stops, no sharp turns.
My husband researched the issue while I took care of her. His conclusion? That rubber mats become extra slippery in the cold weather. Some people recommend bedding deeply in shavings (although not everyone). I think I will do that next time, even for a short ride. But I’m also going to order mats with a non-slip surface. My husband found mats with a button surface (for traction) which are used in wash stalls. I’m going to talk to the manufacturer this week about using them for trailers.
In the meantime, I may be done for the season. I’m not sure I can work up the enthusiasm to trailer to the last two hunts. I think I may just hack my horses locally while I recover from the “what ifs”.
Today, Zelda was her usual self. It was much warmer today and she basked in the sun, monopolizing the hay. She isn’t holding the experience against me, but I still feel awful — your horse trusts you to take care of them. They load up in those metal boxes mostly without a second thought. And we get so used to trailering them that it’s easy to forget that it’s a dangerous activity that can have dire consequences.
Have any of you had a horse fall in the trailer? What have you done to keep it from happening again?
This post over at Horse Listening got me thinking. I have had my share of naughty horses, and the one thing that I can take away from my cumulative experience is that what works for one horse may not work for another.
I have a zero tolerance for actual naughtiness (bucking, kicking out, getting light in front) but when one of my horses is “naughty”, I try to put it in context:
First I ask, why is my horse being naughty? Is it because they are confused? Stubborn? In pain? Overexcited?
Then I think about how my horse is being naughty. Is it behavior that I need to stop in it’s tracks because it’s dangerous? Or something that would escalate if challenged?
Putting the behavior in these contexts helps me decide how to respond.
If the answer is confused, then you must look long and hard at your riding/training. Often a horse misbehaves when it doesn’t understand what it’s rider is asking it to do, so “getting after it” is only going to ratchet up their confusion and potentially lead to a more explosive response. I ask myself if my commands are clear, my expectations are reasonable and my requests are appropriate to the horse’s level of training. This is a good time to take a step back and ask the horse for something less demanding. I try to end every ride on a positive note.
If the answer is stubborn, then maybe you need to ride through an issue. But you also need to be smart about it. I’ve had two horses that could be enormously stubborn, but fighting them over it didn’t get you anywhere. Those were horses where you had to either change the question . . . or wait them out. Of course, if you have a horse like Zelda, who likes to test you, you need to be firm and patient. “Make me,” she says. “Prove you really want it. Because if you’re not serious, I won’t do it.” This is a horse for whom spurs were invented. I’m not talking about big spurs; just spurs that are enough to reinforce the seriousness of the request. Some horses respond well to a crop; you have to see what works for you. Another approach that works when Zelda tries to buck or when she just stops and doesn’t want to move, is to spin her in a small circle. She doesn’t like to to that so it makes “regular” work less effort.
If your horse is in pain, then discipline is not going to change their behavior. An ill fitting saddle can cause your horse to buck, shorten its stride, hollow it’s neck or just act pissy. You’d be annoyed too if the tree points of a saddle were digging into your back or pinching a nerve or the saddle was rocking on your back. The wrong style bit can also make a horse “misbehave”. It’s important to understand saddle fit (or saddle mis-fit) and ensure that your horse is comfortable enough to do its job. I see many ill fitting saddles on horses owned by people who’ve never thought about saddle fit and know plenty of people who tell me their saddle was professionally fitted . . . two years ago! Horses’ backs change over time with work, age, and with weight gain or loss, so it’s important to regularly check that your saddle (still) fits. I know, some people tell me that because their saddle has foam panels it will adjust itself to changes in their horse’s back. That’s only true up until a point, a foam saddle will accommodate minor changes but it still will get to the point where it doesn’t fit.
If your horse is just too wound up to listen to you (think Freedom), then disciplining them is only going to make it worse. Freedom is a horse that has reinforced for me the need to ignore certain behaviors (such as bouncing), because they sort themselves out over time. Bouncing or jigging is a behavior that I can live with — as opposed to bucking. If he’s really distracted and won’t listen, I will put him in a “time out” using a one-rein stop while halted. I bring his nose to my foot and have him stand still until he refocuses. The other approach for the horse that won’t stand still or walk, is to make them work harder. Generally, that involves a bit of lateral work. “Sure you can jig, but you have to move sideways at the same time.”
How do you deal with your horse’s naughtiness? Any tips that you’d like to share?
In September the fall season stretches ahead and the possibilities seem infinite. Thanksgiving is a long way off and the weather is more like summer than winter.
Now, as the season winds down I’ve had to break out my heavy weight Melton and brace against the winds.
Saturday was the annual blessing of the hounds and when I woke up it was barely 20 degrees and there was a stiff wind.
The blessing of the hounds is a centuries-old tradition of blessing the animals and humans involved in a the hunt. The blessing practice was brought to the US in the 17th century but it dates back to the 8th century and to celebrations associated with St. Hubert, the Patron Saint of Hunters.
Each year our hunt invites a clergy member, priest — or even a Native American Shaman — to the ceremony to recite prayers and bless the huntsman, hounds and horses. Each huntsperson is then awarded a medallion with the image of St. Hubert.
Some years we’ve had very elaborate blessing ceremonies; this year, the weather kept it short. The ceremony was held in an open field and the wind made the effective temperature in the teens. I think we were all thankful to get moving so that we warmed up a bit!
Considering the brisk wind and temperatures the horses were all well behaved; at last Tuesday’s hunt there must have been something in the air because despite the warmer temperatures, there was a lot of bucking and misbehavior. One horse also stepped in a hole, falling to the ground and nearly landing on her rider. That’s one of my greatest fears out hunting. It takes a lot of the pleasure out of galloping through an open field.
But Saturday’s hunt was uneventful. Freedom complained that it was too slow — he likes the galloping and the open fields were inviting. He settled for jigging and bouncing with a few leaps in the air for good measure, but he was quite well behaved considering. Unlike Zelda, who tries to sneak in some bucks, Freedom never intentionally misbehaves; you can’t say that he’s naughty. He just can’t contain himself. The best thing to do is just ignore the behavior and ride through it.
Saturday’s hunt included some lovely open fields. It was held in a town called Pepperell which was first settled in 1720. It’s far enough away from Boston (right on the New Hampshire border) that it has a lovely rural feel to it.
Of course all the warmth generated by the hunt dissipated as soon as we got back to the trailers and back into the wind. It was wonderful to retreat into the antique farmhouse (circa 1790) and enjoy the hunt tea in front of a roaring fire!
I have never had the urge to cast my own soaps, but when I saw this adorable mold, I decided to try my hand at it. It is fun!
Now I have a growing herd of soap ponies. I’m thinking holiday gifts for my friends, items for the hunt club’s silent auction, and just filling my bathroom with them.
They are just the right size to hold in your hand.
For those of you who asked, I bought the silicone mold from GrandHorse on Etsy. The owner of the shop is an equestrian who makes her own molds. They are truly works of art!