Story: Loading the Horse

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Loading the Horse
as told by Al Turtle

This is a true story.  I broke my finger (it is still bent to this day) learning this lesson. 

Some years ago I wanted to persuade a horse to get into a horse trailer.  To me it was an unfamiliar horse and a simple three-horse trailer.   The horse, having a mind of its own, wouldn’t do what I wanted and would do what he wanted.  He balked at entering the trailer. 

I endeavored to make the inside of the trailer a pleasant or even desirable place to the horse.  I made it neat.  I put juicy grain on the floor and led the horse in.  It went in a bit and then jumped back.  I put it’s favorite companion in the trailer, another horse that was quite biddable.  My horse went in a bit and then jumped back.   I put grain on the floor near its companion.  My horse came it, moved suddenly, I fell over breaking my finger, and my horse fled. 

I took a break. Visited the emergency room.  I invited a horse trainer to join me, and my splinted finger, in my project

His method. 

  1. He took a long, long rope, tied it to the horse’s head, passed the long end into the trailer, out a side window at the front of the trailer, and then back to the hand of the trainer who stood near the horse.  
  2. When the horse moved toward the trailer, he would snug up on the rope.  The horse was closer to where we wanted him.  When the horse pulled backwards, the rope to his head pulled tight, and “bugged” him. 
  3. Then the trainer took a 6 foot long rod with a short string and a white piece of sheet on its end.  He dangled that little white piece of sheet around the horse’s hind legs.  Now that really “bugged” the horse.  He jumped nervously forward and the trainer would snug up the head rope.
  4. The trainer, looking patient and confident, would then rest a  moment.  And then he would start again “bugging” the horse’s hind legs with the bit of sheet.  This was repeated about 5 times, the horse getting closer to the trailer each time. 
  5. At last the horse just walked into the trailer.

 The trainer’s method worked and took about 15 minutes.  My method didn’t work. I was at it for over an hour and got a broken finger as a reward.  My theory was to make the trailer a nice place.  His theory was to make the outside of the trailer an unpleasant place.  He pointed the direction he wanted the horse to go (the rope).  He made moving that direction a positive experience (stopped bugging the horse with the white sheet).  He made moving away an unpleasant experience (the rope tightening on the horse’s head).

Coercion functions on having a direction to go, and the judicious use of “bugging”. 


Story: Loading the Horse — 4 Comments

  1. I find the story to be quite provocative, and begging the question, “What can one specifically do to ‘bug’ a leaving/avoiding partner?” I think clingers feel safer kind of hunkering down with their partners in connection and communication, whereas avoiders feel safer alone out in the crazy world. Maybe keep reminding them just how crazy it is to go it alone? I don’t know if that works. I’ve seen some “horses” who seem to prefer dodging the arrows and gunshots of the Wild West to what may seem to them like prison in a horse stall (even if it’s not).

    • “Tis a puzzlement!” In the Story of Loading the horse, see how much of the situation was controlled by the horse trainer. In real life with an Avoider we don’t have much control. In that situation the Avoider seems to be seeking to have control in their life and not have to give up control to their partner – as they probably have in the past. So the issue becomes one of affirming the ability of the Avoider to feel in control of their needs for space. I often think of this when I sit in a restaurant either with my back to the wall (safety) or near the door (safety to escape). When I had an office, I arranged the client chairs and my desk so that the client could escape if they felt the urge.

      Your thoughts also reminded me of how powerful an obnoxious experience can be. I heard tell of an experiment where a rat was faced with terrible electric shocking. It was placed on a small pedestal over an electrified grid. When it jumped down, if faced the full shock and eventually (!) passed out. It was put up on the pedestal to awaken. When it did awaken and took in its situation, it quietly waited for death. It never tried again. Kinda a one shot learning experience. “Hmmmm. Horses preferring arrows and gunshots to a stable it perceives as a trap, which SOMEONE ELSE thinks is not a trap.”

      Not so puzzling, methinks.

  2. Oooh, I like this. This analogy of when we are trying to attract an avoider, or at least stop them moving away. So we jump through hoops, trying to persuade them of the value of the relationship and what a lovely time they will have with us (making the inside of the horse box more attractive). When actually the world outside the horse box has its own pitfalls and difficulties (bugging), and if we leave them alone (not completely) and respond with any movement forward (a tug for contact) warmly but incrementally, they begin to enter the relationship (the horse box).

    • Good one, Lorraine. Yes, and it was this horse experience that led me to take a stand against all that “No-contact” advice online. I kept remembering the vital role of that long horse line from the inside of the trailer to the horse’s halter far outside the trailer – far enough to not distress the horse. So in my paper on When to Fold ‘Em I incorporated the idea of a miminal contact – weekly or bi-weekly four sentences of tame message. (P.S. Good lesson. My finger is still bent at 75!)

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