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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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”.