Mr. Ed is a black quarter horse gelding of indeterminate age, although his teeth (or lack thereof) declare that he’s close to 30. He’s been living in my back field all summer, awaiting the preparation of his winter home, which is to be his forever home. His Dad cared for him as a solo horse for 10 years, until non-elective, life-style-changing surgery forced him to find a new home for the four-legged friend. Zeb’s Wish Equine Sanctuary took him on, and I became his foster-mom for the summer.
Ed is a mysterious old soul. It took several weeks of him living in my pasture before he really opened up to me. My mare was with him for those weeks, and not particularly nice to him. She was not awful, but she enforced a large personal bubble and refused to be snuggle-y with Ed. After she moved off to a different field and Mr. Ed could have my undivided attention, he slowly began to be noticeably brighter when I came out to say hello.
There were challenges. Trust is definitely something which has to be earned with Mr. Ed. Perhaps he brightened when he saw me, but if I carried a halter he trotted away for several minutes. We’ve overcome that, and he now nickers at my approach with or without a halter. A newcomer with halter, however, consistently elicits an “outta here” reaction.
He wasn’t the best about hoof handling. I tried to trim him myself for a while, but didn’t have the speed or skill to get the job done for the moments he allowed with each foot. I finally called out the farrier, who is faster, and I simply held a bucket of Senior grain for Ed while he got his pedicure. If that’s enough to pacify him, so be it. Farrier time might as well be about food, not fighting.
Given that gradual seemed to be the name of the game for Mr. Ed, I got the bright idea to practice trailer loading the day before scheduled departure to his permanent foster home. I hitched up the truck and trailer, backed it into position, and brought Ed over to investigate. He paused, sniffed, thought about leaving, but decided to step right in. Then he quickly backed out.
No big deal, I thought. Fighting to keep a horse in the trailer is a sure recipe for injury, so Mr. Ed left at his own speed and I re-positioned to load again. This time he stepped his front feet in the trailer, but declined to take the big step up with either hind leg. We tried a few times before calling it quits, but he was at least stepping those front feet in the trailer and standing calmly.
The next day, departure day, I tried loading for 2 hours to no avail. Front feet only was the limit of our success. So we brought in a ramp trailer, thinking maybe the step was difficult for the old man–maybe he climbed it that first time and decided it hurt. But we had the same result with the ramp trailer. He walked calmly up the ramp, placed both front hooves into the trailer, and stopped.
All told team Ed spent 3 separate sessions trying to load an immobile horse in the trailer. Ramp or no ramp, pressure from behind or no pressure, one person or several, Mr. Ed was not getting in that trailer. He seemed to know what we wanted, but just couldn’t handle going forward. Both front feet would get in the trailer, and Mr. Ed’s next steps were anywhere but forward. He’d goose step each front leg, trying to literally climb up the trailer walls with them, but absolutely not go forward.
(Later I asked a horse-trainer friend why he was doing that. “It’s as if he couldn’t figure out where to put his feet next,” I said. “It’s because he was stressed,” she said.
But of course.)
Team Ed regrouped and decided that the only way this horse was getting loaded was to be driven in, mustang-style. We’d have to fashion a chute-system and chase him in. In the mean time, I parked the trailer at the gate to his field and moved all meal feeding there. At first he snatched the food and ran, but within a day he stood calmly at the end of the open trailer and ate from the pan inside.
It seemed like we were making progress.
…continued in Mr. Ed, part II