Making judgements is not right and making a straight comparison between Tag’s life now and when he was racing is not possible. But knowing him as well as I do now, how he ever coped when he was racing is beyond me. I only have to lift the plaiting bands and he starts emptying his bowel, usually six or seven times before loading to go anywhere. Anyone that has ever suffered from nerve related bowel problems knows what a drain that is and how you are running on empty before you even start trying to cope with the foreseen problem ahead of you. Wise people say you shouldn’t go to work on an empty stomach, but some horses (and people) literally have no choice in the matter.
And no amount of conditioning can eradicate this, although it may lessen and the external signs of stress reduce, it becomes clear what’s going on internally when Tag’s tail starts to lift. By the time we arrive at shows Tag can look like he has already run his race, so from the outset trips were kept short and as stress free as possible with the company of a friend’s horse. But as we started to make progress with Tag’s flatwork, he started to panic about travelling and when exiting the trailer he thought it would be better to get off as quickly as possible. He didn’t do this every time, but if he was under pressure he would run backwards often banging his head as he threw it up in panic. He then started to get more difficult to load and as he internalised his fears I didn’t listen to him screaming at me.
I should have realised that he really didn’t like this trailer idea and was only going on to please me, the thought of not following me onto the trailer was scarier than not going on at all.
Until the day he threw in the towel. I felt awful, he had tried to tell me he wasn’t happy and I didn’t listen, he wouldn’t go on to the trailer again for four weeks after that and to this day is still tricky. Without the trailer and the ability to take him places, there would be no schooling and me and Tag would be unhappy hackers. To do that would be selling Tag’s ability painfully short. I am a patient person – some say very – I think I am just a bit slow on the uptake, but either way my horse not going onto a trailer would push me close to my limit.
I reversed a friend’s trailer into his field and every day that became Tag’s only source of hard food as he gradually got closer and closer to the ramp. After four weeks and with the help of a good friend, that I could trust wouldn’t wreck my hard work, Tag went on the trailer and following a very tentative drive down the road, we were back in action.
After purchasing our own trailer, Tag and I continued on our solo missions to shows, dressage and after a green start over coloured poles we even ventured out to a couple of show jumping training shows. Although I sometimes watched people wince as Tag jooked left and right, in general I thought he coped with it all very well. His weight was still a bit of a problem as his brain and body took its time to quieten down, and for this I believe there are no corners to be cut. Time is the only healer of this and although improvements were slow and sometimes imperceptible to anyone else, I knew he was going in the right direction.