A couple of months ago my equine chauffeur surprised me with a trailer cam. Yes, I can now watch Otis every step of the journey!
It all started at the beginning of the season when Otis would arrive at his destination calm, but dripping with sweat. Then one day he would be fine. And the next time, hot and bothered again. We were all intrigued as to his behaviour inside the trailer, so the camera was welcomed with open arms.
With the trailer fully kitted out, I studied Otis intensely for the duration of his first few outings, and noticed that he tends to scrabble a bit around corners, using the partition to help prop him up. His travel boots are always intact, so he obviously doesn’t stand on his own feet whilst cornering. Unlike Matt, who breaks a travel boot at least once a month! Anyway, Otis does and has always, leant back onto the ramp, which is why he always wears both a tail bandage and guard. Anyway, watching Otis travel can need nerve racking, especially when roundabouts get involved, but recently he seems to have found a better balance, as he doesn’t lean right over as often. Consequently, he is also coming off the trailer warm, not white with foam. It’s not really surprising that horses struggle to balance, because they can’t see the approaching road so can’t prepare themselves like a human passenger would. I wonder if you can train horses to respond to cues such as “left bend” and they prepare for the corner?
I think he finds travelling a particularly stressful experience, so I always give him a big haynet (when he’s relaxed he munches steadily through it) to take his mind off things, and he always travels on the drivers side to keep things the same. The front ramp is always down to load, inviting him into his carriage, which usually means he walks straight on. Unless someone interesting happens to arrive in the car park! Last weekend our field friend arrived on the yard as Otis was halfway up the ramp. Which resulted in me being dragged over to say hello…
Experts say that a travelling horse uses as much energy as it does walking, and I think that Otis finds it mentally draining as well, so I try to arrive in plenty of time for him to have a quick rest before we have to compete. Likewise, at the end I load him and give him half an hour or so chilling on the trailer before we depart. The front door and ramp is always open to give him something to look at, but usually he stands quietly, with his bottom lip drooping.
Anyway, my travelling theories were brought to mind tonight when we transported Apollo to his new home (yes, sad times ahead, but I am still continuing to work with him and his new owner to ensure his education progresses). Slowly but surely Apollo persuaded himself to load. He was a bit hesitant, but just took his time looking and evaluating the situation before following me up with no coercion on my part. I hope this means that he accepts trailers and will load happily next time. I watched him through the camera while we travelled, and noticed that he stood with his legs further apart than Otis, and seemed a lot more stable in the trailer. Perhaps it was his lower centre of gravity, or his conformation, because it certainly wasn’t his wealth of experience which enabled him to stay so calm and balanced.
Apollo unloaded after his short journey quietly and perfectly calm. I was quite proud of him as he walked nonchalantly past the goats and into his new field of grass, perfectly behaved.
So I’m not sure why Otis finds travelling a particularly stressful event, and I could perhaps try him facing 45 degrees or in a rear facing trailer to see if that helps, but as he seems to be improving through the season I think I’m probably best sticking to what he already knows, and writing with the problem, busy providing plenty of haylage, taking a straighter route, leaving plenty of time for the journey and also plenty of recovery time for Otis, as well as my chauffeur.