A few years ago we received a call from another training stable. They had a horse in training that showed abnormal behaviour. He did load on the trailer, but then he would throw himself against the walls and partitions, banging his head against the walls until he would be bleeding.
He had destroyed two trailers in the process and also not left the trainer unscathed; would we like to have a try? As it always happens, the stable was a good three hours’ drive away. I was worried about this challenge and walked over to Karel to explain the problem to him. For various reasons, we are not in favour of sedating horses for transport, but I thought this might be an exception. After I told my story to Karel, he was very short in his response: “No, no sedation. We’ll find a way.” I did not sleep very well the night before we would collect the horse, I can tell you that.
When I came into the stable, I once again told Karel my concerns; but he simply held up one of his new inventions in triumph. Even though it had seemed like his initial response had been very casual, but in the meantime he had been very busy creating a special halter. He wrapped all the parts of the halter in insulation material. It looked like some kind of boxing face mask, but it did make sure that the horse’s head was not injured during transport. This horse turned out to have a lot of trouble keeping his balance on the trailer. Watching on a camera and seeing what was happening in the trailer helped us to come to this realisation. Incidentally, we never tie horses that are very difficult to transport in the trailer in the beginning. My trailer is very large and the horse has space to find their own feet.
Over the next two weeks things went better and better, but it was certainly not easy. One day my husband, who did not know as much about horses, went to drive a training lap with a group of our students with this horse in the trailer. Thinking completely ‘out of the box’, he came up with a stop-and-drive reward system that worked amazingly for this horse. In the half hour that they were gone they fixed the problem! It then took us another six weeks or so to convince the owner that the problem was really solved. She did not even dare to come visit her horse, which is a logical reaction in itself after everything she had experienced with him. It was a great lesson for us that while it is good to know a lot, looking at things with a completely different mind can sometimes also be very valuable!