All of us who have ever had loading issues, this missive is for us. Thank you, Michael Johnson!
Throwing My Loop…
By: Michael Johnson
The Horse Trailer With The Broken Heart
When we last left Michael, he was sitting in the trailer with his head in his hands wondering if Blue would ever load in the trailer again. He was at that place in life where we all are sometimes. When we are on the edge of the precipice – certainly not wanting to jump off…but wondering if there is any other option.
I’m staring at Blue and he’s staring at me. We’re at the back door of the trailer. Nothing on him but his halter. I’m sitting on the floor of the trailer facing him with my feet on the ground. He’s in front of me staring back. His head is low and even with mine about a foot away, and we are staring…looking for all the world just like Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef in one of those old spaghetti westerns. Standoff! All we need is some strange music in the background. We’ve been out here for days. (Well, not straight. Actually, while it has been days, it’s more like three or four hours most days.)
I’m over the flag-waving, put pressure on him, rope-around-his-butt thing. Nothing is working and my heart is filled with negative certainty that nothing is going to work.
“Would you go in the trailer?” I asked him again.
Blue looks away.
Where to turn? What to do? Mystery. Then this thought comes…
“Why won’t he go in the trailer?” the little voice says.
“Why won’t he go in the trailer? Why don’t you ask him?”
“Why won’t you go in the trailer, Blue?” I ask him, realizing I had never stopped long enough to think about or even consider that question.
“Well, I’ll tell you, Pop,” said Blue, “It was a mouse. A mouse scared me. Or maybe it was hornet…or maybe a grass snake inna’ twailer one day. Or maybe it was because you stopped too quick when we wuz widin’ down na’ woad, and I bumped my nose, or you took a curve too fast and it scared me. Maybe you didn’t cool me down enough after working and I had a cramp.”
“Well, that didn’t do me any good at all,” I said in frustration to the voice.
“Yes, it did,” said the voice. “Asking that caused you to think about why.”
“I still can’t load, Blue,” I said.
“You never could,” said the voice.
“What? Of course I could. I loaded him for twelve years!”
“You did not. You never loaded him in your life or in his,” said the voice. “And you still can’t.”
“So what do I do now?”
“Sit down,” said the voice. “Take a load off. Be still. Think,”
So sitting on the trailer floor staring at Blue, I began to think.
And I thought about…
When the horse won’t load, we all do the same thing. We get nervous. Our mind turns to fear that we might now be late because of this delay. (We get in exactly the same frame of mind we do when the plane is going down.) After all, we must be on time for the (insert here) barrel racing, cutting, team penning, roping, or trail ride. We must arrive before the event starts. Even if we are finished with the event and the horse won’t load, we might – God forbid – be late getting home. The moment we see the horse failing to load…we get in a hurry. We need to load that horse right now! And that is all we think about. That creates resistance.
But thank goodness there is always someone there who “knows how” to load the horse. He lives in every town and he has many names. In my town, his name is “Mad Dog.” I like Mad. He’s my neighbor. I think he means well, but the problem is Mad Dog knows everything under the stars. He knows about politics and the local school board, lake levels, what America oughta’ do in the Middle East, and everything else. And he most of all, he knows how to load a horse. (The fact that none of Mad’s horses ever load well goes completely unnoticed.) When our horse won’t load, Mad Dog is always around and he takes command immediately.
“Okay, now,” he says in a loud voice. “I’ll take the horse up here by the trailer and all of you get behind him. Okay, now start walking toward him…that’s it. Put some pressure on him. Harold Wayne, you pop him on the butt there with that quirt if he won’t go in. We have to load him ‘cause if he won’t load right now, he won’t ever go in the trailer again until the Lord himself comes back to take us all home. That horse will learn he doesn’t have to do what we say, and we surely don’t want him to learn that!” Then everybody begins marching toward the horse like a platoon of Roman soldiers and we have a 30 to 45 minute fight with the horse. Once done – if we get done – everybody is sweaty, nervous, and mad. And we know the maddest one of all…the horse.
Of course the reason I know such much about all this is because I’ve done all those things more than anybody. I’ve used pressure, force, rope-around -the butt, paddles with rattles, sticks, quirts, yelling, waving arms, and whacking with a rope countless times. But on this day, I continued to wonder why? Why did I ever do all that? And the thought came again…why was Blue doing what he was doing? Why would a horse do something so willingly for over a decade and then suddenly refuse to do it?
“Who knows?” said the voice. “It’s not important! What is important is that we wonder WHY?”
As I kept sitting there on that trailer floor thinking, I became aware of the strangest thing… I was no longer focused on loading Blue.
And I began to see I had never loaded Blue – never in my life.
Blue always loaded himself.
And then the most painful thought of all came – and it really bothered me.
“Mad Dog’s not here. Oh my. Oh my. I am.”
“THERE YOU GO, BUBBA!” shouted the little voice.
“Let’s go the barn, Blue,” I said to him. Once there, I filled the bucket with feed. Back to the trailer we went. Standing. Staring. And I said, “Blue Man, if you will put one foot on this trailer floor, I will give you a bite of this feed.” For 27 minutes, Blue stood still as a stone. I knew he was coming. I knew it in the bottom of my soles and in the bottom of my soul. For the whole time, I knew he was coming. How? Why? Because I stopped trying to load him, and made sure he wasn’t afraid – like I did long ago. I gave him all the time in the world and just wanted him to know I loved him so.
And Blue said, “Are you kiddin,’ Pop? I want the whole bucket!”
And then…my precious Blue walked up in the trailer with me.
I looked outside. The sun was shining. Kinda’ warm for January.
Such a cute day.
“But what do I do?”
“I don’t know. Use all that love you have for him.”
— Michael Johnson
I loved reading this. I love the idea of working with the horse with love instead of force, and I know we create resistance sometimes because of our own behavior.