I vividly remember getting a phone call from a British woman who was delivering a Thoroughbred filly to me from South Florida.
“She’s coming in a cow trailer,” the sweet woman moaned. “I told him, ‘you can’t take that horse in that trailer!’ ”
It was a canvas-roofed stock trailer, and while it was no limousine, I don’t think that Bonica minded the trip. She was looking at the world around her with some interest, and I think that the trip across Florida on old Highway 60 had probably been pretty fascinating for her.
The truth is, Thoroughbreds in Ocala tend to travel in style. Limousines? Pretty close. Box stalls all the way, baby. Oh, and ramps, don’t forget ramps.
There were two questions surrounding my approaching Final Call pick-up:
1) Would he load without assistance, since I had to go alone?
2) Would he load in my trailer?
I have a step-up trailer. Antiquated, I know. Prehistoric, I know. Antediluvian – okay, I’ll stop.
I like it because it’s a modified slant-load: there’s no rear tack, just one big door, so you can easily transport a mare and foal, which I engage in from time to time when I feel like I need an adrenaline rush and jumping out of an airplane just won’t do. I dislike it because the rear door doesn’t go the whole way to the ceiling, and I once witnessed a seventeen hand Irish Thoroughbred named T-Rex untie himself, turn around, and put his head out as if over a dutch door, while doing seventy-five on I-70 in suburban Maryland. Basically, you have to tie the horse’s head somewhere – you can’t let him run free.
I knew he was familiar with trailering. One of my favorite virtues of the racehorse is that they nearly universally hop right into trailers. Travelling is part of life: to the track, to the vet, to the lay-up farm, to the training center, to another track. . .
Well, time to chance it. Off I went, through forest and swamp and orange grove. I arrived, by supreme dumb luck, at precisely three p.m. Guess when they feed Thoroughbreds dinner at training centers?
Time for Final Call to prove to me his enviably sweet, charitable nature. And show off all those frequent flier miles.
Luckily, he did. Although slightly astonished (shown by a great deal of puffing and snorting, and just a few dance steps on the end of the lead rope) to be led out of the barn while his stablemates were chowing down on alfalfa, he shadowed me out to the field where I parked the trailer. In lieu of a hill, I’d found a slight downgrade on which to park, lowering the step he’d have to take ever-so-slightly. He seemed to gain a full hand as he caught sight of the trailer, his neck stretching straight up, his head high above mine. Classic Northern Dancer, they are all sixteen hands when calm and seventeen hands when excited.
Monty Roberts says to act like you have all day, and it will only take fifteen minutes (or something to that effect.) I say that if I can get a yearling into a trailer by myself, I can get this racehorse in. I climbed in and waited, facing the wall.
No one likes being ignored, and Final Call was no exception. Within about five minutes he was in the trailer, snuffling all over me, nosing at the hay, taking a big bite out of some of the padding (great.) I made my way behind him, swung the big door closed, and clipped the panic snap home on his halter, before sliding carefully out of the door.
I shot the bolt home and waited.
Within about two minutes, the silly beast had turned himself completely around and appeared to have wedged himself sideways. He turned and faced me, ears pricked, looking eminently pleased with himself. I went to the side and gave him a shove on the hindquarters to straighten him out. He moved amiably enough and went back to nosing at the timothy. Fair enough, I thought, and went and got in the truck. There was a long haul left in the day.
Before we had gotten down the driveway, the truck gave a lurch and I stopped and went back to look. Final Call had turned himself around again and was staring back at the barn, trembling.
I managed to turn him around again and restarted. The next time I felt a lurch, I ignored him.
Let’s just say I didn’t get dinner that night on the way home. And Final Call didn’t take a bite of hay. He spent the entire ride shifting himself from side to side, turning around to look out the back door, turning back when the claustrophobia got to be too much, and pawing at the floor. He wanted to move. Movement, movement, movement!
Can I retrofit the trailer so that he can be left loose? Or will he just have to learn to ride with his head tied like all the other poor schmo’s in the horse show world? Sorry kid, your new mommy doesn’t have a limousine.