I’d been planning to buy a truck and horse trailer for quite some time now. I want to do more varied activities with the horses — lessons, trail rides, shows, and perhaps even foxhunting (or rather, since I’m in Colorado, coyote hunting). This spring, however, I found a really fantastic trainer who comes to our neighborhood arena to teach, and I’m making great progress under her direction. Also, I began trail riding with my neighbors and working on basic training with Elsie. So I’ve been plenty busy with the horses, even without going anywhere.
However, this year offered a very, very pressing reason to acquire transportion for the horses: the prospect of wildfire evacuation. Our neighborhood is protected from the highly flammable trees of the Pike National Forest by some rangeland, but we’re not totally safe from that threat. Also, even more dangerous would be a fire starting in our neighborhood itself. We don’t have many trees, but we have lots and lots of scrub oak, which burns fast and hot. If a fire were to blow up in our neighborhood, we might need to evacuate immediately.
Without a horse trailer, I’d have to depend on the kindness of neighbors or firefighters to evacuate my horses, and trailers would be in short supply. Or I could try to ride or walk the horses out, but that might be dangerous for all of us. In the worst scenario, I’d have to let the horses loose and hope they’d find a safe spot, an outlet, or some human help. That would be just unbearably awful.
A few days before we left for Los Angeles, while Paul was off working the nighthawk shift, the wind shifted the smoke from the Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs toward us. I woke up to an overpowering smell of smoke at 3 am, thoroughly alarmed at the prospect of some new wildfire nearby. After seeing nothing outside, I figured that the Waldo Canyon Fire smoke was just blowing toward us. As I crawled back into bed, I considered what the heck I would do if I had to evacuate, given that Paul wasn’t home. I’d have to ride one horse, pony the other on a leadrope, allow the two dogs to follow along with us controlled by their remote shock collars, and … here’s the best part… shove the two cats into backpacks to carry them along with us. I wouldn’t be able to take anything else. As you might imagine, that wasn’t a comforting plan.
A few days later, when Paul and I were in Los Angeles, I had a nightmare about the Waldo Canyon Fire burning far enough north so as to require us to evacuate. In reality, that was highly unlikely, but under the right conditions, a fire could burn north through the forest into the vicinity of our neighborhood.
The day that we returned to Colorado, that Waldo Canyon Fire blew up, burning hundreds of homes and forcing thousands of people in Colorado Springs to evacuate. That was horrible to watch, and Paul and I couldn’t tear ourselves away from the local news.
After all that, I decided that I needed to buy my truck and trailer PRONTO. I’d already done enough research to know that I wanted to buy a separate truck — as opposed to upgrading my small SUV to an SUV large enough to haul a horse trailer. Also, I knew that I’d need an extra tall, extra wide straight-load “warmblood size” trailer to accomodate my big girl Lila.
So on Wednesday afternoon, the day after we returned from Los Angeles, I bought a lovely horse trailer from local dealer Parker Trailers. It’s a 2008 Trails West Royale, step-down. It’s very, very roomy: Lila is not cramped in the slightest. It has a big tack room in the front with two saddle racks and lots of hooks too. Best of all, it’s in great condition: it looks barely used.
On Thursday, the very next day, I bought a 1999 Ford F-250 Diesel (7.4 L). It was a great find after a long day, and I got it at Schomp BMW, of all places. All the Schomp dealerships run on no-haggle pricing, and I paid a few thousand dollars less than I could have haggled other dealers down to for similar vehicles in worse condition. WIN!
I had to get the brake controller and ball installed in the truck, so I didn’t bring the truck and trailer home until Saturday. So I’ve only had them Chez Hsieh for one full week. But… ta da!
For the past week, I’ve worked almost every day on training Lila and Elsie to load onto and unload from the trailer with exactly zero fuss. I watched videos on trailer loading and unloading by Clinton Anderson of Downunder Horsemanship, which were really helpful. (He’s a demi-god of horses, I think!) On Tuesday, I set aside a lesson with my trainer just for trailer work, which was also really helpful. There are the results… horses, in the trailer!
Since then — three times now — I’ve trailered the horses down the arena, ridden them, then trailered them back home. The arena is just a mile away, so normally I ride there through the trails in our neighborhood. But trailering them to and from a nearby place they already know is really excellent low-pressure training.
Horses are flight creatures, so they’re pretty suspicious of new things — particularly enclosed spaces on wheels! On the first day of trailering down to the arena, it took me a full hour and a half — I kid you not — to get Lila into the trailer. Happily, it’s been 15 minutes at most since then. For the past few days, I could get Lila into the trailer just fine, but then she’d get nervous and back out as I was walking around the side to close the door behind her. Elsie was the same way. (We’ve not yet mastered the art of free loading, in which the human simply directs the horse into the trailer, leaving said human at the back of the trailer to close the door more easily.)
Happily, my training is working and progressing nicely. Today, both horses loaded onto the trailer and allowed me to shut the doors without backing out once on the way to the arena. On the way home, Lila was perfect again, but Elsie backed out just once, then relaxed after that. That was awesome.
Also, I was able to park the truck and trailer in the barn yesterday, then back it out again today. It’s a tight space on a hill, and the angles for entry are awkward, but I did it! Yay me!
I still have more work to do, of course. For ease of evacuation, particularly if I’m not nearby, I want Lila and Elsie to be not just willing but downright eager to load for anyone, whether Paul or my neighbors. Also, I need more practice driving the truck with the trailer, with and without the horses.
Honestly, I was scared to buy a truck and trailer. Okay, maybe even petrified. Before this week, I’d only driven with a horse in a trailer once in my whole life. I knew nothing about buying a trailer and little about buying a truck. So I’m really proud of myself that I took this scary leap into the unknown — and that I did it so darn quickly. Now I’m feeling much more confident and capable. Best of all, I’m starting to look forward to all the fabulous adventures that I’ll have with my horses now that I can transport them hither and thither!