Thoroughbred Makeover Diary: Trouble with Trailering and a Visit to the State Fair

Dom retired racehorse OTTB aftercare trailer trailering Thoroughbred Makeover Minnesota state fair Hanneman training
Retired racehorse Dom, shown at the Minnesota Horse Expo, continues to prepare for the Thoroughbred Makeover in October with owner-trainer Jessica Hanneman. (Courtesy of Jessica Hanneman )

Training a Thoroughbred can feel like a dance with one step forward and two steps back. The process draws you closer as partners, but you need to work through the stumbles. Trailering has been our biggest challenge.

In June, before a show Dom unexpectedly became scared while in the trailer.  He reared and got front legs stuck on top of the feed manger. We quickly got him off, and he had no physical injuries. We were unsure of what spooked him, and since he wasn’t injured we continued to the show. It was a great show experience, but Dom was resistant to get back in the trailer when it was time to leave. 

Throughout July and August, we worked on feeling comfortable again in the trailer. When he was able to eat inside with the doors closed, we decided to try taking him off-property again.

He loaded and unloaded fine but when we needed to leave, Dom again refused to get into the trailer. It took about an hour until he finally got in. Then as I’d tied him and my husband shut the door, a horse called out. Dom whinnied and then panicked. Again, he reared, got stuck on the feed manger, and flailed his left front leg. We have a two-horse straight load trailer with an alley between the two feed mangers that leads to the escape door into the tack area. As Dom swung his hoof near my face, I fumbled with the door handle and dodged out of his way. Dom accidentally struck me in the shoulder, and my husband opened the door and pulled me out. 

Courtesy of Jessica Hanneman

It took seconds to unfold, so we took a breath and helped Dom. I didn’t see blood and we weren’t confident we’d get him reloaded if we took him out to examine him, so we drove Dom back to his barn. 

At the barn, thankfully, other than a large scrape down his face, a big goose egg near his poll, and a missing chunk of his forelock, he was okay. I ordered him a helmet and the next day we continued practicing. 

His confidence was shaken, so we went back to square one. And as we were expected at the Minnesota State Fair in less than two weeks to represent the Thoroughbred in the Aisle of Breeds, we had a lot of work to do. 

We took baby steps and were able to get back to where we had been before the incident. However, just to be safe and make sure he had a good/safe experience traveling to the fairgrounds, we gave him a mild sedative. Everything went off without a hitch!

At the Minnesota State Fair, Dom was amazing!! 

In the three days we were there, over 480,000 people attended the fair, with Saturday being the busiest day (212,850 people). Dom handled the crowds very well! He greeted people of all ages and together we taught many people about Thoroughbreds, retired racehorses, the retraining process, the Retired Racehorse Project, and the Thoroughbred Makeover. 

At the Minnesota Horse Expo this spring, Dom had lost weight from the stress; and with the Thoroughbred Makeover so far away from our home, my goal for the fair was to see if our improved weight management program could prevent Dom from losing weight in a stressful situation. In addition to his regular feed and hay, I gave him Ulcerguard every day and he was able to maintain his weight despite the stress of the crowds and the intense heatwave.

I’m however most proud of how Dom interacted with people with disabilities at the fair. Even if Dom was tired, he would willingly let them pet him for longer periods, so he could give the person a special moment. It was amazing how he could tell who might need him in that moment. He has such a kind heart. I believe when he is older, he will make a great equine-assisted therapy horse! 

Dom’s other accomplishments at the fair included: meeting sheep, goats, pigs and getting nose to nose with the most terrifying of animals: a cow! He also walked through packed crowds, past driving carriages, strolled past the Midway, and stood patiently as a truck moved dumpsters.

Despite the many great moments at the Minnesota State Fair, our time there didn’t end on a high note. We were supposed to be able to load Dom during daylight, but fair officials wouldn’t allow us to bring in our trailer until a draft horse show ended when it was dark. Loading Dom next to the Midway with a Keith Urban concert at the Grandstand, there were a lot more sounds and flashing lights. Even with the mild sedative, Dom was still overwhelmed, and refused to get into the trailer. 

After two hours and attempting multiple methods to get him in the trailer, the vet returned and was able to give him some additional sedation. Then with three people providing pressure from behind and me encouraging him in the trailer, we were finally able to get him in just as the fireworks went off from the concert.

My husband and I were emotionally and physically drained from the weekend, and the trailering experience was not what I had hoped for. I was so disappointed I hadn’t been able to set Dom up for more trailering success. 

So after a few days of much needed rest, it was back to trailering practice. Unfortunately, Dom had a minor leg injury with swelling from getting caught in a fence, so we took another week off until he recovered.

But with Lexington being about a 12-hour drive (no stops) from here, it is very important to me that Dom will be able to trailer safely there and back. We will continue practicing every day until we leave for the Makeover. So far, trailering has been Dom’s biggest hurdle, but once he masters it, there won’t be anything to hold him back!

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