Monday, June 29, 2009

Baby steps

Today was better than yesterday, but still not quite what I had hoped for. We accomplished some stuff, but haven't quite regained the ground we lost yesterday, particularly with the trailer.

I went over to the barn in the morning, right after dropping Michael off at work. I thought the property owner was still feeding them around 10:00 am, so I figured I'd have time to get a quick ride in before it got hot — and possibly have more luck tempting him into the trailer with grain when he hadn't had his breakfast yet. I don't usually hold with riding a horse before they've had their breakfast, but I figured 15 minutes riding bareback at a walk in the pasture shouldn't be too mean!

However, while I was trying to separate the other two horses into the front pasture while keeping my horse in the back pasture, the owner came out with their hay. I knew riding Panama on an empty stomach with the horses eating on the other side of the fence was a really bad idea, so I set Panama loose (which confused him), and sat down in the shade to relax and wait.

I gave Panama a little over an hour to eat — half an hour spent watching him and the other horses (which was educational, as I don't usually doo that), and another 45 minutes or so spent chatting with the property owner. Then I caught Panama, groomed him, and bridled him.

We rode bareback for 15 minutes or so, just like I'd intended, except that it had gotten a lot hotter in an hour. He behaved himself really well. I worked on getting him to collect at the walk (he'll collect for short periods of time, so I'm trying to get him to hold it for longer), going over the bridge, and of course my balance. I also rode him around the trailer — something we've done before, but he was much more nervous about it today, which demonstrated to me that there's a reason for the lost ground we've experienced lately. Whatever scared him and made him jump into the trailer on Saturday has apparently left a lasting impression.

Another thing we worked on was turning on the forehand. I've always found that he does it better bareback than when there's a saddle between us, probably because he feels the shift in my seat and my leg pressure better. But he still seems to require a lot of pressure on his mouth in order to understand what I want, so today I worked for quite a while on getting him to do it with a looser rein. It took him a while to turn without walking forward, but once he got it, he really got it! I was so pleased!

Once we finished our ride, I brushed him off, scooped his grain, and took him out to the trailer. We started out with the grain on the shelf again, but after a while it became evident Panama wouldn't go for that. It took me forever just to convince him to stand in the doorway (i.e., so that his next step would have to be into the trailer), and it was clear to me that he wasn't going to get any further than that the way we were going.

So as much as it killed me to do it, I again moved his grain to the floor of the trailer. (This goes along with revising our goals when something is not working out. I felt bad about doing so yesterday, but Kate reassured me in her comments that she thought I'd done the right thing. Thanks Kate!) He was still hesitant at first — he put two feet in the trailer several times, and then backed out without getting to his grain. But after several false starts, he finally did get in far enough to eat his grain.

This time I didn't give up after he backed out once. I made him finish his grain in the trailer, which meant he stepped up with both front feet about a dozen times, all said and done. He seemed much more confident about it by the end.

I'm wondering if we're stuck at this point, and if I should try something new to get him the rest of the way in. On the DVD that came with the Pony Boy book I bought recently, there is a segment on trailer loading. The method he uses — basically working with baby steps and relieving the pressure every time the horse gets a step closer to the goal (loading) — seems like a good way to do it.

I'm just not sure if I should change tactics, or if I should hold out and see if Panama gets over whatever set him back. Until yesterday, he was doing really well with my method of using grain to make him more comfortable in the trailer. I'm not sure if I should assume that right now is just a temporary setback, and keep at it, or if I should switch gears and try another approach. What do you think?



At June 30, 2009 at 2:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're not stuck yet by any means. Does he have a reliable go-forward cue from the ground and does he reliably give to halter pressure - head down and moving forward instantly when asked? I wouldn't do a lot of trailer loading until these are well-established. You probably have two options at this point - have the trailer somewhere where he can access it while he's loose - say in an arena - and just leave treats/grain in there. This will work but may take a long time - I'm talking days and even weeks here. The alternative is to use an assistant - a reliable one who will do what you ask only - and keep the feet moving. This does require having a person inside the trailer - which can make things more dangerous particularly if leaping into the trailer occurs. I've promised you a post on this - very soon - but be aware that since I'm not a trainer and I can't see you or your horse, what I say may be completely mistaken for you and your horse. But I'll try to be as clear as possible in my post! Most important advice - do not under any circumstances be in a hurry!

At June 30, 2009 at 7:51 AM, Blogger Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Hmmmm. Kate's comment about giving to halter pressure may explain why I have such a hard time trailering Gabbrielle. She causes halter pressure and seems oblivious to it. Anyway, I think I made the mistake of switching techniques too often. I suspect it is more important to be consistent over a longer period of time.

On another note, when I was boarding Bombay, I remember feeling frustrated, because with my job I only had a few minutes here and there to work with my horse, and it seemed that every time I showed up to do that, he was eating. I tried getting the farm owners to just leave his hay next to his stall, so that I could feed him when I was done working with him, but that didn't help with his mood if all the other horses were eating. The only thing that really solved it was bringing him home and having complete control over his schedule. Keep on working toward getting some horse property. The freedom is well worth it.

At June 30, 2009 at 9:15 AM, Blogger Katharine Swan said...


Normally he gives in to halter pressure pretty well, but his fear of the trailer seems to delay his normal response. Whereas normally it takes him a split second to respond to it, with the trailer it takes sometimes 30 seconds for him to move forward. Same with the go-forward cue -- normally he responds very well too it, but when there's a trailer in front of him it's a different story.

The trailer stalls are very small, so I can't stand in the one I want him to go in. And the second person is not an option -- the only person available is my husband, and he gets so nervous about that sort of thing that it rubs off on Panama.

I don't have much longer with the trailer, so I think I'm going to try what Pony Boy did in the DVD, as he stood outside the trailer and didn't need a second person. I tried to find it on YouTube so I could show you but it's not there. :o( Don't worry, though, I won't hurry the actual practice -- I'm actually going to go out there in a couple of hours with the intention of spending the rest of the day working with him if necessary.


The feeding issue is definitely frustrating. This place doesn't have separate stalls, so the horses have to all be fed at the same time. It makes it more difficult that the property owner doesn't seem to have a reliable set schedule for feeding, so if it continues to be a problem I may need to ask him to set one. Luckily freelancing gives me flexibility...

At July 2, 2009 at 9:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I left you a comment on your comment on my trailering post on my blog!


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