Sunday, July 19, 2009

Trailer loading progress!

Today (Saturday), Michael went to the barn with me to help with trailer loading practice. As a result of today's work, I've come to the conclusion that Panama is never going to get into my trainer's trailer without a lot more forceful coercion than I'm willing to dole out — but we made some really awesome progress using the new boarders' stock trailer.

I credit a lot of our progress to a fellow blogger's helpful advice on keeping the feet moving. There aren't enough little stones around our barn to use the way Kate describes, so I opted for the alternative: a plastic bag tied to the end of a stick (in this case, a crop).

Kate was worried about scaring him too much with the bag, but I said I was more worried that Panama wouldn't fear the bag enough for it to help. Turns out I was right, and all that desensitization has worked. He seemed annoyed about the bag, and perhaps a touch anxious as to what we were doing, but when he had his feet planted you could smack him on the butt with it and he couldn't care less.

We worked with my trainer's trailer for a bit first, as the new boarders weren't there and I didn't want to try theirs without them being there. But after nearly an hour, we weren't much closer to loading than we were at the beginning — despite the bag and the treats I was giving when he did well, we hadn't gotten any further than bumping his legs against the edge of the trailer and half-picking up one foot.

About that time, luckily, the new boarders arrived. I asked if we could use their trailer. Within minutes Panama was putting his front feet on. Sometimes he'd plant his feet instead of stepping up, but a little shake of the bag acted as enough of a reminder to get him moving again. Once he got all four feet in, but since it's a stock trailer it rattles a lot, and he literally stood in place and shook like a leaf for a few moments before hurriedly backing out.

I quickly realized that before we worked really seriously on getting all four feet on, I was going to have to work on him backing out slowly. He reared his head up and rushed it almost every time, and twice he knocked his noggin on the roof. Not hard enough to injure him, but still, I wasn't going to wait for it to get worse! So instead of pushing him to get all four feet in, I started encouraging him to stand calmly for increasingly longer periods with two feet in, giving him a treat when he did so, and then telling him to back out so that it was done in a calm manner.

Although we only got all the way in once, I have great hope for future sessions. Working with the nice, roomy stock trailer was a walk in the park compared to working with my trainer's trailer — even despite the rattling noises it made.

I don't know if I've mentioned it before, but my trainer's trailer is probably the smallest trailer I've ever seen. It's a two-horse trailer so small that my small horse — who wears a 64 inch blanket — can eat grain from the shelf with only his front feet in the trailer. It's narrow, too, and has a partition down the middle. I'm thinking that with his history of trailers, he's going to have to learn to be comfortable loading and unloading on a roomier trailer before he ever willingly loads onto anything that small.

Basically, what this means for me is that I'm always going to have to be aware of this when transporting Panama. I'll have to choose transporters who have roomy trailers, for one thing. And if I ever get a trailer of my own, it'll have to be a stock trailer or a roomy two-horse trailer, preferably one without a partition.

Still, if that's what it takes to get Panama to overcome his fear of trailers, so be it. It's a small price to pay for progress, in my opinion!

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