Sunday, July 19, 2009

Trailer loading - step by step

Today I was originally planning on riding in the field some more, since Michael wasn't going to be able to help me with the trailer loading practice two days in a row. However, we made such good progress yesterday that I was eager to practice some more.

This time I roped my mom into helping. We had a little snafu early on because she was being a little, er, overzealous with the plastic bag. It produced an unfortunate display of temper from me, which I immediately regretted because it temporarily made Panama worse at loading — I think it scared him that I got mad, since I rarely do around him. I think he thought I was angry at him.

Anyway, once my mom and I got things figured out, our practice session went smoothly. I purposely didn't try to get Panama to put all four feet on; instead I focused on getting him to get two feet on, and then back down in a calm and controlled manner. I did this by rewarding him with a treat for putting two feet in, then saying "easy" and "back" in a quiet voice. He quickly learned that when he waited for my command and backed down slowly, he was rewarded with another treat, whereas if he rushed it he didn't get a second treat.

Once he had that down pat, I started waiting to reward him until he got his front two feet a little farther into the trailer. He had been stepping up fairly close to the edge, and I wanted him to get half his body inside. I also rewarding him for waiting with his front two feet in the trailer while I told him to whoa.

I think he really understands now that I want him to wait and back down slowly, and he is showing a lot more confidence in where he is putting his feet while he backs down. Also, he no longer needs the bag — he is responding to clucks and the command, "Step up." When he does balk, my helper lifting the crop just a little or very gently tapping his butt with the end is enough to get his feet moving again.

I have to say, it feels SO good to be making progress! Next time I'll start encouraging him to step progressively farther into the trailer, with the hopes of getting a third and perhaps even a fourth foot in — but just a little bit at a time, so that he doesn't get back into the habit of rushing his "dismount."

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