Friday, July 3, 2009

Update on recent trailer work

In my last post on trailer loading practice, I talked about how I was wondering whether I should change tactics on trying to teach Panama to load. The comments I received made me decide to experiment with other methods a little. Then Kate wrote a fantastic post about keeping the feet moving, among other things, which gave me some other ideas.

This will be a long post — sorry about that.

I worked with Panama for a long time Tuesday afternoon. Inspired by Kate's comments, I started out by seeing how Panama gave to halter pressure. The answer: pretty good, though not perfect. There's a slight hesitation before he moves his feet, but he knows what halter pressure means and responds to it.

Unless there's a trailer in his way.

I wanted to work for a bit without the grain as incentive (read: blatant bribery), so I tried out some different ways to approach the trailer — me standing to his right, me standing to his left, me standing inside the trailer, trying to get him to follow me into the same stall, etc.

Normally, with this trailer I wouldn't try to get him to walk into the same stall as me. I know the dangers, particularly when this trailer is such a small one. It's a pity, because Panama is much more willing to follow me onto a trailer when there's enough room for both of us inside the stall. I've decided that's why he loaded so easily this time. However, at this point on Tuesday I was pretty sure I wasn't in danger of him actually getting all the way in and squishing me. I was hoping that he would put a foot in if I was already in there, but unfortunately it didn't work out that way. He did walk all the way up to it and bump his legs up against the edge of the trailer, but no further.

Until the grain came out, of course. He quite happily put two feet in the trailer for that. Well, not entirely happily — he's worried about it, so it takes quite a few tries to get to his grain. It's like playing the hokey pokey:

Put your left foot in,
Put your right foot in,
Put both feet out and shake your head about...

It takes a few times of that before he makes it as far as the grain.

After he had his grain, we worked on it some more, but he still wouldn't put a foot in without the incentive (read: bribe). I did discover that it worked best if I stood on his left side, in front of the door, and I swung the end of the lead rope lightly at his belly while clucking to him. He knew what I wanted, but didn't want to do it, so he danced back and forth and every once in a while stepped up until he bumped the edge of the trailer with his knees.

Now here's where my horse demonstrates his infuriating intelligence. I started out by rewarding the smallest advancement by letting him step back, praising him, and walking him around the trailer or around the pasture a little. I would generally watch for where he froze up, apply halter pressure and/or a go command, and then reward him as soon as he went a step beyond that point. So the little bugger caught on, and started freezing up farther back so that his step forward, when he gave it to me, was still within his comfort zone. Arrrrghhhh. I had to start drawing a line in the dirt after that to mark where his last step was.

Anyway, I ended up having to be satisfied with him bumping the trailer with his knees sans-grain, as well as a couple of other lessons that we seemed to reinforce during that period (Don't challenge Mommy being the boss because she makes you run laps, and Walk nicely on the lead line even when you're nervous).

Yesterday I had to be satisfied with even less, because I only got about 15 minutes to work with him at the trailer before breakfast was served and I got distracted by other work.

Today I never made it to the trailer because it started raining on us, but I did have a chance to test a suggestion that my new hero, Kate, made: that some horses hesitate about loading because they aren't comfortable (or are scared of) backing out. She mentioned practicing backing through obstacles, and one she mentioned was a practice bridge. Hey, I've got one of those at my disposal, and it's a pretty narrow one too — perfect! So today I led him up it, stopped him at the top, and backed him down again.

No big deal. He walked carefully down the ramp, as I would expect, but seemed completely comfortable, if a little confused about why Mommy was making him do this. I did this several times, each time with the same unconcerned response.

Okay, so backing is apparently not the issue. I still need to practice it a bit more to be sure, and I would have had it not started raining at this point. But it certainly seems that it is his previous bad experiences with the trailer that make him reluctant to load.

But I have a couple other new ideas now, thanks (again) to Kate. She had a couple of suggestions for using a second person to keep his feet moving, and you know what, they even seem like something my non-horsey husband can manage. I'm still going to practice backing some more first (why the heck not), but hopefully we'll get back to the trailer practice this weekend!



At July 3, 2009 at 6:54 PM, Blogger Reddunappy said...

Hey Katharine, I just had to ask, as I didnt see it mentioned in any of your posts, you do have the trailer hooked to a truck while you practice? Just checking : )

At July 3, 2009 at 7:42 PM, Blogger Katharine Swan said...

No, I'm afraid I don't have that luxury. No truck. :o( No trailer either, technically -- it's my trainer's!

But I'm as careful as I possibly can be with what I have to work with. I have the trailer blocked off well, which my trainer said should be fine. I've also been careful to be sure that Panama's lead rope doesn't get caught again.

At July 3, 2009 at 8:47 PM, Blogger jane augenstein said...

Good luck with your trailer training! Thank goodness Gilly has decided that it's Ok to get in the trailer and go for a ride. The Parelli sending game is how I got him to go in the trailer. I worked for me and Gilly but it may not work as well for others. All horses are different, some will go in willingly and some want to really make sure that there is no horse eating monster in there first!
Have a wonderful 4th!
~Jane and Gilly~

At July 3, 2009 at 11:40 PM, Blogger Katharine Swan said...

Hey Jane, good to see a comment from you again! :o)

I'm not familiar with the sending game, but I remember you mentioning it a while back in a post about your trailer practice with Gilly. Kate did a great post about her methods; maybe it's your turn? ;o)

As for Panama -- I'm pretty sure he thinks the trailer IS the horse-eating monster!


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