Thursday, August 15, 2013

More Trailer Loading . . .

Yesterday was a bit busy . . .

My day started with a very nice ride on Dawn in the cool morning.  Her lateral work is really coming along - she tells me when I'm getting things right.

Then I had a mid-day music lesson, which requires an hour of driving each way.

Back home, a bit of lunch, then back to the barn.  Both boys got rides.  Pie got a short, relaxed outdoors ride, and Red got a longer ride, both indoors and outdoors.  My vet was there looking at a couple of other horses, and watched Red moving and said he was looking very good.  I occasionally feel a bit of stiffness in the left hind as we warm up, but he's pretty much fully sound now.

Then Red and I had another trailer loading session.  We'll be doing this a couple of days a week until he's a lot more comfortable with the trailer.  He loaded pretty well (to yesterday's standards) from the start, which is about what I expected he would do.  He gets on without a whole lot of pressure, but isn't relaxed at all in the trailer and isn't comfortable staying in for long.  We're already well ahead of where we were last year with his trailer loading, and if I needed him to load in an emergency, we could do it, but it's still nowhere near what I want long term.

Then I started working on what I wanted to accomplish.  One step forwards, one step back, two steps forward, one step back, one step forward, two steps back . . .  We'd practiced ahead of time as we were leading through the indoor, out through the parking lot and up the hill.  We did that a bit on the grass in front of the trailer, and then we went to work.

Since I was asking him to do something new/different/outside his comfort zone, the bracing/evasions came right back. First we had to deal with his evasion of curling his head, neck and body to the right, which results in him throwing his left shoulder towards the trailer and ending up sideways with his head braced away from me.  I just kept the pressure on the lead while getting close to him and then turned his head towards me to the left and did some very small circles to the left before asking again, never taking the pressure off the lead.  When it was a bit better, I simply led him towards the trailer on a fairly loose lead and when he started to veer to his right and throw his body to the left, I just tossed the end of the lead - I love my 10' cotton leads - at his left side behind my back and just kept right on going.  Later in our work, when he'd try to go around the end of the ramp I just asked him to load from there - the ramp angle is so shallow that it's easy for him to step up from the side.

There were also some hissy fits.  He did some running backwards - I just kept the pressure on until he moved forward again.  He went through a stage of flinging himself into the trailer - "all right, you want me in there, I'm going in there pronto" - not what I wanted.  He worked through the hissy fits faster this time, and there was no panicked calling for other horses.

I'm not worried about the pulling backwards and bracing to the side behaviors.  I just keep on asking consistently and calmly for what I want him to do and we get through it.  He does this because he feels under pressure and also because I expect in the past it got him releases and perhaps even stopping the work - it's not that he's scheming, it's just how he was trained in the past to get a release.  Having a 1,200 pound horse pulling, rearing and pushing his shoulder out (in our early days he would even run his body right into you - that doesn't happen anymore because I set boundaries) can be mighty intimidating if you don't know how to handle it.

We got some good one step forward, one step back work on the ramp, with two feet inside the trailer, and also inside the trailer once he was fully in.  The intermediate area - where he's just stepped into the trailer with his hind feet, or taken more than a step backwards from the front - is still a place where he's not comfortable stopping and taking a step back and forward - there's a lip at the back of the trailer where the ramp attaches, so it could be that's a worry for him.

At the very end, after about 45 minutes of work, we got some good one step work at the back and front of the trailer, with a couple of nice, slow back offs, and called it a day.  He's still not at all calm when inside the trailer, but is calmer in its vicinity and on the ramp and with two feet in.  He'll be calmer when he's more confident and when he has more hours practicing. I told him what a fine horse he is, many, many times at each stage of our progress.  We'll do a day or two of trailer loading practice every week until we're done - it'll take a while but we'll get there in the end, and Red working through his fits and making progress with me is a great confidence builder for him.  Over time, as we work and he learns that he can undertake new tasks (without bad things happening if he gets the wrong answer - he's worried about this, still) and make progress together with me, the bad behaviors will decrease and eventually just fall away, as many of his other problem behaviors have.

After I was all done, I unhitched - more of a production with the bumper pull than it was with the gooseneck - I was a bit surprised by this.  The negative of the gooseneck (in addition to its very large size) is having to crawl around in the truck bed to hitch.  The negative of the bumper pull is having to get down on the ground, and also having to deal with the load stabilizer bars - very heavy to handle (about at my load limit due to my history of back trouble) and they also take some strength - the gooseneck required no physical effort at all.  Removing and reinserting the hitch from the back of the truck (so as not to get a ticket while driving around trailerless) also involves weight lifting that's beyond my capabilities - I have to get help with that.  I also find I was spoiled by the handling of my F350 with trailer - very smooth and easy.  The F150 plus bumper pull is a bit more rough - you can feel the trailer and its movements.  Pluses and minuses . . .  I do very much like the interior of the trailer - it's spacious and light and comfortable for the horses.  Pictures coming . . .

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