Thursday, April 6, 2017

Trailering: Lesson 2 and 3

I wanted to just say I appreciate everyone's kind words and comments from my previous post - I am overwhelmed with the support and feel like I'm not alone in this. Yes, it was a very stupid and juvenile mistake to make, but I suppose we make those mistakes for a reason.

One of the biggest things I am grateful for is that Annie is OK. There is no swelling, heat, or lameness and aside from the unsightly wounds, you wouldn't even know we had had as large of an incident as we had (other than y'anno, the fact she won't load).

I'm beginning to realize a lot of things about Annie - she really doesn't KNOW much. For example, cold-hosing her fetlocks or even just running my hand down her legs has her shuffling away with a, "What the heck are you doing?" expression. It isn't malicious, and it isn't rude.

She literally doesn't know.

Thankfully she does know how to treat little poodle dogs.
And I'll be the first to admit that yes, there are a lot of holes in her training. She is a willing participant for most things, which makes it easy to push her or put pressure on her. She reacts the only way she knows how and the only way she understands. She hasn't been taught to react in a less explosive way and she hasn't been taught there are alternative ways to voice her displeasure at certain situations.

The whole fly-spray thing, the farrier issue, and now this trailer fiasco isn't because of her directly. Yes, she is the one who spooked, kicked out, and bolted backwards, but it simply is because she doesn't know HOW she is supposed to react.

All these puzzle pieces are starting to click together and I can feel myself understanding her and her needs more. From just three short sessions with the trailer loading, I can see just how willing she is when I praise her and give her the answer to what she is asking.

I've never owned a baby horse before, so these light bulb moments are probably coming very late in my ownership of Annie, but we're chugging along no worse for wear.

The Metal Box of Death - as per Annie
On Tuesday morning I set out early to hook up the trailer and begin Annie's second trailering lesson. I was secretly hoping for a breakthrough, but we all know that trust is a fickle thing. Once bitten, twice shy and all that.

I pulled Annie out of the paddock and began brushing the Sore No More poultice from her legs. It seemed as though there was some residual swelling on her hind left near the back of the fetlock, so I cold-hosed her - which was a lesson in itself.

I don't think Annie has ever had the hose on her before, because she danced around and snorted and blew. But, like the day before when I cold-hosed her, I just stayed with her (but didn't give her any physical corrections) until she stood quiet. I patted her and continued what I was doing. She came to terms with it fairly quickly and let me squat down by her fetlock with the leadrope draped loose.

Afterwards, we waltzed over to the trailer and repeated what we had been working on the day before.

  • Cathryn goes in the trailer.
  • Annie follows to where she is comfortable.
  • Annie gets treat.
  • Annie stands quiet on the ramp until Cathryn backs her out.
  • Mental break.
Nothing really ground-breaking or earth-shattering happened. We repeated our little dance a few times and when I upped the pressure ever so slightly (by asking her to step closer to the lip of the ramp where it connects to the trailer floor), she protested with a head shake but stayed with me mentally and physically. Immediately when she self-soothed and stayed quiet, I removed her from the stimuli.

The whole back and forth dance started to get a bit boring for her so I requested she come closer - she danced along the top of the ramp. You could see she was battling herself, as the rope was completely slack. She wanted so badly to join me, but she was afraid.

She tentatively touched a front hoof into the trailer and jerked it away like it had been set on fire. I laughed and led her back down the trailer.

We repeated the exercise until she stood with a hoof in the trailer and stayed "with" me as I fed her treats.

She is starting to figure out that shooting backwards is the wrong answer, and she can show me she's upset in another way. Each time she has started to falter backwards, she steps forward as if to say, "I'm very uncomfortable so I'm going to get out of her- oh, right, step forward... breathe... Mom will get me out of this." 

The session ended there - I didn't and don't want to berate her with going in and out endlessly and trying to push her more than she was willing.

Awkward selfie + Sore No More poulticed leg.
Wednesday evening I popped out after work for a short, but purposeful exercise. I brought the trailer with me, but also worked in some of the suggestions a few readers gave me.

I started off by producing the building blocks I'd be utilizing later on in our trailer training which included Teresa's wonderful suggestion of "sending" Annie off. We worked away from the trailer and I used a dressage whip to help be an extension of my arm.

Annie was great - went where I pointed her and halted where I asked. We moved closer to the trailer and her mind left me for a moment or two as I had her "lunge" around me with the leadrope. The main objective of this was for her to understand that A) we won't always be working ON the trailer, but we can work NEAR it. B) the eventual installment of sending her up and INTO the trailer without me leading her in.

We neared the ramp of the trailer and she stepped on it a few times, which I praised her for. She was unsure about what I was trying to get her to do, but she did as I asked which was all I could ask for.

We also worked on verbal "back" cues for when she is in the trailer and needs to back out without pressure on the leadrope. I used the dressage whip to tap her front legs and she did awesome.

So, kind of like the Stacey Westfall videos I've been watching at the advice of Emma (thank you!!) I have been "planting the seed" of things to come. There isn't really any end result from any of the little things we played with today, but they will all become entangled into one another.

The process is kind of like watching paint dry, in some aspects, but these are all important things to focus on and build upon.

Annie certainly has a lot to learn but she obviously has a wonderful temperament that will blossom with her being able to understand what we are actually trying to achieve. No, there is no excuse for not yielding to pressure or otherwise, but I truly don't think she knows any better.

We finished off the night with loading and unloading in the trailer, altho this time was more about hanging out on the ramp vs stepping up and stepping off like we had previously done. Yes, there is something to be said about routine, but I like to add little things together and try to play off of what the horse is giving me. Annie wasn't concerned about stepping off the ramp - yes, she stepped down the ramp but never stepped completely off of it. I made the ramp her "safe zone" for the night and we played from there (with a few intervals where I took her completely off the trailer for a little "break".

 Near the end of the session, Annie pawed at the air, showing that she realllly wanted that carrot but she just didn't realllly want to put her hoof in. She is actually quite a character, her little quirks make me laugh.

She did have quite a big breakthrough though - both hooves made their way into the trailer and after she did that more than once, we quit for the night. The first time both hooves made contact in the trailer floor, she took the treat and immediately stepped back onto the safe zone of the ramp, which is OK, but not ideal. The second time we did this, like you will see in the video, I asked her to "stay" with me. You can see in the video she wasn't quite sure and you can see the moment where she wanted to get the heck out of there and instead, bobbed back forwards. She stayed right with me until I let her back out.

It's a terrible video, but it gives you a general idea. The clucking noises I made weren't necessarily to entice her forwards as much as it was to ask her to focus and use her brain again vs staring at Spud and Suzie (who were neighing like Annie was going to leave foreverrr). Viewers will note the leadrope being loose save for when she went to go backwards - the tension allows her to know that that is the wrong answer and she is rewarded by stepping forwards OR by moving her neck forwards to release the tension. You can see I don't move and I don't even play into her uncertainty, just wait for her to gather her composure and stand, and then I immediately ask her to back up and remove her from the trailer.

I'm not going to pester her on the trailer stuff again until the weekend - we have a lot to work on and I don't want to overwhelm her with doing the same exact thing day in and day out. So we'll play with other things like:
  •  standing while I pretend to be a farrier on her hooves
  •  standing while I turn the hose on her legs
  • yielding to pressure from her poll
  • following the direction I point her and stopping exactly and precisely when I ask
  • yielding her haunches
  • accepting the flyspray 
  • backing from voice cues only
  • ground tying
  • suppling exercises (yielding)
Rome wasn't built in a day and we aren't going to accomplish these fast and hard - it'll be months of work and dedication to get her 100%. Which, I'm OK with. As weird as it sounds (altho I worked at an animal shelter and veterinary clinic so it "makes sense" to me) it reminds me of adopting a dog from the pound. Altho the dog can be young (but not a puppy) they may have issues or things they have never understood or encountered. You cannot and will not completely train a dog to sit in a day - they will test you, they will forget in new situations, they will be distracted, etc.

I've tried to tell friends that I don't like her, but I'm starting to
and I'm starting to "get" her.
And as much as I've talked about all the holes Annie has, she has some really great qualities that shouldn't be forgotten. I mean, how many 30 days (or less?) green-broke horses do you know that can come out after a month off and go hacking out (on garbage day no less) completely solo?

She's kind and sensible and I'm starting to realize just how much I misjudged her. She isn't a witchy mare - she is like a little kid, who is trying to figure it all out.

It seems as though she is beginning to forgive my ignorance, which I am very pleased with. And soon our trailer ties and Safe T Ties will be here for the "real deal" - whenever Annie decides that is!


  1. I had a similar experience with my gelding in regards to the bolting out backwards. I would lead him on and then head out the escape door to go to the back of the trailer to put up the butt bar, and as soon as I'd leave, he'd run backwards off the trailer. I didn't tie him when I led him on, though, and he would get on and stand as long as I was there, but as soon as I was behind him, he was off. Since I typically haul off to places by myself, it was incredibly frustrating. After one particularly embarrassing incident at a show, where we did this dance for about an hour, I taught him to self-load. It's been an absolute lifesaver. I just point him up the ramp and on he goes. I taught him with a lunge whip, but don't have to use it anymore. When he gets on, I do the butt bar and ramp, then go to the front to tie him. Here's a video of him loading:

    I'd highly recommend giving this a try. If you have any questions, I'll try to help any way I can!

    1. I am sorry to hear you had a similar experience, but am glad your gelding didn't get hurt (unlike my mare!).

      Thank you for sharing the video and being open for questions. I feel like I am getting a lot of really good information that I can apply to Annie!

  2. Well done! That's the hard thing about getting a horse (at any age). You don't know what they do and do not know. She sounds very green but also good which sometimes masks what she doesn't know/hasn't been exposed to. You guys are going to get it!

    1. I am also a Straight Haul Virgin - I had no idea most people load their horses and then do up the butt bar and then the ramp and THEN tie the horse. Durr, that makes so much more sense.

  3. I think you're going to have such a cool, trust worthy horse that really wants to work for you in all areas when you're done with her!

    1. Thanks, Carly. I really appreciate your support :)

  4. It sounds to me that things are getting back on track. Keep it up and you will get there

    1. We'll get there. One little stepping stone at a time!

  5. I love the exercise. Loading can be a pain. I had to laugh at myself because I found myself focusing on you saying good. What is it that causes every equestrian to string the good out into multiple syllables? I've never figured it out. XD

  6. I think part of building a relationship with any new horse is discovering (and then fixing!) all the holes in training. Even with the two I've raised from birth and a year still have occasional holes that bite me in the butt from time to time!

    1. Sometimes I think, things aren't necessarily ''holes'', I think it is sometimes how the horse IS. Not to say that as a rider we shouldn't attempt to eliminate things, but some horses will always BE reactive vs sedated and quiet. Sometimes you just have to tailor things to how that horse is.

      I am glad that this sort of thing still happens with home-raised babies!!

  7. Awesome, Cathryn! That is a great exercise. I am spoiled as Nakai never had a bad trail experience, but I did teach him to self load by 'sending' him in a similar way you're starting to teach Annie. It will pay off!! It's a wonderful tool and it makes trailering by yourself much easier when you your horse will self load and unload for you.

    Speaking of your shelter dog paragraph - that is exactly how I'm treating Mulder. I haven't had him 2 full months yet, and because I have zero background on him I'm treating him like he's never seen XYZ before. I can't have any expectations if I assume everything is brand new. I think it helps a lot to keep stress down. Anything he gives me, as long as it is a 'try', is the right answer, and I think you'll have incredible results with Annie by doing the same thing.

    1. I really hope so!!

      I actually thought A LOT about you and Mulder and his expériences - it really helped me realize a lot of things about Annie (namely your entry about his fear aggression). Horses and dogs can be quite similar, I think.

  8. Sounds like the re-training is going well. You're very patient with her. If you can move the center bar over in your trailer, making the space she has to step into bigger while you're practicing might help.

    1. Thank you, Olivia!!

      Actually, that cursed center bar is immobile - it is actually welded at the top and bottom, which is frustrating.

      I have also started opening up all the doors and windows to make it ''lighter'' in there so it isn't so dark and scary.

    2. Maybe look at having that altered. If there is an accident once the loading is fixed and she goes under the divider you dont want to have to get emergency services to cut the divider to get her out.

    3. The divider itself can actually be removed completely from some pins on either side of it, but the bar that runs vertical can't be.

  9. So good to hear! She really is amazing for a 4-year-old and I love the plans you have to help her along in her training.

  10. I read your previous post about tht's a shame it happened but we all make mistakes don't beat yourself up over it. I think your game plan with Annie will pay off. You just need to be patient. She's a young horse and learning by taking baby steps with her will give her the confidence to trust you. She will be proud of herself when she gets a lesson right.

    I have no real advice to add to the other commenters. My horse Erik (years ago) was three when I got him and he had to learn everything from lots of repitition. It takes a long time but it's worth all the time spent in the beginning. The only thing I used to do with trailer loading because I was always by myself is,I would lead him on with a very long lunge line,go out the side door with it to the back of the trailer and secure the butt bar and ramp then come back in and unhook him and rehook him to the trailer ties. Luckily he was always more interested in the hay net than leaving but I wasn't taking any chances of him leaving on a busy road without some sort of restraint. I also have no idea if this would have done any good but it made me feel better. He probably thought I was nuts.

    1. Thanks so much for your comments. It's a Learning curve, that's for certain :/


  11. I will be the last person to claim to be an expert baby horse trainer, but I do know that it takes patience and time to do it right and it sounds like you are well on your way of getting a plan and groundwork laid down. Keep up the good work!!