Monday, May 15, 2023

Trailer training

Giggles isn't quite the magical loader that Yoshi was from the get go, so we've set to work figuring it out. He also had that concerning habit of going in then flying back out at warp speed. Not great, especially given his height. It made him pretty likely to wack his head on the trailer roof at some point. Also concerning to try to do a butt bar behind a horse who wants to fly backwards if you're not quick enough. And I love my trailer overall, but I hate that the butt bar involves dropping a pin through the bar to anchor it in the middle of the trailer. It's not particularly quick and means you have to be directly behind the horse to do it up. 

JT's method involves a "witch's broom" that is laid against the hindquarters with gentle pressure. It tickles them into moving forwards, I guess. When there is forwards motion it is removed. If there's backwards motion it is kept on the hindquarters with the same pressure, moving back with him. 

Pulled our Christmas cinnamon broom from the burn pit to serve witch's broom duty

This method is effective and not particularly dramatic. But it's a two person enterprise and still felt like the wheels might fall off semi easily. Especially since not much alarms baby horse so the idea of him becoming desensitized to the tickly broom did cross my mind.

So I started target training. Partially to help with trailering and partially because he's become a bit too pushy with carrot stretches. Not everyone can be the saint Ben is on the ground. Giggles picked up targeting shockingly fast. Like less than two minutes fast. He initially was a bit spooky about the target but that dissolved rapidly. 

I touch it here

And here

I repurposed my trailer hook up aid for his target. Figured I'd always have it when I was trying to load. We did one session "loading" the target and the tongue click that goes with it. Then I set out to use it on the loading. Ideally I probably should've done a few more loading sessions, but the trailer was at the barn and hooked up and I didn't have anything to do that day. 

Key points: no agenda for the day and lots of high value treats (carrots not the usual coin shaped cookies). 

First session:

We targeted into the trailer one step at the time. He spent a lot of time sniffing parts of the trailer, sometimes looking like he'd checked out while his nose was pressed up against the side of the trailer wall.

Sniffing the divider, ignoring the target for the time being


I generally tried to keep him from backing up, but obviously when a large creature goes back there isn't any stopping it. But this time I actually could stay in the trailer, hold the lead, and then reel him back in to where he had been before. Then do lots of targeting and treating at that point. He did actually also seem nervous about backing up and so we took lots of time doing that too, at my request. Reassuring him he did know where his feet were. Targeting backwards didn't actually work. He just did some neck flexions down when I tried to ask for the back up by moving the target to his chest. So that was a traditional ask with the lead and hand on chest. 

It took about 30 minutes until he was in. I hooked up a bucket of grain to the front and he stood there chowing down while I walked around the back of the trailer. I didn't do up the butt bar but I talked to him from behind.

Grain bucket hanging. He also closely inspected the fan.

Good boy!

Then we backed out slowly. Successful day one, and so low stress. I had switched to a chain over his nose for loading to try to keep people safe from the backwards motion, but in the end this was in a plain lead and was so much safer. 

Second session:

This session was actually loading him up to go to Majestic with a friend and her 4-year-old horse. It took about 30 minutes again, but he was calm and slowly moving (aka not flying backwards even when he backed up) the whole time. I'm not sure how the next round will go, because he thought the trailer actually moving, especially without a friend, was a pretty dirty trick. On the way home, my friend led him in while I used the witch's broom method. Once again, he was pretty calm about the whole thing and didn't try to fly backwards out of the trailer. I didn't try the target on the way home because my friend had to be at work before too long so I didn't want to take all her time or risk being stranded there all day if he decided he didn't want to go on after she left. 

More on the actual cross country itself later, but suffice to say I'm super excited about his future, he was incredibly good and brave!!

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