March 10, 2010

Back to that trailering issue...

From day one, we knew that Rose hadn't been taught to load. This was an issue that was non-negotiable with me. A horse that doesn't load isn't much more useful than a spork. It can kind of work when you need it, but you can't depend on it to get the job done. In addition, she had to actually go to the vet's facility to have her wolf teeth removed. This would require her to trailer.

A good friend of mine was kind enough to offer me his trailer for a few months to practice with her on loading. The first time we got her on took about 45 minutes. We had to place her front hoof on the trailer, and then coax her in the rest of the way with treats and praise. After that I left her on the trailer with the door open for nearly an hour and then backed her off. We repeated this once a day over the course of a week or so and then throughout the month, with varying results. Our fastest time was 6 minutes, and then the longest was about 45 minutes. I knew that this would still need to improve, and that treats needed to be eliminated from the loading procedure, but at this point I just wanted her to feel comfortable and have happy associations with being inside the trailer, and at the very least I could plan on 45 minutes to load her for her big trip to the vet. Things were looking pretty good.
Click here to read the original blog post.

December - Time to visit the Vet
The big trip to the vet was planned for the morning of December 9th. As it turned out, Portland was in the middle of an unusual cold spell. That morning's temperature was about 9ºF when I arrived early at the barn, so I was definitely hoping that she would load quickly. We got Rose ready and went through our now familiar routine of loading her, still with treats. A good hour later our fingers and toes were completely frozen. We were overjoyed when she finally got on and we could warm up our numb appendages. Although relieved that she did get on the trailer, I was fed up with the length of time it took, and decided that after that day the treat coaxing would come to an end, and it was time for some tough love. For now though, she got on the trailer and was off to the vet for her dental work. The wolf tooth extraction, power-tool float, and baby cap removal process was quite amazing to watch and I wish I had taken photos to share. Never having seen wolf teeth in a horse's mouth before, I was amazed by how tiny and needly they were!

After her appointment was over, our vet loaded her back onto our little trailer. Even loopy from her sedatives she was being bull headed about getting on the trailer, and our vet went to work to show her who was boss. In a matter of 15 minutes she gave up and he got her to load. I had a brief discussion with the vet about how I can move past our current stage in the loading process and start getting her to willingly walk on. I made a mental note of his suggestions and decided to wait until I could borrow or buy a larger trailer to start working with her again. I was a bit worried that some of her reluctance was due to the small size of the trailer, and her ever growing warmblood body. After all, a square peg just doesn't fit in a round hole, no matter how many carrots or head bumpers are involved!

As I mentioned last weekend, we bought a trailer! After pulling it into the barn on Sunday morning, I just couldn't wait to try and load Rose on it. I was armed with the suggestions from our vet, and now a bigger trailer. Would she or wouldn't she see the light and walk on? With a few awesome helpers, no treats, and a wood twitch handle we were able to get her to decide that stepping on the trailer was a far easier thing to do and more enjoyable place to be than getting annoyingly spanked by the twitch outside the trailer. That first time took about 15 minutes, and was the first time we've gotten her on entirely on her own steam! We didn't have to place her foot or coax her in any manner. Once she was on she got a reward of a hay bag in the front slant and a couple scratches. Then we backed her off and did it two more times. The second time required a bit of convincing still, but only about 5 minutes at the most and she walked on. The third time, she decided we meant business and didn't even put up a fight, just loaded right up!

This was what I was hoping to see, and this is pretty typical pattern when it comes to training Rose. She tests us a bit to see if we are really going to follow through, and then she just does it and doesn't try to test us again. Overall, I couldn't be happier about how well she did and how well her nice big trailer fits her. I'm going to keep practice loading her and I will introduce her to the slant divider this month. So stay tuned for updates!

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