Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Tackling Trailer Issues...AGAIN

Long-time readers will remember this post from October. Q's issues with loading had reached a dangerous place (for both myself and for her). I tried to remedy the situation with a trailer session to teach her to self-load, but after she bowled me over, Dee came down and helped out. After some super fantastical backing of the trailer into the barn/round pen, we had a setup that worked to remedy things at the time.

I had Q loading beautifully by the end of those sessions. In refresher sessions days after though,Q redeveloped her fear (error on my part for not "stopping on a good note" early) and life became difficult and questionable again in the realm of trailer loading. FML.

The only place I had to take her to and from last fall was the Fort Valley ride. We managed that with minimal issue despite her redeveloped fears, but I knew that by spring time I would have to confront the whole issue anew.

I let her sit all winter without worrying about the trailer issues. All winter we worked on other things, but through those things I always worked to keep her calm and happy. She's so liable to fly off the handle over silly things, I mean c'mon folks, this is a horse that will spook at a damn butterfly if it looks at her wrong! (And snow, and rocks, and logs, and poop, and berries, and flowers, and YELLOW flowers, and WHITE flowers, and the god-forsaken PURPLE flowers, and other horses, never cows, but heaven forbid a monster bush......yeah. She has issues.)

And so we went a solid 3 months where Q was calm 90% of the time. Sure, she wasn't in heat during those winter months (her heat cycles triggered her absolute WORST freak-out behaviors), but hey, I had to develop a baseline for how my girl *can* be before I could judge her in her dragon days.

A big part of Q's calm demeanor was my hypersensitivity to my OWN emotions and mood when I was around her. If I was having a rough day, I would not go to the barn. If I wasn't in the best of moods, I would either work only with Griffin (who isn't as sensitive to tiny things), or I'd just give the horses some grain, brush them, and then leave.

Additionally, I did my best to go to the barn without a *solid* plan. I'd have A plan. I'd have some IDEAS. And I'd have some GOALS. But if I got to the barn and things weren't feeling *just right* for one thing, I'd throw that idea to the wind and take off on another track all together. By doing this, I did my best to set both Q and I up for success. 

After 3 months, I don't have to be so hypersensitive. I've created a new habit for myself...and for Q. And before long, I'll [hopefully] be able to call that new habit a new norm.

So, last night, somewhat out of the blue, somewhat preparatory for my weekend trip (details to follow in later posts), I decided to confront the trailer issue again.

My objectives for last night began as the following:
  • Clean up my mess of tack and things
  • Pack the trailer part-way
  • Prep all that I could prep to finish packing Wednesday and Thursday
  • Do hill sprints with Q
  • See if she might maaaaayyybeee load? and take her on a short ride
  • If she wouldn't load, just take the trailer on a short ride to make sure things were in working order
What actually happened last night?

I cleaned, I packed, I prepped. That went without issue.

I brought the horses (who were both standing at the gate waiting on me) both in and gave them a ½ scoop of grain while I inspected the trailer, cleaned it out, and hooked it up to my vehicle. (After riding Q I wouldn't want to spend the time to hook it up.)

And then? Then I snatched up my dressage whip, gloves, and a helmet, grabbed Q, and decided to see what would happen with the whole trailer thing. I threw all other plans into the wind.

And then, before I knew it, I'd spent an HOUR working with Q on loading.

We took it slow. We took it REALLY SLOW.

I wanted to try my best to keep her as calm as I could. And keeping her calm meant being slow.

I learned last fall that Q is NOT a horse that can be lunged around in attempts to get her to load. The more she moves her feet and the faster, the more worked up and freaked out she becomes. And I can't employ any method that involved me standing in the trailer because of Q's tendency to load and immediately WHIRL around. (The center divider is pushed all the way to the left side of the trailer (as you look in from behind) because I rarely pull two horses.) I almost broke my arm last fall from being partly in the trailer when she whirled.

So... I needed to figure out a method that didn't employ her moving her feet excessively or involve me being on the trailer. Hmm...

I had tied a hay bag to the back of the trailer (since the last time we did anything with trailering Q wanted to be backwards) in hopes that if she loaded and we went on a ride she could munch some hay. Well, we didn't go on a ride but this bag of hay did work to my advantage! Before we did any loading, I just stood at the back corner of the trailer (the bag was tied on the hinge side of the door, so when the door was open it was nearest to the inside opening of the trailer) by the hay bag and encouraged Q to eat the hay. She loves the recent load of square bales so much; getting her to stand and eat wasn't too difficult.

I cooed at her for being so good and calm and standing by the trailer. I walked her away quietly, and brought her back to eat the hay a few times. I wanted her to realize that just because we walked near the open trailer didn't mean bad things were going to happen.

Calm Q. Happy Q.

Because I know that Q knows somewhat how to self-load from previous trainings, I decided to see where that got me. So when I walked her back to the trailer a fourth time, I asked her to get on, "Looooadd up!"

She got as close as she could and leaned waaaayyy far in, but wouldn't get on. I praised. I backed her up several steps and walked forward again. "Looooaad up!" Same thing. Praise. Backing.

Repeat. One foot and on, then she backed right off. Praise. Backing. Rinse. Repeat.

Spent a LONG time looking like this last night!
Except I was standing at the corner of the trailer on the far side.
Slowly, slowly, we reached a point where she'd get her front end on without an issue. Every time she came off, I backed her up, then we walked right back to the trailer where I'd say "Loooaad up!" *boom boom* Her two front feet banging into the trailer. She got to a point for a little bit where she was LUNGING on, both feet in tandem *boom!*. Then stopping. Then just looking around and sniffing. I'd praise and praise and praise. Then she'd either get off or I'd back her off to try again.

She does have a bit of a tendency to want to back up and spin to her left as she exits. Well, hello, Q, I'm kind of standing there! I got to a point where I would anticipate this and just hold the bright pink dressage whip up near her head between us both. It gave her a visual and she'd stop. If she didn't stop, I'd lightly tap her on the forehead/cheek with it and verbally chastise her for her decisions to turn.

When she made a really good attempt and lingered a long time with her front end on the trailer, I'd only back her a couple steps once she had exited, then ask her to get on again. And then that evolved into me having to back her off because she wouldn't get off. When her feet would touch the ground outside of the trailer after I backed her off, I'd immediately ask her to load again without any additional backing.

So, for her, good attempts and longer time on the trailer = less time backing my ass up outside of the trailer.

She was actually really funny once she figured out that being on the trailer meant I'd let her stand still and look out the trailer window at her friends because when I'd ask her to back up so we could try again she was very hesitant about coming off. And when she did exit she lunged right back on. "OMG!! MY FRIENDS, MOM! I CAN SEE MY FRIENDS OUT THIS WINDOW! NO! I DON'T WANT TO COME OFF THE TRAILER! I WANT TO LOOK AT MY FRIENDS! HIIIEEE FRIENDS!"

With time, she was actually getting all four feet on. She'd still get on and try to WHIRL to the right, but because I had the lead rope in hand still, I could give a tug to say, "No, no, no." and she'd stand still.

She did manage to WHIRL a few times and run off the trailer. But I just walked quietly after her manic freak-out trot, gather her up, walk her back, and go right back into everything as if nothing had happened.

Eventually we reached a point though where she would get all four on, think about WHIRLING right, pause for a few seconds, then *turn* somewhat stately to the left instead and just stay standing backwards on the trailer.

Whatever. She was pretty calm about it so I can live with that. Praise. Praise. Praise.

Lead her off, lead her back, "Looooaad up!", she'd get two feet on, hesitate, I'd wait, then ask her to put her back end on, she'd do it, then she'd pause and turn around. I'd feed her hay, let her be calm, and then lead her off and repeat.

I tried to close the door one time, and her eyes became saucers, her mouth stopped chewing, and her ears swiveled really far forward as she realized that OMG IT'S CLOSING! I talked calmly to her, but didn't get aggressive about trying to keep her on. Instead, when she - at the last moment - made a move to walk off, I shoved the door back open. Her expression as she was stepping off was very conflicted. Her whole body hesitated a titch. It was as if she thought she should have stayed on when the scary door opened back up.

I turned her around and loaded her up again, this time just standing beside her feeding her lots of hay for several moments.

We repeated this twice more and I called it a night. I figured she was calm and she was on the trailer and I could *almost* manage to close the door on my own. That was MORE than sufficient to get us through this weekend when I would always have a second person to help close the door.

From the way things progressed last night, I feel pretty confident that with time, patience, and keeping my cool about the whole thing, I'll have a horse that will load fairly reliably and calmly - and MAYBE stand day.

A calm mare completely inside the trailer was all I really wanted. A calm mare inside the trailer was just what I had!


Oh, and, by the way, it's worth mentioning: She was in hot, raging, squirting, HEAT last night. AND I got her to load. AND be calm about it. BOOM, BITCHEZ.

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