I set goals before I handle Wrigley. It helps me stay focused, otherwise I’ll just hop on her and ride out and come back looking exactly the same. Lately my goal has been to “Be Deliberate”. I want to be sure that I have Wrigley’s attention at all times, and that we are working on doing things “Right”. I’m becoming very specific and focused about where her feet go, and making sure she puts her feet exactly where I want them.
Trailer-loading is a good example of how “being deliberate” helped us. I’m pretty proud of her trailering. I stand to the side, send her in, and she hops in like she’s some old rope horse. When we picked her up was the first time she’d ever been trailered. Getting her loaded used to be a great training session for me, I now load like an old rope horse myself. Seriously, I’d get in and try to lead her and she’d hesitate and fart around, put her front feet in, take ‘em out. It was like a really slow version of the hokey pokey. But, with some constant fixing and deliberate ground work, she’s a trailer-loading machine.
Here’s what we did:
- Signed up for monthly lessons with the Phinneys.
- With them, really worked on groundwork – sending her forward, untracking her hind, teaching her to manage her lead rope (keep it slack and not pull), lead, and back. This is ongoing!
- Every time I had an opportunity to send her forward through a narrow slot, I did. You don’t have to practice trailer-loading with a trailer. I sent her through narrow gates, or made her pass between me and the fence. I looked for ways to emulate the scenario of trailer-loading, which really is just a matter of sending her through a narrow gap and into a confined space. While she is certainly loading calmly and like a pro, there is plenty more we can work on.
- Worked on removing braciness (flinching, stiffness). It isn’t sufficient to have her loading, I want her confident and calm. I’m not great with my own timing yet, but I try to watch for her efforts and reward them right away. We’re a work in progress.
- I feel like her trailer loading now is really good. However, we have a new piece we’re working on and that is unloading on cue and not before. This is becoming critical, and being deliberate is key. As soon as I opened that trailer gate in the past, she’d start leaning against the butt chain. I’d have to encourage her forward so I could get that unhooked, and then step the hell back or get run over. Initially, without thinking, I accommodated that behavior. In doing that I rewarded her for impulsive behavior, which then became a problem in other areas. With bad handling and by rewarding that kind of behavior, she could ramp up into a horse that flips over when tied. So, we are now working on backing up only on cue, and unloading (or backing through a gate) when told and not before.
I’ve heard negative remarks about a two-place straight-load trailer and how that can be hard for a horse to load into. My hope with Wrigley is that through deliberate ground work and attention to detail, I can send her anywhere (little old trailer, narrow slot canyon, through a tight-packed herd of cattle, stocks at the vet’s) with confidence and calmness. We’re shaping it up and now working on doing the whole thing backwards, on cue, and with calmness and confidence.