Trailer Loading Skills Training Continues, 3-21-13

Atty decided that the hints of new grass were more enticing than the trailer today. But once he checked out every blade of grass, he was willing to think about loading, so he did and we worked on “stand” some more.

I was able to immediately, on the first trial, to the back of the trailer, touch a hock, click, and return to the front to treat him. I gave him a small handful of treats then, said “stand” again, and repeated the procedure. This time he offered to “target” the boat bumper and I CT’d that and asked for two more touches, which I CT’d. He’s also quite happy to just eat hay and ignore the treats.

On the third trial, I said “stand”, walked to the back, tugged his tail, said “back”, and waited. And waited. And said “back” with a tail again. And waited. Gave the cue again. And gave up, went to the front, asked for a couple of target touches, said “stand”, walked to the back, touched a hock, clicked, walked to the front, and treated. So now he’s kind of stuck ON the trailer! That’s okay, but I would like to get him off at some point!

We went through this again a couple of times. The next time I asked for back with a tail tug, he did come out. We went to the mat and practiced a little hip over. He got back on the trailer. We did a few more trials and he came out eventually on the back/tail tug cue.

We really should have started with getting the back on the ground outside of the trailer, but we didn’t. Yesterday, I had asked for back from the front of the trailer so that he’d be ready to back when I added the tail tug, but Peggy said that would be too confusing for him and that that was a form of adductive cuing. So that’s why I changed for today.

After I got him off the trailer again, we tried just working on backing in the “chute” area. But there was too much grass! It’s really only barely grass – hardly enough to get a bite off, but he was trying! So we went to the paddock.

In the paddock, we practiced backing from no cue, just my standing there. I wanted to highly reinforce this so that he’d be thinking about backing when I changed position. However, I could not just go to his tail and ask for back – he would pivot to face me. So we did more practice while I faced him and then I gradually changed position on his RIGHT side. I did not want to confuse him by asking for back from his LEFT side. That is the side I’m on when he’s in the trailer.

By gradually moving back along his side and asking for back by saying “back”, he did back, but he also seemed a bit peevish and would pivot if I got too far back. At some point, I dropped the verbal and just waited. Sure enough, he stepped back and did straight without pivoting! I got all the way to his tail, added the short tug, and he again backed straight. We did a couple more repetitions and then we were done for the day.

Carrot bits were interspersed in this overall session – some on the trailer some for backing.


I really need to go back to doing video. I won’t have to type so much!

Ollie is an interesting horse. He’s extremely sensitive and soft and quick and smart. But that means that I have to be VERY observant, quick to respond, but soft and fluid in my responses. AND I have to be able to decide between a very high ROR and just waiting. I’ve found over time, that if I micromanage Ollie too much, he kind of goes in to emotional/mental overdrive and starts throwing frantic, but TINY, bits of behavior at me. Whoa, Ollie-boy! Slow down! 😀

He obviously knows the mat and knows to walk forward onto the mat. But when he gets there, he can tap dance in place and it’s hard to get him to not only stand still but to also relax. In the very beginning, a high rate of RoR is good, but then I need to just stand there and let him offer stuff. But I can’t go to sleep either. I need to be quick with the click but deliver the food almost in slow motion and DOWN but shove the food up while his lips go a mile a minute!

He’s also very, very tuned in to my body language. A very tiny change in me produces a thousand tiny offerings from him. It’s almost like trying to get a word in edgewise with the Federal Express man!

What has worked so far is walking him forward to the mat and rewarding him there. Then asking him to walk forward some more until the hind feet get close, or touch, or step on the mat. Then I focus on the hind feet. I will click and treat both feet on the mat and then continue to feed treats. If he puts both hind feet flat on the mat (not one on the toe), I will click and treat several times in a row. Then I will feed several treats in a row without a click just to make “hind feet on a mat” the party game.

Then I ask him to walk forward another step or two until the hind feet are just barely off and in front of the mat so that backing onto it is easy. I don’t want to focus on the backing so much as to focus on getting the hind feet on the mat – from the backing.

He was doing so well, that I got my cheesy pedestal out and decided to try adding that challenge to the session. He walked forward to the pedestal, pawed at it, moved it, then stepped up on it.

We then went through the same routine as with the mat – walk forward until the hind feet were on it, CT. Walk forward until the hind feet stepped forward off the mat, CT. Then I waited until he offered to back up. He did offer that and was marginally successful about stepping onto the mat. But I could see that he really wanted to do what Peggy calls “windshield wiper butt” – swing his haunches side to side and step onto the mat from the side rather than straight back. I went through this with Atty for quite awhile and I’d like to try to avoid that getting to ingrained this time around. If Ollie offered that, I asked him to come forward right away.

I do understand why they want to do this. It’s a new behavior and it’s hard to see what’s back there. Peggy’s solution is to have a “mat” that’s very long and made of 2x4s so that it’s, say, 8 feet from side to side and about 2 feet deep. That way the horse can see what’s back there better (I’m guessing) but swinging side to side doesn’t help with the challenge of stepping backwards and upwards at the same time.

I don’t have that option at the moment, but I may break down and go buy some 2x4s! So I set the pedestal next to my wall and added an old fence post at an angle to the open side.

This did limit his options and Ollie mostly decided to be a goat on a rock rather than step up onto the pedestal backwards. But I rewarded any little effort to lift a foot and/or rock back. We finished on a lifted right hind WITH a rock back. And I was out of treats.

I think it was a good day. 🙂


About Laurie Higgins

I play with clicker training - with my horses, dogs, and cats. I also attempt to grow vegetables with the hope of one day being able to feed my family from my garden. My daughter and I are learning ballroom dancing. Well, we were. But she left me for a paying horse job, so now my husband and I are learning ballroom dancing. I'm also now helping Peggy Hogan, of Clicker Training Horses (and The Best Whisper is a Click) to teach people how to train their own horses using "clicker training".
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