Trailering Skills, Session #106, 9-18-13

Today’s plan was to do some trials of loading Atticus both with the boys in their stalls and with them in the paddock. I also wanted to do some paddock games, especially apple bobbing so that the chained effect of Premack would work to strengthen loading onto the trailer. With those two things foremost on my mind, I set up the trailer and filled the muck tub with water about as high as there was room for water. While I may never know exactly why his behavior fell through the floor yesterday, I had a plan to try to figure it out. But as we quote from “Of Mice and Men”, “the best-laid plans of mice and men ofttimes go awry.”

Atty had other plans in mind. While he walked out of his stall willingly, even enthusiastically, he was very reluctant near the gate next to the trailer. He came through the gate but was more interested in trying to find grass. He did load which I rewarded, but he began to back out when I went to the back of the trailer. This was shaping up (pun intended!) to be another difficult day. He backed off halfway once and fully another time. When this happened, I decided that something was amiss and I needed to change tacks.

One way I could have gone was to go for higher-value treats, but I didn’t want to do that. His behavior, to me, was nearly identical to when I knew he had an abscess. Knowing that I had not truly followed through with what I was supposed to do about his abscess, I decided it was a better idea to go down the path of investigating his abscess to see if it was festering again/still.

He followed me to the wash stall, but was fussy about my messing with his foot and he kept walking off. I could have just followed him to the paddock, but I felt that this would make it difficult to assess which foot actually had a problem or to compare them equally. It was possible that he had an abscess brewing in a different foot than the one I suspected. With that in mind, I cross-tied him rather than trying to do the investigation at liberty.

He was better about my handling his left front foot compared to my handling the right front, the suspect foot. I cleaned out all four feet but came back to the right front. I had also felt the slightest swelling in the tendon sheath of that leg compared to the left front. When he had his other abscess about three weeks ago, he had swelling and heat in the cannon of that leg but not in the pastern or the heels, even though the abscess was in the lateral heel bulb.

Knowing where to look, I took my hoof knife to his lateral heel in the corner made by the wall and the bar. Sure enough, there it was – a black spot right where it was before. I dug deeper until some fluid came out. It was not pus-like or pus-colored, but I knew I had found it. White Lightning to the rescue! Once again, the “Humane Hierarchies” bubble to the forefront and remind us to look there first.

He stood quietly while White Lightning did its job and I brushed him. I rediscovered how much he likes the jelly grooming mitt and, after the “soaking” was finished, he did a camel bow, both on and off the cross ties. He paws and paws and walks his front feet out and almost does a Spanish Walk to get his front feet out there and then he sinks his shoulders down and does what I call a Camel Bow. Of course, I CT’d that. I may get that fully captured some day.

Had I not trained all this at liberty and had I not made a “mistake” a couple of weeks ago by asking him to load and he refused when I KNEW he had an abscess, where might we be now instead? What paths might we have tried to go down to solve the problem? I am learning so much! Listening to my horse, noticing the tiny details of how his abscesses manifest, how sensitive he truly is to the small things, how he lets me know something is amiss, letting him tell me… 

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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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