Questioning, 4-27-14

Atty on Trailer PHIf you’ve been reading my blog for long or you’ve managed to go back and read many of the posts, you probably know that I’m still working on a long-term project with my horse, Atticus.

That project has to do with what I call “trailering skills”.  This isn’t just about getting Atty to load.  He does that just fine and has for as long as I’ve owned him.  We have practiced a bit and trained it using clicker training and shaped many different ways and used CT to refine some parts of loading.

But the real point of this long-term project is really to desensitize him to all aspects of actually being on the trailer, especially once it moves.  You see, Atticus would get on the trailer the first day of a two-day clinic, but absolutely would not get on the second day in a row. QUESTIONING

I rarely took him anywhere except to clinics and I usually signed up for both days knowing we’d get more out of the experience that way.  But he made it clear that he was having no part of that rolling, dark, coffin more than one day at a time and that was with about a month in between, too.

Why am I telling you all this?  Again?  Because I think there may be a few people out there who might question my sanity or even ridicule me for this project.  Why can’t I get it done faster?  And why am I using so much food?

I was at a Chicken Workshop with Bob Bailey last summer (and hope to do another this year) and one of my classmates, a small-animal vet, questioned why it was taking me so long “to teach my horse to load”.  She’d read an article, you see, about how ten horses sitting a field somewhere couldn’t find new homes because they wouldn’t load.  And someone spent all of ten days training these horses to load.  “You see, it only takes ten days.  Why is it taking you six months or more?”  That’s what she was asking me.

As I explained above, it’s not about loading, per se.  It’s about traveling.  And Atticus had decided that he didn’t like the moving of the trailer.  AND all those other things that go with the trailer moving:  The truck engine starting or running, the doors closing, the butt bar going up, various rattles or other noises, the time of day, the other horses being in or out.  All of that was “poisoned” for him and he had chained them all together as warnings of impending doom – getting on the trailer.

As I’ve explained in other blog posts (I think I have), zoo trainers spend six months or more training a animal to get ready to be moved to another location, usually another zoo.  They spend that time slowly and carefully shaping the behavior of getting into the shipping crate easily and willingly.  Zoo keepers might spend five minutes six times a day training this behavior for six months.  Let’s assume that the training is done five days a week for 26 weeks.  That’s 780 training sessions by the time they’re done.  I’ve only done 140 sessions.  My sessions are not merely five minutes long and I don’t work six times a day, just once a day, and not every day, not even five days a week.  And we’ve taken several weeks off for various reasons.

I understand the not understanding how much time I’m taking.  It’s hard to accept this change in the way of doing things.

What I find hard to understand is the ridicule from corners that I thought would understand – those people who have, or claim to have, the highest regard for the horses and don’t want them harmed or “abused” in any way. 

The ridicule is leveled both at me and at clicker training itself.  Apparently trying to “prove” that CT doesn’t work. And that shoving food in the horse’s mouth is a waste of time.  Okay, I get that those minds don’t get CT or the food part.

But what are my options?  If my horse has made it absolutely clear that he’s not getting on that trailer come hell or high water, what do I do?  Do I resort to whips and chain shanks?  Well, guess what?  I tried that.  More than once actually.  I’m sorry to have to admit it, but I did.  And where did those whips and chains get me?  They got me absolutely nowhere near the trailer.  In fact, he broke the longe line (twice) and ran away into the fields.  The whip was useless except to make him hate the trailer more.  The chain certainly didn’t help in that regard either.

Why the ridicule from people who claim to have the best interests of the horse at heart?  Would these people have supported my resorting to whips and chains?  I doubt it.  They would have been the first ones to call me out and label me an abuser.

Perhaps in their minds I should never haul my horses anywhere.  Or at least not to such things as clinics and shows.

What if I were to move across country again?  (I’ve done that five times and with horses four of those times.)  Is that acceptable?  What if I’m somewhere in the middle of the country and the horse decides on day two that he’s not getting on again?  Take a week’s vacation in nowheresville and wait until he changes his mind?

I think that I will keep on keeping on with what I’m doing and listening to my horses.  And keep wondering what is up with people who feel the need to ridicule others.

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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8 Responses to Questioning, 4-27-14

  1. meadowmice says:

    Oi! I am finding that those who ridicule or dismiss clicker training are those who haven’t used it AND those who feel they have to be able to force their animals to do their bidding … or they just get rid of the animal. I’m glad Atticus has you!


  2. saraannon says:

    Stick to your clicker, do what works, and take your time-
    I’ve had an OTTB with a back injury for 2 1/2 years and am constantly asked why I am not sitting on his back. Apparently working from the ground is a sure sign I am incompetent. I finally came across an article by a vet that specializes in back injuries in horses who wrote that respecting the horse and staying off their injured backs when they say they are uncomfortable is the ONLY way to return a horse to enjoying riding and staying sound. It was great to have a pro in my corner.


  3. These particular folks are those who don’t use force (at least that’s what they say) and they do use CT, but not in the same style that I do. That’s what makes it so weird.


  4. Christel Elrod says:

    Any good trainer knows it takes as long as it takes.


  5. Riandi Maré says:

    You inspire me Laurie. I believe that you are on the right track and I like that you take the time that it takes. A sign of a good trainer. Just imagine how reliable that behaviour is going to be!


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