Trailering Skills, Sessions 165-168, 9-19-2014

Atty ForsythiaFor the past four sessions, I’ve been concentrating on walking Atticus around our parking area and yard.

Why would this be part of trailering skills?

In my opinion, I’ll need behaviors in place for offloading in strange places.  There’s no point in trailering anywhere if you don’t actually take the horse off the trailer.  And that means that we need certain behaviors in place, or have access to them, once we’re off the trailer and someplace new.

Those behaviors would be:  backing off in control and on cue, leading skills (I’ll detail these in a minute), getting back on the trailer in control and on cue.  The first two I think we have down pretty well, although loading in a new place can be challenging just because it’s a new place and Atticus (as do all horses) needs to learn that loading is loading regardless of location.

Now leading skills.  I’ll list a few of mine.   What are yours?  I want all the skills to be taught through shaping and done on a loose lead.  I may add in a tactile cue off the rope later, but I want there to be as little pressure as possible.

*  Backing on cue (verbal and body language and positioning relative to him).
*  Walk forward on cue (verbal and my walking)
*  Stay with me
*  Focus on me (if possible)
*  Turn left with me when I go left.
*  Turn right with me when I go to the right.
*  Halt on cue (preferably my body language of stopping my feet but I also have a hand cue and a verbal cue).
*  Head to stay at my shoulder so that I can turn right without walking into his space to turn turn right.  Maybe put these on a verbal cue.
*  Follow the pressure of the lead rope if/when necessary.
*  Hand grazing of the calm and slow variety.

The first day we walked around my yard, Atty wanted to just drag me around.  He’s not particularly spooky (no jumping or startling) but I could tell he was a bit “up”.  He wanted to explore everywhere and there are lots of things in my yard that aren’t particularly safe for horses.  Tractor “toys” for one (or several) thing(s) are sprinkled throughout the yard. Cars and trucks.  Trash cans, cones, poultry netting set up for the chickens.  Stone steps.  A garden with chicken wire around it.

He just had to explore everything.  Grazing was of the “eat and run” type.  He’d grab a mouthful while walking and keep going.

He went down the stone steps to the poultry netting.

When his head came up, I clicked and treated and kept feeding him treats.  If he wanted to put his head down, he could.

I found it interesting that he seemed to be comforted by the clicking and treating.  Or maybe just the treating.

He loaded onto the trailer after our walk, but he did back off right away twice and reloaded each time.  Then I was able to close up the back – butt bar and door – and treat him up front.  Reversing the process though, I still want all the pieces separate:  open the door, then drop the butt bar, then ask him to get off, while treating him up front each time.  And he got back on again just to check.

Day two went pretty much the same but we didn’t need to explore quite as much and he seemed a bit calmer although grazing was still “on the walk”.  Whenever I could, I’d ask for some behavior that I knew he could do, such as backing on cue.  Again, when he came up from grazing, I’d click and treat and keep treating.  If he sniffed an object, he got clicked and treated for that.

Again, he loaded onto the trailer with no hesitation and we practiced our usual routine.  I think he backed off at least once in the very beginning.

Day three, we practiced in the paddock first to see if we could come up with some cues for each other regarding walking.  I’d like for him to stop when I stop but also give me a hint for when he’s ready to walk again without my cueing it.  I don’t want to tell him to walk forward if he’s not ready.

When we went to the yard, I did not ask for as much.  I really just want to counter condition or desensitize him to the yard and other “strange” or new places.  I’d like him to associate “new” locations with lots of good things, mostly treats but also hand grazing if available.

Again, if I could I’d ask for halts or backing or something else that seemed easy.  If he turned with me or responded to a very light pressure on the lead rope, I’d click and treat.

Loading onto the trailer was again very routine.

Today (day four), he was even more calm, we went fewer places, but he did spook at a squirrel making noise in a tree or somewhere.  He didn’t go far and I was able to get him quickly enough.  I don’t try to hang onto the rope.  (This photo is not Atty!)leaping horseMore walking around investigating things.  In some places such as the yard proper or near the barn, he’s more willing to graze rather than “eat and walk on” .  In the parking area, however, he’s a little less willing to stand still.  In these places I really emphasized clicking and continuous feeding for head up.  Again, he seemed to really look for or be comforted by just being fed treats in these situations.

Loading onto the trailer was again a routine thing.  He loaded with no hesitation, but he did back off when I went to the back to close him up.  He got right back on and then I closed him up before going up front to treat him.  Reversing everything again, I want those separate pieces separate.  I want him to wait with the back door open and the butt bar down for the cue to back.  Today, I had to cue him three times before he finally backed out but I’m quite okay with that.  That is much better than rushing off the trailer when the butt bar comes down!  And he got right back on when I let him.

I’d really like to get a headcam to record these meanderings, but that will have to wait.

This has been very interesting exploration of what do when he’s off the trailer in new places.

We’re getting really close to actually going somewhere.  When I think he’s very ho-hum about the yard, I’ll go back to trailering into the parking area/yard.  Then we’ll take a trip around the “block” – a four-mile trip!  Then we’ll start visiting friends!  It’s getting close.  Oh, so close.

hand grazing


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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