Recently, I was asked if I would foster a horse for someone and I said, “Yes.” I agreed only because I was asked by someone I knew through social media and in person. To be honest, had I just run across a horse in need, I would probably not have volunteered.
The story on Diamond is not a great one and it is a mix of very few reliable facts and lots and lots of holes. What we do know is that she’s only three and she had a foal last year at the age of two, not a great beginning. We think she was left to her own devices with about five other mares until all of them ended up at an auction house with foals at side. Diamond has had very little handling either before or since her original rescue from auction last summer.
I was told quite a few things about Diamond that turned out not to be true, such as her age, we were originally told she was five. I was told that she ties, but that they just don’t tie her in the trailer, this was so not true. She has broken 17 halters. Seventeen! She came with a ratty nylon halter that doesn’t fit and fairly nice rope halter. Apparently, she doesn’t break rope halters, but she also breaks longe lines, including mine. There’s so much more that was told and yet not told, but I’m going to skip over most of it and get to our shared experiences – Diamond’s and mine.
On Wednesday, May 17, 2017, I went to pick up D and trailer her home. I had been given enough information to feel that I couldn’t go and pick her up unassisted. I couldn’t count on the trainer or former owner being available and, frankly, didn’t really want their help. The dear, dear non-horsey husband came along to assist. He’s not really supportive of this whole fostering idea, but he came along and helped anyway. He deserves a lot of props for that.
I was told a number of specific things about D’s trailering history. The owner said she doesn’t load without ace, that D needed a stock trailer or box stall, and that D would panic once the trailer doors were closing and attempt to bolt. Since I don’t happen to have ace sitting around my tack room and no reasonable vet was going to prescribe it sight unseen and at the last minute, we had to do without the drugs. (You would think the owner would have taken responsibility for providing ace to help her horse.) My helpful hubby was able to at least remove the divider from my non-stock trailer and he was on hand to close the door in case of bolting. I certainly didn’t want the former owner or trainer helping. With these initial concerns managed I set about actually working with D.
My intention was to try my darnedest to load her using +R only, but, as Peggy Hogan would say, the worst first behavior to train is something an animal is already scared to do. I was able to begin with simple targeting while talking with the trainer. If D touched the target I held out, I’d click (using my tongue) and give her a treat reaching my arm out away from myself. She rather liked this little trick.
We approached the trailer, but no go. We made several attempts. We tried stepping on to small pedestals. No go there either. We went back to the trailer, nope. Putting the pedestals in front of the trailer helped and we eventually got two front feet on the trailer and the pedestals by accident. This was highly reinforced.She learned that I was clicking and reinforcing for her moving her feet, especially stepping onto a pedestal. “You mean you want me to lift THIS leg like THIS?” Yep, that’s what I want.
Well, three hours later, despite having made significant progress, we ran out of time. The other horses on the farm would be coming in for dinner and I already knew how distracted Diamond could get. We were down to the wire and it was time for “Neanderthal” training (no disrespect to Neanderthals). It was really ugly training but we got her on. I hated to do it that way, but there really wasn’t a choice.
And that part about panicking and bolting off the trailer when the doors closed? She didn’t do that. She didn’t even hint that she would do that. Once she was on, she just stuck her face into the hay bag and started eating.
I knew it was going to be an uphill climb to be successful using R+ alone, but I tried anyway. I do think those three hours were not wasted. That time went a long way toward creating and building a bank account of trust with her, even if I had to resort to Neanderthal ways and the worst longe whip in the world to get her on the trailer. (It was way too bendy!)
She hauled well and is now doing fine at my place. She’s met the boys and they’ve communed over the electric fence. We are ready to start our +R adventure together.
Tomorrow: Basic Training.
If you are interested in helping us help Diamond, please click here to go to the GoFundMe page to help defray the costs of rehabbing Diamond.