Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Putting Bert in a Trailer

So... Bert isn't a particularly willing thoroughbred about a lot of things. He's been off-and-on retired over the past few years due to no fault of his own, and in between total retirement he's been various levels of camp and lesson horse. It's cultivated a fairly interesting sense of "I DON'T WANT TO." in his approach to real work.

He used to work a lot, and pretty hard. He's still a great jumper, and sometimes when he wants to, he can move pretty nicely. He's got a core group of riders who just LOVE HIM. But still, he's working like three times a week and not all that hard when he does work.

Being out of options and having already put the money down to take two horses to Fresno, Bert became my back-up choice for this event.

He's reacting pretty well to suddenly being in full work and I'm being very cognizant of the fact that he's neither in shape nor responsive to the aids at the moment.

I don't recommend this route to competition to anyone, no I do not. Switching horses about 6 times and everything coming down to the wire.

It's not even like it's a very big deal. 2'7" isn't huge, it's 1500 meters at 350 mpm which means we'll really be on the cross country course for at most 4 and a half minutes, and all the phases are on different days. It's just not a big deal. It only feels like a big deal.

Anyhow! A big part of eventing Bert the OTTB is getting him to the horse trial, and Bert told me in no uncertain terms that he was not getting in that stupid trailer named Juju. I fought with him for an hour and ended up giving up and taking Harley trail riding instead (goodness I'm such a good trainer ;) )

So I hooked the truck up to the trailer and located my trusty training supplies.

A clicker
An encouragement stick
Now to find the horse.
The last time I attempted to put Bert in a trailer I think I amped the energy up too quickly, so I wanted to rely on the clicker to allow the energy to stay a bit lower. After all, what is better than putting a foot on something to get a treat?

Apparently swinging your head around violently and making this face is better than treats.

I kept at it. I gently applied forward pressure, clucked, and tap tap tap tap tapped until there was forward motion, at which point I'd click and treat.

For those who are staunchly against clicker training, I'd do a little more research. There are some things that are just freaking fantastic to have the bridge cue in your training deck. It's not random hand feeding, and the horse learns the rules surrounding the clicker quite well. Rant for another day.

After about twenty minutes Bert would happily waltz his front half into the trailer, stretch his hind legs waaayyyy out, and then stick his face out the little side window or whatever of the trailer.

No amount of tap tap tapping, clicking, clucking, treating, tugging, growling, TAP TAP TAPPING or other gentle encouragements were getting this horse any further into the trailer. "My front tootsies are good here, thanks..."

So I upped the ante. I decided that without picking a straight up fight about it, I'd just back him up really far every time he stopped moving forward.

In fewer than ten minutes I was rather sweaty from encouraging him to back up and walk forward because he's not the lightest horse in the world, despite my attempts to turn the whole thing into a training session about light ground manners.

I switched to just longing him off the lead line rather than backing him up when he refused to go forward anymore. He's really lanky and his lead line isn't exactly long, so this didn't work. I thought I was going to get fallen upon.

I went back to cajoling.

For whatever reason, this time he put his hind feet on the ramp, so I praised him and scratched him and treated him. ALL the cookies for this one. He sort of turned his head sideways and stretched his nose as far forward as it'd go, so I treated for that. It reminded me of how Tango begs for scratches sometimes.

I gave him a break. I give this advice all the time "after a few good attempts, give the horse two or three minutes to do nothing. It allows the cellulose to recharge in his neurons..."

Do I take my own advice? Apparently not often enough. After a few minutes of grazing, he loaded into the trailer.

And unloaded.

And reloaded.

And then I made it so nice to be in the trailer he decided to hang out there.

Bert's a big guy. He liked to stick his head out the escape door sort of awkwardly.

It was a success! Treats + work + encouragement stick + appropriate breaks = HORSE IN TRAILER


  1. wooo hooo good boy bert!! nice work with him - hopefully the lesson has been learned :) the pro i worked with to get my mare loading encouraged lots of breaks for grazing too. a nice side bonus of that is now when she comes off the trailer, regardless of what kind of mood she's in, she goes straight for the grass. maybe not the most polite thing, but a lot better than trying to bolt or spook immediately!

    also - alternate name for the 'encouragement stick' = 'peace wand' lol

    1. Ahhhh the peace wand I love it.

      I think he's got it now! I hope!