Sunday, August 3, 2008

Fear of Stepping Back

I finally figured out what Gabbrielle's problem with trailer loading has been. When she was a yearling, she was a self-loader and self-unloader with total confidence being in that enclosed space. When I tried to load her as a three-year-old, she refused to step inside that trailer. At one point I got her in as long as Lostine and lunch were waiting in the trailer for her, but I couldn't get Gabbrielle back out. Though she knows the back command and performs backing up beautifully on the ground, she refused to back out of the trailer. My husband ended up turning her around and leading her out head first because there was no other option.

In the months since that incident, Gabbrielle refused to get more than one or two front feet into the trailer. So, when she did that, I practiced backing her out with both hind feet already on the ground. I tried a wide variety of known techniques and suggestions from readers to get her to go all the way into the trailer without requiring that another horse be in there already, and nothing led to total success. I decided to leave her alone for a while and concentrate on working with my other horses.

Gabbrielle ended up getting bored being out of training, and she resorted to chewing and busting up wood panels on the fence for entertainment. I knew I had to resume training soon, because I couldn't afford to keep replacing fence panels every weekend. So, a few weekends ago I resumed the trailer training. As usual, she refused to budge once I got her to the back of the trailer.

This month's Horse & Rider magazine had an Ask Team H&R article called "Loading Solo". One suggestion from that article involved looping a long line around the horse's rump and pulling the rump forward. I already knew that pulling the head didn't work, and tapping the rump with a whip didn't work, and swinging a rope didn't work, and trotting the horse into the trailer didn't work, and offering bribes didn't work, and cracking a lunge whip behind her didn't work, so I didn't have anything to lose by trying the one thing I hadn't tried yet.

Amazingly, when I pulled the rump rope, her hind legs moved fairly easily and her front feet had nowhere to go except into the trailer. She climbed all the way in, and I petted her on the neck and withers to assure her she was okay. I then slowly removed the rump rope, and tried to back her out with a verbal "Back!" command, repeated taps with my hand on her chest, and a gentle pull backwards and down on the lead rope. It was a no go. The more I urged her to back up, my signal being no different in the trailer than it was on the ground, the more she pushed forward into me.

After about fifteen minutes of this Sumo Wrestling, I backed myself out through the escape hatch and unhooked her lead rope. I expected her to spin around and leap out head first, but when I went around to the back of the trailer I found her still standing in it, and sniffing the distance between the end of the trailer and the ground. Somewhere along the line of her trailering, she must have had a bad experience getting out. I could visibly see her heart beating in her chest, and fear in her eyes.

In a soft voice I encouraged her to step down, and she did, one hoof at a time, thankfully. I breathed a sigh of relief over her safe landing. Unhooking her lead rope could have been a recipe for disaster. I only did it out of desperation. I also don't recommend that anyone try a rump rope on her horse until the horse has become desensitized to having a rope draped all over its body and legs in a round pen first. A trailer is not a place to find out that your horse has a phobia of having its body and legs touched by a rope.

I couldn't quit at one successful loading, so I tried to encourage her in a second time without the rump rope. Nope. She needed the rump rope again, but she did step right in. I tried backing her out again, but she was still nervous about it and wrestling me. So, I repeated what I did previously, and she turned herself around and stepped out head first with a little more confidence.

On the third time, she needed the rump rope again, but stepped right in. Much to my surprise, when I asked her to back up, she did. She got halfway back in the trailer in a halting, nervous manner, and then her demeanor changed. You could see that she had convinced herself that she could do it. Bombay was whinnying and cheering her on as she confidently stepped each hind leg out of the trailer. She stood with her front feet still in for a while and smiled at me. I praised and petted her, and then she finished the job.

Professional horse trainers often say to never let a horse get out of a trailer head first. There are plenty of good reasons for that, but if your horse would rather stand in the trailer for the rest of its life and starve before it would willingly back out, you may as well let it get its confidence up by unloading head first a couple of times. After that, you can work on backing out.

This weekend I tried again to see how much she would remember. She balked at the back of the trailer, so I looped the rope around her butt. She stepped up with her front feet, then hopped out twice before stepping all the way in with all four feet. She did remember backing up, and did it with confidence, so not all was lost. My next goal will be to get her into the trailer without the rump rope now that she no longer fears backing out.

For those of you who are wondering, K canceled our trail ride. It was probably a good thing because physically I had a bad day. I woke up stiff as a board, which happens to me from time to time, only today I could not get out of bed until 2:00 PM and needed a lot of caffeine to get up. I had it on my list to clean the hay palettes and get ready for a delivery of the next block. I did a little bit at a time throughout the afternoon because every move I made was painful. I finished the job and was wrapping it up when a variety of bizarre things started happening to cause me even more pain.

First, my ring got caught on the gate while I was walking through it, and I managed to bend my finger backwards. I didn't break it, but it did swell up. Then I was carrying a hay hook and tripped over the hay tarp, nearly skewering myself. That last accident was probably heard around the world. It's not the first time this accident has happened, which is why I get so angry when it does happen. I keep forgetting to correct the problem and then I pay for it later. I'm not lazy. I just can't hold information in my brain for more than a few seconds. I'm contemplating keeping a notepad and pen tied around my neck to help me get from Point A to Point B without forgetting why I was going there. Six times today I noted that the bathroom was out of T.P. and headed to the garage to get a fresh package, and six times I got to the garage only to wonder why I was there.

Anyway, the horse trailer window on my escape door has a flimsy latch. You may remember that a wind blew it open one day and the glass broke when it hit a fence post. Well, I usually either keep it open (swung down) or I tape it up. Since I have been trailering the horses so much, I've been keeping it open lately. However, I have to close it (swing it up) in order to open and close the escape door. So, I was closing the door and the flimsy latch on the window gave out, and the window swung down full force onto the top of my head. I screamed loud enough for the neighbors to hear, and am now sitting here with a bag on ice on my head. It's no wonder I can't remember anything with the number of freak head injuries I have had. After being in pain all day and then having all those bizarre things happening, I'm thinking today probably was not a good one to go on a trail ride anyway. I'm really not wimping out. I'm just superstitious.


BrownEyed Cowgirls said...

I'm superstitious too! It never hurts to pay attention to those events.

Oh man, your lucky that that door hitting you in the head didn't knock you out.

Thats awesome that you have made such progress with the filly. When I used to have a single horse trailer, I had to use the rump rope with EVERYTHING. Even horses that has tons of hauling didn't like to get in that tiny thing(thats one of the reasons I got rid of it). I don't usually suggest it to people though, because as you say, unless a horse is used to having ropes around their hindquarters, it can be a real wreck. Glad you could employ the technique and that it worked for you.

Twinville said...

Well, they say things happen in threes. So, you probably would have been safe after your three accidents happened :)

Like you, I sometimes wake up stiff and achy. It's embarassing to admit, but I've stayed in bed pretty late in the day or went back to bed in the afternoon.
Probably the best thing for aches and stiffness is getting up and moving around, but sometimes it just feels good to pamper myself and take it easy. I'm sure you understand what I mean :)

I'm sorry you've been having a rough time, though. I hope you feel better soon and that lots of positive stuff happens right away.

As you know I've been suffering from an allergic internalized reaction to poison ivy and havne't been able to ride or go anywhere for almost 2 weeks. It's been hell!
But over the weekend I got out with my neighbor to watch the Arabian Youth National in Albuquerque and then today I took Baby Doll for our first trail ride together. It was so GOOD to be back outside and active again. But I am SOOOO out-of-shape after being a slug for so long :(

You said:
"Bombay was whinnying and cheering her on as she confidently stepped each hind leg out of the trailer. She stood with her front feet still in for a while and smiled at me. I praised and petted her, and then she finished the job."

The visuals this caused really made me smile. What wonderful horses you have and what a bright, creative and beautiful person you are, too.

AnnL said...

Hooray for Gabrielle!! And, hooray for you for keeping at it and figuring out what your horse needed!!

Ouch, sorry you had such a miserable day with all your accidents. I know what you mean about the forgetfullness and tripping over things. Been there, done that. :-( Definately a good idea not to go to the fair grounds--I think you would have been stretching your luck. Hope today is a better day for you!


Callie said...

Great work with your mare! Hey, do me a favor, get checked for Mutiple Sclerosis, please.....seriously........

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

BEC - I thought it was odd how the rump rope worked so well. No other pressure had any effect, but she understood having her hindquarters pulled forward. One time when the window hit me, it knocked me to my knees, but I've never been knocked unconscious by it.

Twinville - Thank you for the compliment. I'm glad you are healing. I know you must have been stir crazy.

Ann - That's what a lot of people say to me. Everyone admits memory problems and a lack of coordination. That's why I haven't been too concerned about my "issues".

Callie - I've been hesitant, because another MRI will be expensive, and if they actually find something, it will just escalate from there. Obviously, a part of me would rather not know. So many of my symptoms can be explained by other things, so I don't want to get sucked into more medical tests unless I know for sure that this just isn't old age setting in. My husband says he has all the same issues that I do.

Flying Lily said...

What a day - too much excitement! Some people swear by taking rings off for barn work - I never remember though. And I am suffering a bad case of boot envy re: your Ariats!!

Callie said...

NuzMuz, I understand and I did the same thing, until one morning I woke up with an acute vision change in one eye. That's how I ended up diagnosed and hind sight is 20/20. I'm still paying for one of my MRIs from last October. But I ended up with treatment and so far so good no episodes other than the damage already done. I thought my symtoms were other things too, but than I realized I'm not that old and you are younger than me, girl. Anyway, at least think about it and take care. :)