Monday, February 14, 2011

More Use of the Target and Clicker During Trailer Training

After Lostine and I returned from our ride on Sunday, I decided to try out using my target and clicker for trailer training Gabbrielle.  She's never been too much trouble getting into the trailer, but sometimes she doesn't feel confident enough to back out.  So, in her case, I wouldn't let her get more than her two front feet in the trailer the first dozen or so times that I had her hit the target.

For those of you who missed my previous post about it, my target is a tennis ball on the end of a dowel rod.  I stand inside the horse trailer, hold it out for the horse to see, and the horse steps into the trailer to poke the tennis ball with her nose.  As soon as she touches it, I click a clicker and hand-feed her a treat.

Once Gabbrielle got her treat, I walked toward her to get her to back out slowly, which she did, and once she was out of the trailer, I clicked again and gave her a treat.  Once she was consistently backing out in a coordinated manner, I encouraged her to put all four feet in the trailer by moving the target further away from her.  Gabbrielle said, "No problem," and hopped right in.

She didn't panic or crowd me.  She just stood there like a lady until I asked her to back out again.  She had the whole process down pat, so I swapped her out with Bombay.  Last time he got his two front feet in the trailer and backed out successfully, however this time when I asked him to put all four feet in the trailer, panic set in.

He spewed diarrhea all over the place.  The poor horse was so nervous.  I could see that he kept looking behind him out of fear that someone would shove him in or crack a whip at him or shake a bottle of rocks to scare him in.  I admit I've used all three of those techniques in the past, especially when I was late for an equitation lesson, and they worked temporarily, but now I have a fearful, neurotic horse because of it.

My nosy neighbor was hovering about keeping an eye on my training session, and Bombay refused to pay attention to me and the target each time she made a noise.  If someone were trying to trailer train a horse, and their horse was obviously distracted by my presence, I would leave the scene.  But I receive no such courtesies from my neighbors.

Once the woman got bored by the lack of action and went away, Bombay did get three feet in the trailer, so I ended our session there.  If you spend too much time on the same lesson or give too many treat rewards, the horse gets satiated and loses interest.  Plus, you may run out of treats and you don't want that to happen on a Sunday when all the feed stores are closed.


Promise said...

Well, hey, three feet is better than two...and much better than panicking! Sounds like you're making steady progress.

Rebecca said...

I am soooo going to try out clicker training this weekend. I have been trying to teach Buddy to "touch" things by saying touch, it worked with an open umbrella even, but the clicker method seems like a better way of instantly reinforcing the behavior. This could be interesting!

Reddunappy said...

I am to lazy to do clicker training. They use it a lot with the Guide Dogs too, or variations of it.

Linda said...

Sounds like it's all positive, so you'll have all four feet soon.

eastwitching said...

OMgosh - this is so interesting - I really didnt realise how much training a horse could take for this - and I can't even train my JRT - that said she is a little angel and so good. Your blog is great and insightful to read. I love horses but dont have any nor ride - I just paint them:)


achieve1dream said...

Poor Bombay. I'm sure with clicker training he'll get over his fear, it's just going to take time. He'll realize eventually that there are no more whips forcing him to go in. He can take his time and learn to relax. Congrats on getting three legs in. :) If he's still that scared maybe try having him put his front legs in and just click/treat for signs of relaxation, like lowering his head, relaxing his ears, etc. Do that for a little bit, then back him out and end the session. Once he's standing with his front feet on, completely relaxed, then ask for a back hoof again. It might take a while, but the idea is for him to be comfortable. I'm bad about trying to go too fast with trailer training and in fact I scared Chrome last time I worked on it.

It sounds like Gabrielle is figuring it out too. Good job!

Judi said...

It won't take long, and they will be hopping in the trailer. Clicker works like magic with things like that.

Temple Grandin says that it turns on the seek emotion--and turns off the fear emotion--because a horse can't have both at the same time.

Seek is what makes us keep checking our blogroll to see if there is any new posts! Keep up the good work. I believe in clicker, and it is great to hear that it is starting to work for you, too.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Gabbrielle is showing herself to be a very smart and sensible horse when you want her to. This may be the summer you finally get her ridden and out on the trails. What fun!

Sounds like you ended on a good note with Bombay, too.