Sunday, January 1, 2012

Starting Off the New Year on the Right Foot

A couple of things happened to thwart any plans for a trail ride, but I didn't let those stop me from working with my horses at home.  I returned to clicker training, and there was no problem with the horses remembering that the click is a good thing.  I have no problem with them coming to the halter when I've got my clicker, but I'd better have that clicker and my fanny pack of treats with me, or they'll take off to get away from the halter.  Their cooperation is definitely dependent upon the presence of food, which I don't like, but I'm only in the beginning stages of clicker training.  I haven't weaned them off getting a treat for every click... until today.

Once in the round pen, I had to train them to move on the rail and reward them with a click and a treat, because otherwise they'd circle me closer and closer until their noses were in my fanny pack.  No treats for them then.  Only when they returned to the rail, stopped when I said whoa, and stayed on the rail for me to approach them with the treat did they get a treat.  Eventually, I just kept clicking without offering a treat as they stayed on the rail so that they learned not to stop when I clicked, but to understand that what they were doing was correct, and they should keep doing it.  Gabbrielle's brain is always working, so she caught on the fastest, then Bombay. 

Lostine was a different story.  She was totally out of control running back and forth on one half of the round pen and swinging her butt at me each time she turned.  I trained Gabbrielle to always turn with her head toward me in one short lesson, but Lostine was not listening to anything -- not my voice, not my body language, not my whip, not my intentions, not even the click of the clicker when she did something right for a split second. 

I realized that she was staying on the half of the round pen that was furthest from the horse trailer, which I had pulled out into the driveway. She was so freaked out over the threat of going for a trailer ride that she was unreachable.  I began trying to get her attention and discipline her for not listening, but then realized that it was pointless.  Her mind was gone, so I climbed through the railings to the outside of the round pen and just let her work out her worries on her own.  She worked up a big sweat in the process.

When she finally settled down, I entered the round pen and worked with her in baby steps, only asking for very small changes in her behavior and clicking and serving up treats as fast as possible before she could think about that trailer and go berserk again.  Just to add to the challenge, I opened the trailer doors, which really got her going again.  Once I got her making full circles in the round pen and making any effort to slow down when I said whoa, I took her for a long walk, rewarding her when she stopped and relaxed next to the trailer.  Boy, was she surprised when I released her without asking her to get in it.

During our walk, Gabbrielle was stalking us, because she wanted treats too, so I took Lostine's mind off the trailer by playing a game and hide and seek between us and Gabbrielle.  Gabbrielle didn't take kindly to being ditched, so she chased after us at a full gallop and buzzed by us snorting.

I spent yesterday reading the instructions on the new trailer braking system and practicing braking on our gravel driveway and dirt road.  I was totally confused by the braking display, because it wouldn't show the number that I set it to.  It either showed a "c" for connected or 0.0 for no voltage.  I worried that it was broken.  I mean, why wouldn't it be broken?  Everything else has gone wrong with the dang thing.

I knew I needed to test it out on the paved roads, but didn't want to get into the mix of all those amped up teenagers racing around in excitement over the New Year's Eve parties they were headed to.  I knew they wouldn't have the patience for a slow moving truck pulling a trailer in front of them.  I decided to wait until everyone was at home today sleeping off their hangovers to try out the trailer braking system on public roadways.

I asked my husband to come along and observe the trailer brake display while I drove, and make any adjustments to it if needed.  He said that the numbers jumped all over the place depending on how lightly or how hard I braked.  I couldn't even tell that there was a trailer behind us.  When I braked, it was as if I were just driving the truck and naturally braking for a stop sign.  There was no shuddering, no squealing tires, no jerking, no pushing and no pulling.

Then a light bulb went off in my head.  Everything made sense.  My old trailer brake in my old truck required me to change the setting every time the weight I was hauling changed.  An empty trailer was 1.5.  A trailer with one horse was 2.0.  A trailer with two horses was 3.0 or 3.5.  However, as the horses' weights changed, my usual settings sometimes were no longer ideal.  I kept readjusting the numbers by half a point, but could never get the trailer to brake smoothly.  So, I was used to the shuddering, squealing tires, jerking, pushing and pulling.  I thought it was just all a part of hauling a trailer.

However, I bought a top-of-the-line trailer brake this time around, and it actually adjusts to each braking condition without me having to change any numbers.  It was intelligently designed.  The only time I should have to change the setting might be if I traded in the two horse trailer for a three horse trailer and put all three horses in it.  However, I actually am questioning whether I need to get a new trailer now, because I realize that Lostine's aversion to the sight of the trailer and Bombay's nervous breakdowns inside the moving trailer were probably all related to the primitive braking system I was using that I got ten years ago.  That old braking system would actually make the brakes on the trailer click loudly and grab in one setting, and then do virtually nothing in the next setting down, causing the trailer to push my truck out into the intersection before coming to a complete stop.

Today I must have stopped at a dozen stop signs, and I approached each one differently.  In one case, I pretended like a dog ran out in front of the truck and I had to stop immediately.  In every case, I was able to stop behind the stop line, and never felt anything from the trailer.  So, I think if I can slowly help the horses to learn that trailering won't be so bad for them anymore, then I might have a much easier time of it getting them out to the trails.  The hard part is that they've been conditioned to hate riding in that trailer.  So, it will take a lot of reconditioning to get them to feel comfortable in there in the future.  I may have to just pump Bombay full of Calm & Cool before his first ride.

I'm glad that I didn't invest a ton of money into having the trainer driving Bombay around with her own truck and a borrowed stock trailer, because she probably had a decent braking system and he probably would have been fine for her, only to lose it once he got back into my trailer with my old truck and old braking system throwing him around back there.  The best thing I could have done was to buy a more powerful truck and install a better trailer braking system.  Coming back home from our test drive, I had to make a left next to a blind curve.  Of course, some driver had to come speeding around that curve right when I was entering the intersection, so I had to gun it to get out the way before she plowed right into the side of my horse trailer. 

It amazes me how people around here won't even brake when they see an obstacle in front of them.  I'd swear that some of them actually speed up to put pressure on the other driver or dog or whatever to get out of their way.  So, I stepped on it, and the truck took off like a jet plane.  My husband said, "Whoa!  That's awesome."  My old truck couldn't have done that.  So, I'm going into the New Year feeling good about my prospects of successful future trail rides.


Grey Horse Matters said...

Good luck with everything in 2012. Wishing you and yours a very Happy Healthy New Year!

Breathe said...

That's terrific! I'm glad you are off to a solid start, and that the truck is really performing. No wonder the trailer was so scary. I never realized that an underpowered vehicle and old braking system would cause such a terrible ride. Hopefully a trainer can help bridge things so 2012 will be a traveling year.

Clicker training is so fun. I'm trick training smokey for kicks. He loves it, he picks up my hat (giving it to me is still a work in progress), and is raising his hooves on command. Lily is being s pain with her rear feet so i plan on working on it in rhe coming weeks.

Looking forward to hearing more!

fernvalley01 said...

Sounds like good work with the horses , and great news about the trailer brakes

Crystal said...

Excellent so glad to hear the new truck brakes are working so much better. I never realized how much better brakes were causse my old truck never had any and now I have a good one too.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

You deserve some good things working out for you. Yay!


achieve1dream said...

That's awesome about the trailer and braking system! That totally makes sense that if the old braking system wasn't adjusting correctly to the weight that it would be rough and they've associated it to all trailer rides. Just take it really slowly and you'll be able to recondition them to it. I'm excited that you've found the solution.

With the haltering and playing hard to catch, stick with the clicker training because it will work! It takes time to turn it into a habit but they will eventually associate the halter with good things. :D Chrome was hard to catch when I got him too and one thing that helped was that he had to be haltered every single time he got fed his breakfast and dinner (I fed him tied up because the other horse tried to steal his feed).

To make it easy just offer the halter and when they allow you to halter, click and treat. Then feed them and remove the halter. You don't have to tie them up, just have them wear it. That helps to avoid the hard to catch game altogether. If they do play hard to catch, like when Lostine loses her brain just don't feed her. I know in the winter that may not be possible just because you don't want them to lose weight, but my guess is it would only happen once. :D Good luck!!