I headed over to W's today with my trailer in tow. And while I'd love to type a long drawn out post on it (in my usual fashion), I learned a valuable lesson (which I've been forced to learn many times over my years of riding and working with horses). Unfortunately, that lesson impedes me from typing just enough to encourage me to keep this short.
You see, I accidently peeled a nice chunck of skin off my middle finger, right at the tip. It's fine if I don't type, but I'm kinda a 10-finger typer. So I keep missing the keys. It's missing enough layers of skin that it'll need a day to seal over and be back to "useable".
How'd it happen? Genius me wasn't wearing gloves while trying to load Mr. Moon.
I will admit right here, I didn't get him to load.
I feel like I should feel guilty or frustrated or blue about it. But I'm not. You might wonder why not. The answer is simple.
I have a lot of patience when it comes to some training. Fear-based training.
You see, Moon was scared of loading in the trailer. He wasn't sure he'd fit, and the first time I loaded him, when he put his one hind hoof in, the trailer jostled and the front door slammed shut. His head went up, brushed the fiberglass roof and he got scared. So he backed out. And bumped his head on the metal frame over the rear doors. And got a little more scared.
Whoops. But no biggie.
We spent an hour working on it. I got him to load his front two hooves multiple times, but he just wasn't comfortable stepping up with his hinds. Once when he was standing there in the trailer with his fronts, some kids went running by. No biggie, except he turned to look at them. And bumped his nose on the gate-pole. And got scared and backed out.
Then I got him in again with his fronts after a few more tries and was straching his face. He went from white-eyed to slowly relaxing, chewing and nuzzling into me. I was crouching in front of him rubbing his blaze and his head lowered and his eyes closed. He was relaxing in the trailer. I was excited.
Until he seemed to doze off (or become catatonic, I swear it was weird like he went unconscious), and his nose fell to the trailer floor.
And he startled himself, threw himself back and dashed out of the trailer again, wide eyed.
Dang. Silly pony.
By the end of the hour, I could get him to place his front two hooves in. And then I backed him out and called it good enough.
Why didn't I keep pushing it? Why didn't I use a bumb rope, or tie him to the trailer and wrench him in, or get a lunge whip and beat him in? Why didn't I put a bag on a stick and chase him in?
Because fear does not overcome fear. It doesn't. It can't. In anything. Fear is overcome by being contradicted by positive experiences.
I know this. I trained, over many failed attempts, my dog to pull a wagon. She was TERRIFIED when we started. But slowly, trying different ways and never scaring her, I accomplished it. Did the same thing to teach her to ride a snowmobile, be pulled in a sleigh and be around horses.
I believe that Moon can be trained to load into the trailer in the same way. Patience + Persistence + Positive Experience = Success.
But today, I didn't have time to train him that way. It takes many days or weeks. And all I wanted to know was that he'd fit. I'm pretty sure he will.
So once we move to H's, I'll set it up and start feeding him his meals in it. Gradually move them further and further in. I'll get him each time we ride, to walk a little further in. When we tack up, I'll tie him to it. Until he realizes there's nothing scary about it.
Rome wasn't built in a day. It was his first time with this type and design of trailer. He loads fine in other trailers, so I'm not worried. I'm even, in hindsight, proud of him.
Well, what does your horse do when scared?
Moon was scared of the trailer. The first time he got scared, he backed out of the trailer. I wasn't wearing gloves and was holding a cotton lead rope which when it slid out of my hands caused my finger nail of the neighbouring finger to rip off a chunk of skin. Ouch. But not really Moon's fault.
I also used too short of a lead rope initially : P So it was out of my grip when he was out of the trailer. Not sharp. I swapped to a regular lead rope (my normal one is more of a short dog leash...) and didn't have any more issues with it.
But even that first time, when he backed out of the trailer and the lead rope came right out of my hand, do you know what he did? There on the front driveway of the farm with his pasture mates calling to him?
He stopped just outside the trailer and stood still.
Each time he backed out, he'd raise his head, back out and then stop. Always before the end of the rope. Once I even looped the rope around a pole in the trailer and when he reached where the rope became more taught, he stopped.
He never reared on me. Charged. Bolted away. Kicked. Nothing.
I didn't once feel in danger or unsafe. And I'd rather be unsuccessful and safe then successful with both of us permanently scarred.
Positive experiences. Defeating fear. Slowly. Patiently.
The other interesting thing I noticed? He spent a LOT of time with his evil rabbit face on. In a HALTER! And not when I was pulling or anything. But whenever he went from scared to relaxing. He's pull against getting in the trailer, I'd gently coax him in, and then he's stand there on a relaxed lead. Then he'd contort his neck, gap his mouth and move his jaw around. For a good minute. Then lick and chew. Then usually back out.
Interesting. Very interesting.
Who says that small successes and lessons learned aren't just as or more important then big successes?
: ) I'm proud of us. Proud of Moon.
And THAT doesn't even take into account his awesome 8 mile trail ride...details to come. Then again, my horse is apparently in search of China...you'll understand when I write about it...