Saturday, March 7, 2009

On the Road Again!

Well, as you may have read in my initial post, as of the day that I purchased Guinness, he had only been on a trailer once in his life - as a foal on a stock trailer with his momma when she was taken to a stud to be bred.

The next day, my husband and I loaded him onto our 2 horse, bumper pull, open-backed trailer for the 8+ hour long trip from KY to VA! A dose of Quietex really helped Guinness to settle down and cope with his fear, but by the end of the trip my nerves were shot from worrying about how he was handling things back there! Poor baby. What a reintroduction to trailering.. At least we made it safely home.

With that in mind, and with spring on it's way, I decided a couple of weeks ago that we needed to reapproach the trailer. After hemming and hawing around it for a bit, I decided to try practice loading the baby with my PNH friend, Alyssa, around for moral support.

In one of Temple Grandin's books that I've read recently, she commented that "horses acquire phobias really easily" and reiterated how important that it is for the first exposure to something to go well. I've come to realize that I, too, acquire phobias very easily. That trailer ride home with Guinness in tow was enough to cause me to feel low-level anxiety whenever I contemplated loading the baby back onto the trailer. That is why I was avoiding it. How interesting!

We pulled my trailer up into my front yard, where the other horses could be near but separated from us by a fence. We opened up both doors and Guinness basically leaped on board, only to discover some forage cubes that I'd previously left in the manger and forgotten about. He was content - and I was shocked that it had gone so well. I had expected that it was going to take hours from him to be willing to go near the trailer..

A couple of days after that, I was feeling more confident, so I hooked up the trailer and pulled it out onto the driveway. I did put some more cubes into the manger (not as a "bribe" merely as "incentive"). Then I got both Smokey and Guinness from the pasture and tied them to the sides of the trailer. I brushed them and put on velcro leg wraps, while they settled down. Then I took turns loading Smokey, then baby, then both of them at time. I also took turns backing them off or asking them to turn around and then wait calmly to step off. (I had removed the dangerous divider when I first got the trailer 5 years ago, and have never replaced it.)

By the end of the session, I was rocking the trailer by jumping on the tongue, standing in the truck bed, opening and closing all of the doors, etc. I eventually pulled forward about 6 feet and then called it a day. No problems. Guinness will even back off of the trailer! (My former horse, Parlay, was never willing to back off, even with weeks of practice exercises.) I was impressed. These photos are from that session.

Several days later, I decided to haul Guinness and Smokey over to Pandapas Pond, a park in the national forest about 4 miles from my house, but on the other side of a mountain. I hauled them over by myself, but didn't unload them. We just parked and hung out there with the front door open for about 15 minutes while I fed them cubes and hung out. Then we turned around and came home. I have a very steep driveway, and have to put the truck into 4WD and 1st gear to avoid slipping. When we got back to the barn, Guinness was a little sweaty. I left the two of them on the trailer for another 15 minutes or so with the doors open, while I fed them dinner.

The next trip was a few days later. I loaded Guinness up alone and took him back to Pandapas. Again, we parked in the lot and waited to calm down. As we looked out the window together, I realized that Guinness has yet to be desensitized to bikes. (Pandapas Pond is a popular destination for hikers, bikers and horse riders.) We turned around and came home. He was just a little sweaty again from the ride home.

So, this morning I decided to get a little more adventurous. I loaded Guinness and fed him breakfast on the trailer. Then I unloaded him and tied him to the trailer to hang out for a bit while I fetched Smokey. I tied Smokey too, and then wrapped tails and legs. I put them on together (no hesitation at all) and then we headed to my friend Sierra's house in Pearisburg (about 20 miles away, but not too curvy).

We unloaded when we got there, which surprised Guinness. He was right-brained and staring (mostly at a large, loose dog), but not jumping on top of me or acting frantic. My friends and I walked the horses to a round pen and then visited while the horses grazed. We left the horses by themselves, and then returned with Parlay. (It has been a year and a half since Sierra bought her, but I still didn't know how Smokey would react to seeing his girlfriend again. Surprisingly, the fireworks were minimal.)

Here is one of my favorite photos of Parlay & me:

I took a little time to play with Guinness in the roundpen at Liberty (another first). He did great. Then played at desensitizing him to having a large trashcan on and over his back. No problem. We even exited the roundpen by backing through the gate!

The only exciting moment during loading came when Guinness decided to turn around in the trailer before I got his head tied. Fortunately, neither horse is very large and this wasn't a problem. I just led him off and then sent him on again, while Sierra held the end of his leadrope to prevent his turning around again.

We made it home just fine, and once more I let them stand on the trailer for about 15 minutes before unloading.

I was going to take them on another foray tomorrow, but have decided to give them a break and instead give Guinness his first bath, since it will be 76 degrees. This should be fun! :-)

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