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Ellie's Big Adventure - Equine Affaire 2019

On the last day of September, I received an email from the Vermont Morgan Horse Association asking if I would be interested in bringing Ellie to Equine Affaire in Massachusetts from November 7-10.  I became a member of VMHA this year when I decided to compete at Vermont Heritage Days; so even though I live in Maine and not Vermont haha, I made a snap decision to say yes!  
Honestly, it was 21 minutes after the email came in that I responded yes!  Then I had to figure out how to actually make it all happen hahahahaha.  Typical.
I attended Equine Affaire as a spectator a few times way back when and then for many years I ran the breed booth for the Standardbreds, including a four-day stint in C Barn with Dreamy back in 2013.  It is fun and exhausting to travel 4+ hours one way from home to talk with thousands of people, walk thousands of miles around the venue (ok, not that far but close), and ride in demos on a horse that has never seen such a huge venue (though in her defense, Ellie was …

Sugar High

Ellie has been coming into her own over the past month, and I am super proud of her.  Our little show on November 19 was cancelled, so we missed our second debut in WT pleasure/eq classes and ground poles haha, but hopefully (as long as it doesn't snow that day), we will have another chance in December.

Hunting season in Maine means blaze orange for the horses!
One of the biggest things I knew I needed to address was standing still for mounting.  She's always been a little "twitchy" about it, and because the horses are home and I don't have people around (besides my husband, but he's usually not in the ring with me), I knew I needed to fix this issue.  Not only is it unsafe for a horse to not stand still to be mounted and move off only when asked, but I want a reliable horse that I don't have to worry about and always need a ground person for.

Inspired by Carly and her luck with peppermints with her adorable Opie, I figured what the hell.  I broke out the sugar cubes (I tend to stick with horse cookies, but I had bought sugar cubes for Snappy just before she was put down and I figured sugar would be better with a bit), stuffed my pockets full, and off we went to the ring.  I never normally feed treats with a bit in the mouth, but this was an exception.  It took her a few tries to understand that when I stood on the mounting block and she stood still without swinging her haunches away, she got a sugar cube.  Hmmmm....only took one try to understand that she also got one when she stood still while I actually swung a leg over.  I mounted/dismounted several times and everything clicked for her because SUGAR.

Oh how nice to have a horse who is so food motivated LOL!
Reaching around for her sugar LOL

The next ride was much the same, only she stood immobile on the first try and that was that.  The third ride, again she was perfect to mount, but then she would randomly halt and look back at me expectantly.  Hahahaha she totally is smart enough to realize that halting somehow equaled treats.  She got over it easily though, which was good. 

Our next training issue to address was trailer loading.  I got a freebie when I moved her home in September, where she jumped right into the trailer first try.  I have a step up and she just followed me in.  Our first outing for the KMF trail ride, she hesitated a little but got on the second try.  Our first little horse show a week later, she flat out refused to get on the trailer, and only did so when I finally asked my husband to stand behind her on the ground.  I wasn't expecting her to refuse and I didn't have time to really do a training session, so I resorted to him just standing at her butt and poking her LOL.  It was the same when we left the show, and I had to have the BM help me load her while I poked her butt from behind.  I need a horse that I can do everything with by myself so it was time to tackle this training issue.

I hooked the trailer on the truck last Sunday for the day in order to put in some practice.  I had no idea what she might decide to try, but I feel the best way to teach trailer loading is when there is no pressure, no place to be, not time constraints.  I figured I could always do some work first and then put her away and try again later on if needed.  I did NOT want to get into a power struggle. Trailering horses is already a dangerous activity even if the horse loads fine, so I wanted this experience to be as stress free and calm as possible.

Mid morning I took Ellie out to the trailer straight from the pasture, with a dressage whip and a pocket of sugar cubes.  Having witnessed all manner of trailer loading "techniques" in my lifetime, with people using an assortment of tools from lunge lines around haunches to brooms, shovels, etc., I teach horses to load in a trailer in a very simple manner.  I tap, tap, tap their left side/shoulder and once they move forward, I release the pressure (stop tapping).  Notice I said tapping and not hitting, smacking, or whipping.  I honestly don't think making a nervous horse MORE nervous about trailering works well, but that's just me.  I am not a horse trainer, just someone who has seen enough to know that I'd rather take a simple and quiet approach.  The tapping is irritating enough to be annoying but not done in a way that causes pain or nervousness.  (I have been lucky with my horses over the years, as Dreamy self loaded without issue and Sparky was always fine.  I did have to work a bit with Snappy when I first got her, as she was convinced that she was unable to get into a step up haha.)

My trailer is set up as a large box stall in the back, so there is plenty of room for a horse to stand, take a good look, and step in without issue.  Also, when I tie her in on the left side, I can easily walk out the back to shut her in without having to squeeze under a bar or between a horse and the side of the trailer.  Dreamy liked to ride loose in the box stall, while Snappy preferred to be tied.  So far, I have tied Ellie but maybe eventually she will prefer to be loose?  I guess we will just have to see!
No trailer loading pics because safety before media.  But this is what happens when I try to take a photo of my horse.  She follows me haha!
So I stood just up inside the trailer against the left side.  She swung her haunches around towards the left side of the trailer, thinking if she was perpendicular to the trailer or even swung her haunches out enough, she would be free of the annoying taps.  Nope, I just jumped down to the ground level and soon got her standing straight, looking into the trailer.  Good mare, here's a sugar cube each time you stand here without swinging or backing up.  I thought it might take some time to convince her to step in, but within a few minutes, she placed a hoof up inside the trailer.  GOOD MARE.  More sugar cubes.  Granted, she took it right out again, but it was enough for her to understand OHHHH this is like the mounting game.  If I move forward into the trailer, she stops tapping AND I get a yummy sugar cube.  I swear I could see the wheels turning, because next thing I know, she hops right in!  YAY!!

We stood for a moment in the trailer, though I didn't tie her.  We walked out (she LEAPS out, but we are working on that too haha) and I walked her around the rig to try again.  I took maybe ten seconds this time before she hopped in.  GOOD GIRL.  We did this twice more for a total of four times loading, and then I put her away back to her pasture (with a few more sugar cubes for good measure, of course).  The third and fourth time I tapped her once and she stepped right in.

My husband was surprised I was back in the house.  "Did you load her yet?" he asked.  

"Yup, four times, and I am going to do it again this afternoon, so don't unhook it."  I admit, it took much less time than I anticipated.  But she is a smart mare and motivated by food, so it wasn't that bad.
Spoiled horse!
Before I rode that afternoon, I tried it again.  This time she barely hesitated and I only raised the dressage whip towards her shoulder without even touching her.  She hopped on and off four times again.  The only problem I found was she wanted to immediately get off the trailer and get back on because SUGAR CUBES.  But I made her actually stand still once she loaded before I would give her a treat and I limited the second session to just one cube each time she loaded haha.  I will definitely be doing this at least once a week when I have time to hook the trailer.  I hope we don't have trailer loading issues, but at least I know to always keep a stash of sugar cubes handy!!  ;-)

And another first for Ellie was "jumping" over the world's tiniest cross rail.  Last weekend it was a bit windy, so I stuck her on the lunge line just to be certain she was going to be sane.  She walked and trotted calmly (which was AWESOME), so I figured I would try her over the crossrails that are still in the ring.  She trotted over the first one, but then she finally decided to jump the next try.  I made her do the two crossrails in each direction and then I got on.  After a lovely little ride, we went over the crossrails while I was actually riding.  She was perfect!  I cannot WAIT for when we start jumping for real.  At this point, the ground is fairly frozen and our rides are limited to walk/trot.  

Things are getting pretty serious.

Comments

  1. She's doing so well. When I was training Carmen to self-load I put a bucket of treats in the trailer hooked on the trailer tie. That way she walked right up and munched on the treats.

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    1. Thank you! She really is a smart mare and while she still tends to be "up" until I convince her to calm herself (haha), I can see her starting to be more and more brave! That's a good idea to use a bucket of treats! I am totally using the food motivation as much as I can!

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  2. I used the dressage whip tapping method on Gem as well. It took about 40 minutes before she gave in but once done she didn’t refuse again.

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    1. YES! It does seem that once you install the right trailer loading buttons, it works!

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  3. i also use the same technique of tapping to ask the horse for "forward," with the trailer almost kinda incidentally in front of it. and also have never ever regretted doing low key, relaxed trailer loading sessions. glad Ellie figured it out so quickly!

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    1. Me too! There is nothing worse than a horse that won't load when you want to go do fun things!

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  4. Remus now loves to load but he used to be a bit nervous too. lots of treats and quiet loading experience now he self loads I throw the lead over his shoulder tap his left shoulder with my hand (Funny same method) and on he goes. He also used to ram to get out with the butt bar up and it annoyed me to no end but I used the same tap tap tap with my hand on his butt (gently almost like patting him) and now he waits for me to do the butt bar before unloading. So glad she is learning to be such a grown up girl. She is so cute.

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    1. Definitely agree the low key, lots of treats, repetitive training helps the most!

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  5. Solo trailer loading is next on my list. This is where I'm jealous of you having your horses at home so you don't have to coordinate drive times to the barn to practice.

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    1. Yeah, I agree, that's no fun having to coordinate and make a production out of it. :-( Hopefully things will work out so you can get some training in for The Snoot!

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  6. I used the treats trick to get Nilla to stand still for mounting and it was the best thing ever. She was such a nightmare before that.

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    1. I am usually not a fan of bribing with treats but it is absolutely the best thing ever for standing still!!

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