Monday, October 21, 2013

Trail Fox

Yesterday marked a new begining, a bittersweet one for me. It was the first time I loaded up to go out to a horsey outting without Seneca.  Okay there were days she was supposed to get on the trailer and it wasn't going to happen so I left her home, but this was the first time that I didn't even plan on taking her, yet I was still going to ride.

The local trail riding club of which I am a member had a group ride at a trail system that is about an hour or so from my house. I had already tested Fox's ability to get back in the trailer off the farm so I wasn't worried about him going with Seneca's MO which was to load perfectly at home only to lose her mind after we'd been some place else.  Fox got loaded in to slot number one on the trailer only because recently, and strangely he's been loading better than Cowboy. 

Plus loading practise the day before with Cowboy had not gone well. I got Cowboy in, closed the divider, then left him for a minute.  Came back, unclipped his head as I have down with all my horses, came around to the back of the trailer to find Cowboy had decided to try and turn around in the trailer stall.. I froze because he was panicking and looked like he was stuck almost folded in half.  I almost went to open the divider and then he righted himself by bringing his head back around so he was standing straight again.  I let him get off, then apologizing to him made Cowboy get back on. I didn't want him to have a bad memory of the trailer.  Lots of praise and treats then I put him back, and did practise with Fox.  No problems.

Superhubs and I arrived at the venue, parked in the field and while he went off to sign in I unloaded the boys.  Cowboy came off as usual a little snorty, but chowed down on his hay bag when I tied him and was content.  Fox came off much the same way, snorty, high headed, then proceeded to do his impression of a plow horse while munching hay.

Tacked up, boots on hooves and we're off.  Fox was a super star and all the other club members couldn't believe this was his first time off the farm with me.  I mostly let him follow Cowboy who has been out more than Fox and is quite a bit braver.  But there were a few times where Fox led the way and he seemed okay with it.  We crossed bridges, although I admit I had to get off for the first two bridges and lead him across, but he let me ride him across the last few.  The water crossings were the same. The first one was fairly large and he did not want to cross.  But I got off, hopped to the other bank and turned just in time to see Fox do a spectular leap. We're talking like an UL event horse diving in to the Head of the Lake at Rolex kind of leap.  Woo Hoo!  The second water crossing he let me stay on for and hopped over. 

I was ever so glad I put my grab strap on. One of the other club riders who has a lovely Friesian/Arab cross asked me what it was.  When I explained that a lot of event riders, and people with young horses liked them for that extra something to hold on to she exclaimed that it was an excellent idea and why didn't more people do it.  One of the other club riders, albeit a very insecure/timid rider asked me about Fox's age and such.  When I told her Fox was a 6yr old, OTTB her eyes bugged.
"But he's so calm and laid back!"  Yes OTTB's do come in the "diet" version, all the flavor without the high sugar content. You just have to look a little harder and realize what you see at the track might not be exactly what the horse will be like off the high feed and 23hrs of stall time.

All in all a great first outting.  The farrier comes tomorrow to do Cowboy and Seneca's feet, although I want her to look at Fox.  He's perfectly sound in his trail boots, but out of them at the walk he's hitchy on his front right aka the crappy foot. I want to see if he might be courting an abcess(probably not) or he's just super tender on the foot with the least concavity.

Our next outting will be to a trail/obsticales fun day put on by the local pony club this weekend. Until then,
keep it between the flags everyone.  

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Echoes of Old Ghosts

Anyone who has read this blog in the last two years is well aware of the High Queen's non-loading away from home issues.  Leave it to my drama queen to have the opposite loading problem of every other horse.  So when I got Fox I specifically told the adoption coordinator when I started looking that I wanted something sound, quiet, slooooow, and absolutely NO LOADING ISSUES! None, that is a deal breaker. I spent the last three years arguing with an 1100 lb animal about getting in to a trailer, enduring humiliation, shame, betrayal, heartache, a broken ankle, and accelerated arthritis in two of the fingers of my right hand.  If it doesn't load, I ain't buying it.

The day I picked Fox up he hesitated for a millisecond about getting in to my three horse step-up, but hopped on happily enough.  Fast foward to a couple of weeks later and he's flatout refusing to get in. No, no, NO!  I went through all the methods I tried with the High Queen, the ones that worked with her, and the ones that didn't.  No go.  Really? Do the horse Gods just hate me? WTF?

Then I hit on the sweet spot, or rather the sweet treat. Fox, thank all the holy Gods, is a lot like Cowboy and Cowboy is HIGHLY food motivated.  You offer him something to eat and he will go anywhere.  So one afternoon I half filled a bucket with grain and those Uncle Jimmy's Squeezy Bun treats.  I opened up all the windows, doors and took the removable tack out of the back, then folded the tack area wall in so the whole trailer was as open as possible.  I got my longest leadline, positioned Fox at the entrance to the trailer then went to the very front of the trailer in the first stall, sat down right next to the open escape door, set the bucket next to me and just trailed my fingers through it continuously so it made that tempting grain shifting noise.

It took about five minutes for Fox to get half-way in.  Give a treat. Superhubs had been in the garage washing my car, I heard him exclaim, HELL YES! as Fox got half-way in the first time.  I sat, trailed the grain. Fox got half-way on again.  Treat.  Superhubs who at that point finished with my car came over to me and said if I got Fox all the way in then he'd clean out the inside of my car.  Hmmm incentive.  Superhubs then went over to the neighbors on the four-wheeler leaving me and Fox to do our thing.

Six minutes after the second half-way in Fox stepped all the way on and I gave him a big mouthfull of grain and a Squeezy bun.  We got off,  we did it again, I sat away from him in the front, he walked on.  Fox got on five times before I decided we were done.  I put him away and then texted Superhubs that he now owed me the cleaning out of my car.  When Superhubs returned he told me I had to prove that Fox got on. Seriously? I sighed, got Fox back out, opened up the trailer again, and we did our trick. I sat, made some noise in the grain bucket, Fox got in.

But the real test was not the loading at home. That was almost never Seneca's problem.  It was the going elsewhere and being all high and nervous then losing our mind that got in the way of trailer loading.  So how do I test it without having to walk forever home if Fox decided to take notes from the High Queen?  Just down the road, about 3/4 of a mile there is a church with a parkinglot.  Bingo.  So last week on the last dry day before all the crappy rain set in we loaded Fox and drove over to the church.

I unloaded my little red head and he was up, he was huffing and nervous, and high headed.  There were no other horses around and I'm pretty sure none had ever stepped foot on the church's lawn.  So pretty much a great situation to test the Fox's loading skills. I circled him a little while trying desperately not to tear up the church's lawn or leave too much evidence that we were there. I didn't exactly have permission to do loading practice with my horse there.  After a few minutes Fox quieted enough to try grazing. At which point I towed him over to the trailer, he followed willingly always a good sign, got the grain bucket then went to reload.

Moment of truth.  I would love to say he loaded right up no hesitation. But he didn't.  It took him a minute to stand there and think about it, but the allure of the grain was too much and he hopped back in. YESSSSS!
Sweet mother of all horse Gods, YES!  Gods bless food motivated geldings!  Superhubs closed us back in, I clipped Fox to the trailer tie, got out and back home we went. 

I finally have a horse that loads with a minimum of fuss.  I am one happy, happy girl.
Keep it between the flags everyone.