Saturday, April 16, 2011

16th April, 2011 Tough customers

I have worked with three non-loaders in the last two days and have two more to work with next week. These can be some of the hardest horses to work with in one of the most dangerous situations for a trainer. So important to get it right first time for the first time loader and to assess each stage of the training for a remedial horse so that you can spot the point(s) where the problem lies. All too often we are called in when all else has failed and the horse knows more about the loading techniques available than we do! So many horses have been forced to load and forced to stay on board when they were still frightened of being enclosed or, have become frightened by some incident or poor driving when on board. Our Thursday case was a horse that has never walked over anything other than grass in the six years since he was born until he was asked to walk over a carpet and tarpaulin a few weeks ago. Neither has he ever walked up an incline. A naturally cautious horse, he is very concerned to keep his feet safe and available for the purpose of flight. Accordingly he is finding the prospect of stepping onto a ramp very daunting indeed. We have decided to add in an interim step and ask him to walk over a wooden board to see whether we can build his confidence even further before asking him to step on to the ramp. The first horse yesterday had a history of not loading following an incident in which he panicked in a trailer. Since then he has received a lot of training from another RA with his previous owner and was loading consistently but since changing hands he has become more awkward. He loaded intermittently for me yesterday. The last horse was plainly terrified of going in the trailer and shook even when she was on the ramp. Unless surrounded by panels she wouldn't think of loading at all and any pressure whatsoever on her nose resulted in her running backwards or engaging in displacement behaviour. In this situation I would think that it would take a long time for clicker training to work although it would be worth a try. The owner needs to be in for the long haul before she can go for a short haul. I'm hoping to be involved in setting up a survey into trailer safety. It has become a common belief that horses actually prefer travelling facing backwards (rather than forwards or herringbone). The Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service are reporting that there appears to be an unusually high incidence of horses jumping over the front bars/partitions of rear facing trailers and horseboxes and this needs to be thoroughly researched if it is going to lead to any changes to design. Once the horse has jumped the partition/ bar it is often very difficult to extricate them quickly and safely because the bars don't drop down easily and the rear doors are made for people not horses. People often get injured trying to save their horses. Instead they would be well advised to get the local Fire Service out who are likely to ask for the horse to be heavily sedated or even anaesthetised in order to effect a rescue without putting the horse at further risk of injury. For more information about this issue please look at Friends of the Hampshire Animal Rescue Team page on Facebook.