Tuesday 22 June 2021

First Away Clinic - Preparation

I didn't want to post about this before it happened in case we didn't actually get there but this past weekend was my first clinic with Naia away from our home barn. 

The clinic was with AM, the horsemanship/dressage clinician. Naia and I have done clinics with AM before in July 2020, November 2020, and March 2021. For each of those dates I was lucky enough for AM to divide the clinic between a few locations and travel to my home barn. This time around, there wasn't enough people for her to travel here, so the whole clinic happened at a ranch about 90 minutes away and I hauled Naia there. 

November clinic with AM

I mentioned in this post that I have been getting my normal trainer SJ to help me with training Naia to trailer load, but that her broken foot put a wrench in those plans. I ended up getting SJ to come out to the barn a few times and set up a camp chair and a footrest for her so she could watch and yell instructions at me from the sidelines while I worked with Naia and the trailer. The weeks before the clinic involved a lot of thought and effort to get Naia ready for hauling while trying to make it as positive of an experience as possible for her, and I think we succeeded as much as possible with that goal, though actually hauling somewhere new is another dimension compared to just loading onto the trailer at home. 

What the inside of my trailer looks like

All of the early work we did with Naia and the trailer focused on the basics of her stepping up into the trailer, first with her front feet and then all four, being willing to pause inside the trailer, and also to calmly come out. However for the later stages we focused on the details needed for the specific way I haul. I have a 2 horse angle haul step up trailer that has double back doors, no escape door, and an interior divider that can be secured in the open or closed position. I also almost exclusively haul solo, so I can't count on anyone else to handle doors or do anything else in the loading process. The final aspect is that I live in a windy area and doors and dividers cannot be trusted to stay where you put them. In order to haul this way, I have developed the following system to safely load and secure horses (YMMV):

  1. Secure back doors open with bungee cords and some super heavy duty magnet hooks
  2. Lead horse into trailer with me also stepping up into trailer on left side of horse
  3. Bring horse's head to far corner of trailer and loop lead rope around window bar, I don't tie at this point, just hold the loose end
  4. Ask horse to move their hip over so they are standing parallel to angled tack room wall
  5. I step back while horse stays in place so that I can unhook divider from back left corner of trailer
  6. Swing divider closed and secure
  7. Drop end of lead rope beside wall where horse won't step on it (I keep holding end of lead rope through steps 3-6 so I am prepared to apply tension if horse tries to leave, but they aren't tied fast and I am ready to get out of the way so there isn't a wreck if they panic
  8. Go to outside of trailer and stand on fender, reach through window bars to clip on trailer tie and unclip and remove lead rope
  9. Close trailer doors
I unload by going in exact reverse order. I generally like to turn the horse around to unload instead of backing out in case of uneven ground, but will do whatever is easier for the particular horse. My trailer does allow the option of hauling horses in an open stock configuration, but there is no way for me to close both back doors by myself when the horse is loose in the trailer, so I need to use the divider when I haul solo. 

Of the above process, Step 4 in particular was difficult for Naia, she was fine to stand in the trailer facing directly forward, or directly backwards, but being next to the wall or at an angle was hard for her. We worked on this in two ways, both by me asking her to park in a stall in the barn with her standing right alongside the stall wall, and by asking her to turn around within the trailer, both towards and away from door, so she got more comfortable at multiple angles. These approaches seemed to help and I was able to fully secure her within the divider a few times before the weekend of the clinic. 

The first time we got the divider closed with Naia, I was pretty excited

I figured this clinic would be a really good hauling experience for Naia because the 90 minute drive is mostly on smooth twinned straight highway so it would be a pretty smooth haul for her, that was long enough for her to figure out her balance, but short enough to not tire her out. We would repeat that haul a total of 4 times (there and back each day) and importantly, each day she would get to come home to her normal paddock. I plan to do lots of day trips with her before I haul her somewhere overnight so that she hopefully learns that hauling is no big deal and she always comes home. Hauling to a clinic instead of a show also had the distinct advantage that AM would be able to help me if I couldn't load Naia to come home at the end of the day. 

Spoiler alert, I was able to load her myself all 4 times!

AM always pushes the boundaries of what I think we are capable of. I was a little anxious going into the clinic because I knew it was going to push my comfort level, both with being the first time hauling somewhere new, and with the general expectations of the clinic, but I was also excited because I knew we had worked hard on our homework from the last clinic and we were as ready as we were going to be. 

Since the last clinic the homework I have been working on has included the following: While lunging I have been more insistent that Naia stay out on circle, which includes that she can no longer stop and turn in when I tell her "good girl" (she used to because I would pair the good girl with a food reward). Also on the lunge I worked on getting Naia to consistently pick up the canter, I wasn't worried about her staying at the canter or correct leads yet, just that she knew a kiss meant a transition from trot to canter. Under saddle I have been working on riding more varied patterns at trot and maintaining trot for a longer period of time. At the last clinic AM encouraged me to transition from loose reins to having Naia accept more contact with the bit so I have been working on that too. We don't ride in any kind of frame, and I'm not asking for any longitudinal flexion yet, just riding with a gentle feel between my hands and her mouth. Our turns have actually gotten a lot better since developing this skill which has been a nice side effect. Finally, this wasn't specific homework from the last clinic but as the weather has warmed up I have worked on getting Naia just as comfortable being ridden outdoors as in the indoor arena. We've even ridden outside on pretty windy days which has been great for both of our confidence. 

Some of our recent outdoors trot work

It turned out that our preparation seemed to work pretty well and the clinic was a great experience, more tomorrow! 

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