We went without rain almost all week and the ground has really started to dry out. There is still standing water, but it is localized to the 'flood spots'. Even though moving is throwing a huge kink in my endurance plans, I still want to get out and trail ride as often as possible. So, we loaded up and drove to Lake Copan. Boomer was very good on the ride and we set up the Cart A Corral for him to check out. I tacked him up and off we went. The first section of trail is along the road and has lots of thorny brush and was muddy. After about 10-15 minutes of walking, you come to an overflow ditch that you must cross and then the real trail starts, single track, winding, hills, creeks to cross, gullies, etc.
Well, the lake was flooded. So flooded that the trail was under water. We couldn't even get to the overflow ditch. We got about 10 minutes out and had to turn back. On the way back, I led and had John follow.
Boomer was much more alert and was looking for monsters. He does better when he follows, but he is a good leader also. There was a lot of mud and standing water for him to cross, which he didn't think twice about! That is the silver lining to living on a flood plain that I had been looking for!
At one point he stopped and put his head up, ears together. Strangely he did the same thing at the same big rocks last time we were here. This time, we noticed the REAL reason for his attention, a coyote den! I bet they mark around the den and rocks and he could smell it.
I think John and I were both pretty bummed, he was planning on doing some trail running and thought we could easily do 10-15 miles. We had fun and it was a good training session anyway!
The real bummer for me came when we went to load the horse into the trailer. So far, we have been bribing him with food. I knew all along that this isn't training or even a substitute for training. But it worked. The thing about Boomer is that you can not push him. He is bigger and stronger and he knows it. If I push him, he will pull back away from me, or just stand still with his head up, ignoring everything around him. He doesn't get aggressive, so that is good. Once you have pushed and he crosses the threshold into 'reactionary', he isn't coming back. In my training with him, I have learned that he needs to think something is his idea before he will do it willingly. You need to push him up to, but not beyond his limit. We tried the grain option for about 15 minutes. He had his feed pan with grain in the trailer, I was standing inside, he was standing there staring at me. I had pressure on his lead rope, which increased if he went back, decreased if he went forward. He thought about it pretty good and stretched for his food, but just wasn't interested in getting back in. So, we got two panels of the portable corral and put them behind him, he thought about it, realized his space was rapidly decreasing, and got in calmly in under a minute.
What went wrong, is obvious. But, I want/need to focus on what went right. No one got impatient or upset. Boomer never panicked. He was never pushed. The whole process took a long time, but went smoothly. So, I know Boomer learns in steps. When the steps are consistent, he begins responding earlier and earlier. I would like him to step into the trailer as I lead him to it. That is the ideal cue. To get to that, I know that food has worked. So, lets go back to feeding him in the trailer. But, this time, I am not going to bribe him with the food, it will just happen to be at the front of his stall when he loads. Also, I want to have the corral panels out and set up a little back from the trailer. If he doesn't get in with me leading him forward, and a few crop taps on the rump, lets move the panels closer. Keep giving him a chance to get in on his own, keep moving those panels closer. When he has run out of space, pick up the panels and force him in. Hopefully, everyone will stay calm with this process. I think that if he doesn't get the chance to reach critical mass, he will learn quickly that he always has to load into the trailer, or his personal space gets taken away. I think this will work better than just following food. Though, I do think it will be good to have food waiting when he does get in. Eventually, we will wean him off of that and someday he will just get a cookie or a forehead rub. Until that day, grain is ok. Also, when we are doing this trailer loading practice, we need to repeat a few times in a row, not just once in and out and done. If you think about it, he has been trailered 3 times, first two were forced in and he was in total panic mode for the whole ordeal, injuring himself both times. The next two were great, and this last one wasn't bad, but wasn't perfect. That gives some perspective. John told me once that 40 days makes a habit. I wonder if the same is true for horses. Perhaps we should work on loading him 5 times a day for the next week. Then keep practicing a few times a week after that.
Soon, I will post links to the boarding facility we are looking at in Lawrence as well as houses we like!