Monday, April 19, 2010

Remember This?

If you have been following Louie's blog, you probably recall our incident with the sled last summer (if not, here is a refresher:

Well today, with the help of our driving trainer Steve, Louie and I put the pieces back together and he pulled me in the sled again, something I was unsure if we would ever do again. Of course we worked up to this with the training shafts, dragging the sled, etc, but we were finally able to bring up some of those old memories and start making forward progress on our near disaster from last summer. This time, we took one step at a time, following Steve's method, and everything went smoothly.

By the end of the lesson we had Louie hooked to the sled in the outdoor arena (with the plastic sled on the scary, noisy sand), pulling me around in it at a walk in both directions- without blinders. Steve noted that Louie was definately not as comfortable (but not bad, just didn't fully let go and relax) once we hooked him to the sled as he was before when he was just in the shafts with Steve pulling the sled behind him- strange that it would make such a big difference, but I guess Louie usually expects a human to be by the sled, and this time it was following him without anyone attending to it. As we progressed from Louie pulling the sled with me long lining beside him to me sitting in the sled, some of Louie's discomforts definately came out. He didn't do anything bad, and I think he is learning to just stop every time he starts to feel uncomfortable with something (which is a great thing), but I think there were several new inputs at play (and probably the resurection of bad memories for Louie as well)- the shafts pushing against Louie's hips around turns (so that he had to step over with his hind end when he felt the shafts at his side), the feel of the weight in the breast plate over his shoulders, the sound of the sled scraping against the hard sand, and the loss of me in Louie's line of sight as I was hidden behind him in the sled.

We really learned by the end of the lesson that Louie looks to me a lot for reassurance, and at the end of the lesson as we were about to approach a corner, I could see Louie looking over his left shoulder then his right, looking for me for reassurance. Well, it's hard to see me because I am sitting on the ground behind him- pretty much. In a cart, I'll be easier to see. Steve pointed out that for this reason, he really believes Louie will be best suited to an open bridle to learn to drive, as he is more anxious with the blinders on as he is unable to look to Mom for comforting.

Well, it was a good day for us, lots for Louie to think about, and lots for us to work on, but Steve still believes we are very close to being ready to drive and thinks that Louie has got an excellent chance at making a complete comeback from what many would consider a career-ending driving accident. We have got a lot to work on to put this issue to rest, but if we take this process one step at a time, separating out the inputs and dealing with each aspect of driving as individually as possible, pulling a cart will be a breeze, and Louie will be more than prepared to be a rock solid driving horse. It may seem like we are going backwards or adding insult to injury, but by doing these "15 second lessons"- provoking anxiety for a few steps, then backing off and re-grouping, we are bringing up and dealing with all of the inputs that caused our issues in the first place, teaching Louie that they are not scary, and helping him to overcome them, one-, three-, and five steps at a time.

Ahh memories- and this time so much stronger!


  1. you're braver than me to sit on that - I've driven too many cranky hackneys to ever want to be where you were!

  2. Haha, thanks Ash. yeah, I definately know what you mean with the cranky Hackneys. But, I actually think this rig kindof keeps you out of harm's way- you're way further back than you are in a cart, out of kicking range, and with your legs out, you can easily plop them down on the ground and stand up quick if you need to. It is super fun in the winter time- you really should try it! It's a beer budget sleigh. ;)

  3. Girl you got more guts than me. Did the trainer recommend desensitizing him to the offending object before moving on?

    I had a horse that had to drive in an open bridle. He was OK, but he kept trying to look back to see what was going on back there.

  4. Brita- to answer your question, I would say yes, pretty much. Though, I don't know that Louie would need to be totally rock solid with the sled before hooking him to the cart as realistically, most horses never get desnsitized to such things before driving and they do just fine. Steve has said that he has hooked a lot of horses that were far less desensitized than Louie. But I think Steve wants to get him over this sled thing first so that we can put it behind us and pulling the cart will be cake for him. His eventual goal for us (which he does not think is too far off) would be to be able to have Louie driving in the cart and me pulling the sled behind the cart. We have homework each week to work on, and this week it does not involve hooking Louie, but fully desensitizing him to the training shafts again, to take that out of the picture for possible anxiety-provoking inputs. So, we're working with and without blinders, with the training shafts at a walk and trot,on the loud sand, and I plan to also pull the sled out there (not have him hooked) at the same time, and also hold the shafts and work on turns and getting Louie to step over behind and not be claustrophobic once he gets into the cart which will not move side to side with him.

    You were absolutely right about my knees shaking when we hooked him for the first time since the incident though. I was definately nervous, and while Louie didn't do anything bad, it was really nice to have an experienced, calm, and confident ground person there to direct us- really calmed my nerves a lot.