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October 14, 2004

Inch by Inch...

Donkey training can be a very good exercise in teaching you patience and also teaching you to not worry about how silly other people may think you are as long as you are achieving the results you are after!

Earlier this summer one of my neighbors asked me to graze my donkeys in his field for a while to eat his grass down shorter. So I kept three of my donkeys over there for a month or two. A few weeks ago I decided that it was time to bring them back home again.

Now, to get from this neighbor's pasture to my pasture, we have to walk down a gravel drive, along a concrete sidewalk, and cross several concrete and asphalt driveways.

Lily and Elsie didn't mind walking on asphalt or concrete at all. They just trotted right along beside me and didn't even blink an eye when crossing from gravel to concrete or asphalt. But Pansy, the third donkey, had other ideas! Although she doesn't mind asphalt too much, Pansy is especially wary of lighter colored concrete. Pansy thinks that stuff will eat you alive if you aren't very careful around it!

Pansy02.jpgSomehow I had convinced Pansy to cross the concrete drives and sidewalk on the way over to the neighbor's pasture a few weeks earlier. But this particular evening Pansy decided that she didn't want to put her dainty toes on that scary stuff!

Now Pansy is a jenny that requires a special kind of training. She accentuates the donkey characteristics of needing to think things through before trying something new. As long as things are relaxed and she thinks it is her idea, she will stay interested in what you are trying to teach her and willingly consider doing what you ask of her.

But if you get in a hurry and start pressuring her, she just shuts down. No amount of prodding, pushing, or pulling will get her anywhere. She just locks up, and refuses to even consider what you are asking. It's almost like her mind shuts off, and you have to stop and get her interested again before you can make any more progress.

So confronting the concrete problem posed quite a challenge! Mind you, I did have a can full of yummy sweet smelling corn and barley mix. But to Pansy, that wasn't enticing enough to persuade her to just walk right across that concrete.

If Pansy had her own way, she would have just stayed on the safe gravel, and eaten weeds along the edge. If I pressured her to come with me, she would either try to back up or just freeze up where she was. So I had to be really patient and use some creativity to achieve my goal of getting Pansy back home that evening.

First I'd rattle the grain can near her nose and let her smell the fragrant smell of that yummy grain. Once I had her attention focused solely on that grain, I could move it back a little bit, and she would stand there and think about following it. After a minute or two she'd take a step forward and we'd repeat the process again and again.

I found that if I kept the grain can low to the ground and kept Pansy's attention on it with her head down, she was less likely to get nervous and try to turn around or back up. After a few false starts, I was finally able to get Pansy to start following me slowly down the sidewalk.

Can you imagine driving down a street and seeing a person on the sidewalk bent down close to the ground, slowly backing down the street, with a big red mammoth donkey with her nose to the ground slowly following along? That must have been quite a sight! I felt like the donkey version of a snake charmer - "charming" my donkey down the street!

Pansy01.jpg First I'd rattle the grain can by her nose, and she'd turn and stretch her head out toward it. Then I'd scoot back an inch or two, and coax her with encouraging words to take a little baby step forward. With her nose down to the ground following that can of grain, Pansy would slowly move across a driveway - step by step. Then we'd work our way down the next strip of sidewalk. If I wasn't careful, she'd start to lose focus on that can, and get nervous and raise her head up to look around. Then I'd have to quickly get her attention back on the grain before she had a chance to head back, and we'd start inching down the street again. "Here Pansy... Come on big girl... You can do it!"

I couldn't put any pressure on her halter otherwise she'd forget the whole idea and head back to the safety of the gravel drive. But as long as I kept her head down focused on that grain, she'd slowly keep coming. That took a lot of patience!

But before too long I had her across all the driveways and sidewalks, and she was happy to walk down our dirt drive to where her buddies were waiting. Yippee!

I still laugh every time I think of how ridiculous we must have looked crawling down the sidewalk an inch at a time!

Do you have any humorous stories about your donkeys or mules? I'd love to hear them!

Kristie Jorgensen

Posted by Kristie Jorgensen at October 14, 2004 08:17 PM