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September 21, 2006

Teaching Your Donkey to Cross the Bridge

This is the perfect time of year to teach your donkey some new tricks!

A few months ago I posted an article about how to build your own bridge obstacle. Now that you've had time to build your own, it's time to teach your donkeys to cross it!

First, your donkey should be leading well and have basic handling training done. Also, you should teach your donkey to cross a sheet of plywood laying flat on the ground. This will get them used to the sound and feel of walking across wood without having to worry about stepping up onto and down off of the bridge.

Once your donkey is good at those basics, set up your bridge obstacle in your training area. Start your training lesson with some of the familiar exercises that your donkey knows well. Then after a few minutes of familiar things, lead your donkey up to the bridge, and let them check it out. They will usually want to sniff it real good and get a good look at it.

Ask your donkey to step closer to the bridge, and when they do, reward them with a small treat or other reward. Then ask for another step and another. Pretty soon your donkey will be standing with his front feet right up next to the bridge. Most donkeys will not want to step on the bridge at first, so getting them up right next to the bridge is the first step.

Once they are comfortable standing right next to the bridge, as then to step up onto it. Usually this works best of you start off asking them to cross the bridge from side to side (the short way) instead of going across it the long way, that way the part they have to step across is wider and not as long. Later you will teach them to cross it the long way from end to end.

Your donkey may try to walk around the end of the bridge instead of cross it. Just quietly bring them back to the side you asked them to cross, and ask them again. Sometimes it helps to stand beside your donkey and set one of their front feet on the bridge then give them a treat and lots of praise. Then next require them to keep that front foot on the bridge while they get their praise and/or treat. If they take their foot off, the reward stops.

Usually it will take 15-30 minutes before they decide they can walk across part of it. The first few times, they will step one or both front feet on and then step off to the side without setting their back feet on. This is a good first try, and deserves lots of praise! Let them repeat that a few more times, then ask that they set more feet on before stepping off to the side (or ideally not step off to the side at all).

After you've gotten them to cross the bridge (setting all feet on as they cross over) about two times, let them be done for that lesson. You want to stop on a good note when they've just done something great that you've been trying to get. Put them away for the day, and let them think about their lesson. I can guarantee they will be thinking about it while they wait for their next lesson!

When you bring them out for their next lesson, start with the basic groundwork exercises that they know well. Then after they've gotten into their lesson, ask them to cross the bridge a couple times. They should be able to set all four feet on it and walk across this time, since they did it in the last lesson. Repeat this process for a few lessons until they happily just walk right across with you when you lead them up to and across the bridge the short way.

Once they are doing well crossing the bridge that way, set up two barrels on either side of the bridge so that they can cross the bridge the long ways in between the barrels. The barrels will work as a guide to help them stay on the bridge while learning to cross it the longer and narrower way. Lead them across it several times that way, and reward their good work. Once they are doing that well, you can start asking them to cross the bridge that way (with the barrels) in their riding and ground-driving lessons.

After they have become proficient at crossing the bridge the correct way between the barrels, you can remove the barrels and/or add other decorations to your bridge obstacle. Some of the favorite decorations that are added to bridges in the show ring trail classes are fake flowers on both sides of the bridge, or blue tarp "water" on both sides. Just be creative, and teach your donkey to accept all kinds of things beside their bridge.

I just recently started several new jennets in my training program, and got a few photos of them showing off their new found talents in crossing my bridge.



Kristie Jorgensen

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Posted by Kristie Jorgensen at September 21, 2006 03:35 PM