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January 19, 2009

Old Enough to Start Training? Part 1

Your baby donkey is starting to grow up. When can you start her training?

I believe that a donkey is never too young to start learning. But what you teach them will differ depending on their age and maturity. There are many factors to take into account when deciding if your donkey is ready for training. Here are a few things that I take into consideration.


One is their physical maturity. Mammoth donkeys take a while to mature. I think usually they can start some light driving (pulling a light cart on the level) at around 3 years old. And I like to wait until they are 4 years old to start serious riding training. Some of the taller mammoths can take even longer to mature both mentally and physically.

You can also have your vet check to see how their bones are developing (if their knees have closed yet, etc), to have an idea of how fast they are maturing physically. I've read that horses knees usually have closed by the time they are 2 yrs old. So if you have a very tall 3 yr old donkey who's knees have still not closed, you should consider waiting longer than you might ordinarily wait for that donkey to mature physically before starting riding.


The second thing to consider is their mental maturity. When you work with a number of donkeys, you'll start to notice, some of them seem to just love their training session time, while others get tired of it more quickly. Some will eat up a 10 minute session, but lose focus if you go longer than 20 minutes. While others can go for an hour (as long as you mix the exercises up a bit) and not get bored. If a young donkey still has a very short attention span, I keep their lessons shorter and simple. The older, more mature donkeys can handle a longer training sessions without getting burned out. You definitely don't want your donkey to get burned out about training - you want it to be fun and something to look forward to.

In the case of my gelding Bentley, I bought him as a 4 yr old. He was 15.1hh, so I thought I'd just take it easy with him for a few months and let him mature a little more. I tried starting him under saddle at 5 years old, but he started acting burned out about it pretty quick, and after 2 or 3 sessions of him just acting more and more disinterested, I decided to give him another year to grow. At 6 years old, and he was much happier about starting saddle training.

As a side note, you will probably notice for a session or two when you first start something new, that your donkey may act confused and less interested in their lesson, but after a session or two, they should start catching on to what you are asking, and enjoy showing you what they have learned. Remember, don't try to push too much at them too fast, but if after two or three sessions of the same simple process (ie. walk when I give the signal to walk and stop when I give the signal to stop, no particular direction necessary just yet), if the donkey still acts like he's just not getting it and is frustrated with the process, it's time to consider a different training technique or letting him mature mentally a little while longer. This was the case with Bentley.


Watch how the donkey responds when you go out to get him for a training session. If he comes running when he sees you come out with his halter, you know he's looking forward to his time with you. If he turns and walks the other way, he's not excited about it. This can be the result of a couple of factors - lesson time is too long and/or too repetitive (not enough variety, too boring), his tack doesn't fit right and is uncomfortable (poor saddle fit, bridle too small, etc), or he's mentally or physically not ready for the things you are trying to teach him. Take a good look at each of these areas and try adjusting them to find the "sweet spot" for him.

Tomorrow I'll talk about what I like to teach at what ages.

Kristie Jorgensen

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Posted by Kristie Jorgensen at January 19, 2009 10:30 AM