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March 16, 2009

Teaching Respect at the Gate

It's a lovely day outside and you want to take one of your longears out for a ride, but the whole herd tries to run through the gate with you! Does this situation sound all too familiar? How do you fix the problem?

If you have trouble with your mules or donkeys trying to barge through the gate, it's time you teach them a gate routine. If your mules or donkeys are like mine, the more time you spend working with them and training them, the more they crave that one-on-one time. And once they have learned how much fun it is, they are always eager for a chance to join you for a training session. But it's important for them to know when it's ok to go through the gate and when they must wait. It's part of you being alpha jennet or alpha molly in their herd. When you give them permission to go through the gate, they may come through, otherwise they must wait. This is a rule they have to learn, not only for your safety, but for theirs too.

Donkey at the gate

I've found if they tend to be pushy at the gate, it is helpful if I take a dressage whip out with me every time I will be going through the gate for a while until they learn the routine. The whip is not to be mean. It just serves as an extension to my arm to shoo them off when they need to back off from the gate. When I approach the gate to enter or leave their pasture I require them to give me a reasonable amount of personal space so I can get through the gate without them crowding me. If they step into that personal space, they'll get a tap-tap-tap with the whip on their nose, chest or whatever works best to encourage them to back up a step or two out of my space. As soon as they move back out of that space, I stop the tapping - their release or reward.

Then the next step is to train them to have the same regard for my space when I'm leading another herdmate through the gate, coming in or going out. The same concepts apply to that step, except that the equine with the halter and lead on is allowed to follow me (at my pace) as I lead it through the gate, turn it around and latch the gate behind us. When you are leading only one animal through the gate, don't just throw the gate open wide. Walk through it while holding it open only as far as needed for you to walk through, then as far as needed for the mule or donkey you are leading to walk through, and promptly swing it back shut again right behind them.

If another donkey or mule tries to squeeze in to crowd through when you are in the process of leading one up to the gate and through the gate, use your dressage whip as you did before to tap them on the nose or chest and tell them to back up, while at the same time, as quietly as possible encourage the one you are leading to follow you through the gate. At first you may find that the one you're leading is unsure about following, not sure if it's ok, but soon they'll learn that if they have the halter and lead on, they are in the "safe zone", and should follow you through the gate while you ward off any would-be followers. It will be kind of awkward at first, but before long you'll be able to lead one mule or donkey in and out of the gate smoothly without the whole herd barging through.

A few extra notes about the use of a whip in this training exercise:

I usually only use the whip when I need something stiff that I can closely control the motion of. Once your mules or donkeys have learned the routine, you can simply use the end of the lead rope to ward off extra followers, or just wave your hand toward them and tell them to back off. But when they are first learning, I've found it helps if I can more carefully control the motion of the shooing tool so that it is in the appropriate place to ward off the crowding donkey, yet not so wild that it scares off the donkey I'm trying to lead through.

A shooing hand isn't always long enough to keep the pushy donkeys back at a distance while the one I have haltered is being led through the gate. A swinging rope will sometimes worry the donkey I'm trying to lead through, until they learn the routine. So by using the whip at first, I can keep most of the whip relatively still while swooshing the short lash on the end back and forth in front of the pushy donkey. I just swish the tip in the air, not intentionally going after the donkey to make contact, but using it to "protect" the space that I want respected. If the uninvited donkey chooses to walk into that space then they'll "accidentally" get popped by the whip as I'm swishing it - enough to make them stop and take notice that they are invading the space I have set up. I definitely don't recommend hitting or smacking any animal on the head or face. I just wave the tassel on the end of the whip back and forth so that if they choose to walk into that protected space, it's kind of like walking into the space a horse or mule is protecting when it swooshes it's tail. I guess that's a good way to explain it - use the whip lash to imitate an equine swishing it's tail to ward off other equines that are invading it's personal space.

All my donkeys love attention, and will happily come running anytime they see me come out to visit them, but they have also learned to respect my personal space when I tell them to. This makes working with them much easier and safer for all of us.

Try these steps, and let me know how it works for you!

Kristie Jorgensen

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Posted by Kristie Jorgensen at March 16, 2009 06:16 AM