On the last few days, misty mornings have given way to sunny afternoons, which has really helped the bog out the front of the stables to start too dry out. Unfortunately I woke this morning to heavy rain and when I arrived to start working with the mules, the bog now resembles a pond!
I waded through the ‘pond’ and up to the back of the paddock where it is much drier and to where Lidia and Magda were grazing quietly side by side. To my astonishment as I got closer they both turned and started walking towards me! I stopped in my tracks and they confidently walked to within 5 metres of me. I threw them some bread and they edged closer still whilst I stood trying to keep my emotions in check! I had hoped that throughout the week I would gain their trust a little and they would stop running from me, but for them both to choose to walk up to me and to want to be around me brought a tear to my eye.
I left the girls and went back to the feed room to get some treats and a head collar. When I went back to the stable Biclo was walking across the field towards me, so I waited and he walked in to the stable and stood next to me as if to say ‘me next!’. I put his head collar on and repeated a clicker training session on lifting his feet - he was very good.
It is lovely that Biclo is so friendly, but also a hindrance at times! In the field he demands attention and chases the others away from me. Everywhere I go, he follows. I have to wait for him to get bored of being ignored by me and to walk away before I can start to work with the others, sometimes this can take up to half an hour! I think that he would benefit from being gelded in many ways, but unfortunately as the animals are under seizure this cannot be done until the case has gone to court. This obviously creates a problem here as there are also a couple of donkey stallions and IRDA (Il Rifugio degli Asinelli) are full to capacity at the moment. Keeping stallions separate from mares is really stretching resources here, and it may take up to a year for the case to be heard in court.
The staff here are dealing well with the extra workload and this week they have had two new grooms start on 6 month contracts to help take the pressure off a little whilst the Colleferro donkeys and mules demand so much time and attention. Soon the pressure will increase again as the mares start to foal.
With the two new staff helping to free up some valuable time, the other staff are hoping to have more time to continue to work with the mules when I leave. I have every faith in them that they will do a wonderful job, as I have seen this week how well one of the grooms, Fabrizio, was able to cope with a difficult donkey named Fleur.
When I came to work at IRDA back in 2011, Fabrizio had just started to work with Fleur. She is a Poitou breed of donkey and had been rescued from a difficult situation in France. Fleur was very nervous and shy, and was always hiding behind the other donkeys, always on the edge. Fabrizio asked me to go and watch him work with her so I could give him tips and check he was doing everything right in his training methods. There was very little that I could say to him or teach him as his natural affinity with the animals is enviable. He had already progressed to being able to catch her and she clearly felt comfortable around him.
This time when I returned I asked Fabrizio how Fleur was and he was keen to take me to see her. The change in her behaviour was astounding to witness; she was stood at the gate and was keen to be greeted by me as well as Fabrizio. She stood without a head collar in the yard whilst Fabrizio picked up all four of her feet and then he walked off and clicked his fingers and Fleur trotted after him following where ever he went!
Fabrizio and the team still seem slightly unconfident in their ability to train the mules, but I truly believe in them and know that when I fly home tomorrow that I will be leaving the mules in very capable hands, and time will prove this.
During the morning I also repeated a session on picking up feet with Margherita, she also did well. Both she and Biclo are able to pick up their feet for a little bit longer every day. As I was finishing up in the stable with Margherita I was surprised to see the rest of the herd coming over. They normally stay away from the stable when I am there as they know they could be cornered there. I stood quietly with Margherita as Lidia edged her way closer, until she finally put her nose over the front wall of the stable. I cautiously offered a piece of apple on my fingertips and after a few seconds she reached out and took it from me. The pride I had in her for taking such a huge step was overwhelming and it was a breathtakingly emotional moment for me. For the second time today I had a tear in my eye!
I had hoped and dreamt that one day she might take a treat directly from me, but had not thought that she would be able to take such a leap of faith in just four days.
Positive energy must have been in the air today because as I left the stable little Irene turned to look at me, so I offered her some bread from my hand and she lent right forward and sniffed at it. She didn’t quite have the confidence to take it, but considering only two days ago it had taken her an hour in the stable to do the same action I am chuffed to bits that she willingly offered me so much whilst loose in the field.
The rain was still torrential this afternoon and the mules were gathered in and around the stable when I got back after lunch, so after another quick session with both Biclo and Margherita I decided to just sit quietly on the box in the stable next to the door. Margherita and Biclo stayed in there eating the hay and it was clear that Irene wanted to join them but was not brave enough to with me also in the stable with them.
After a while she started to creep towards the door. She would take a step, look at me, snort, and then stop. Take another step, look at me, snort again and stop! This pattern continued for about 10 minutes until she had made it all the way past me and through the door. She started eating the hay and I sat in the stable with her for about 40 minutes. During this time both Magda and Lidia had also crept forwards. Lidia managed to get both front feet in through the door next to me; Magda managed one hoof before realising actually quite how close she was to me, spooking herself and high-tailing it!
I only have tomorrow morning left with the mules before flying home in the afternoon, so I am keeping my fingers crossed for dryer weather.
Positive energy and emotional moments - Day 4
Baby steps in the right direction - Day 3
Shaping behaviour - Day 2
A little victory and a small step of progress - Day 1
Colleferro donkeys safely home at last
Il Rifugio degli Asinelli