Hi everyone, my name is Emma and I am here to share the journey that I make whilst working at our rescue centre in Italy for a week with 5 recently rescued mules, as I'm sure you're as keen as I am to catch up on their progress since Jenna's visit earlier this month.
For the last 10 years I have worked with a variety of equines including eventers, youngsters, mules and of course donkeys!
For the last three and a half of those 10 years I have worked with difficult mules at Town Barton Farm. Seeing each individual's personality and character shine through with the help of your patience, trust and understanding, after a sometimes challenging start in life, is what makes behavioural work so rewarding. I am currently working as farms equine assistant based in Sidmouth and I am very excited to have been given this opportunity to work alongside the staff at Il Rifugio degli Asinelli (IRDA) to continue to shape the mules' behaviour and restore their trust in people.
I'm also keen to get a sneaky peek at any of the donkey foals who may have put in an appearance in the last few weeks... and maybe even a cuddle!
I arrived in Turin on Sunday evening and was met by Fabrizio who works on the farm and as a welfare officer here in Italy. Unfortunately the great British weather had followed me on my travels and we were met with a lovely drive back to Sala Biellese in torrential rain! However as we got nearer the rain decided to clear (if only for a moment) to let me see the gorgeous views as we ascended into the Serra Hills.
Before heading to my B&B for the night we had a whistle stop tour of the farm ready for the morning. It is set in a truly beautiful location overlooking the countryside below. I met with a few of the resident donkeys here at IRDA who were all very keen to meet their new visitor and all of whom I look forward to seeing more of this week.
For me that was the end of my day's travelling. I am looking forward to settling into my B&B, getting my risk assessments and personal protective equipment prepared for the morning, so I can begin what I hope to be an exciting week's work. I have brought Jenna's completed risk assessments with me and hope by the end of the week to be able to report some changes in the right direction.
First day at the farm
Today is my first day meeting all the mules here at IRDA, and I'm hoping they will remember some of what they learnt a couple of weeks ago, so that we can build on this.
To my surprise when I arrived at isolation Biclo, the stallion, was standing in the stable with all the mares huddled around the doorway. It was like he knew of my arrival and was patiently waiting for his first training session. What a lovely welcome.
As I am a new trainer to the mules I began by assessing each of them individually and start a couple of steps up their shaping plans so as to ease them back into work. This will also help them remember what they learnt a couple of weeks ago and I will get a clear view of where their comfort zones are currently at.
I took the opportunity of Biclo standing waiting for me to have a short session with him to see what he remembers. Once he had made his initial assessment of me (which I must have passed) he busily started to investigate to see if I came bearing treats. As Biclo is highly food motivated I will continue to clicker train him and vary the points at which he receives a reward in order to extend his concentration time. This also means that things don't become too predictable.
I had a lovely session with Biclo. He was extremely well behaved and he accepted having his head collar on very quickly, after a few reminders. I groomed all over his body, and his tail and touched both his fronts legs all the way down to his hooves. Of course Biclo had his ears scratched too!
After this good start I then ventured out into the field where all the mares were happily grazing. I planned to spend some time in the field so they could get used to me. However, after about 10 minutes, Margherita started confidently making her way over towards me. She stopped just out of reach but, after a few more minutes of me talking to her, she finally decided I was safe to approach. She came over to enjoy some fuss and attention and stood beautifully beside me. I had a brief session with Margherita in the field and picked up both her front feet, stroked all of her body, including her belly and ears, and groomed her tail. She relaxed into me extremely well.
Irene, Lidia and Magda were all grazing at the furthest point of the field. I slowly made my way over towards them to see what distance from me was their comfort zone. This let me judge how near I could approach. All three of the mares are still very wary, especially of someone new, so I spent a lot of this morning in the field with them to let them get used to my presence.
Throughout the day I carried out a number of short sessions with both Biclo and Margherita. I varied the location and whether the other animals were present, so they can get used to working in different environments and scenarios. They then don't become dependant on a certain place or way of working.
Biclo truly has come into his own, wherever I go he goes, and when the sun is on his back in the field there is nothing he likes more than resting his head on my shoulders and having his ears scratched! It feels like we have started to build a lovely relationship.
By working with both mules, and with the other mares sometimes present, it made them inquisitive towards me. Slowly by the afternoon the mares would all happily graze around me, and Lidia even began to show an interest in approaching me. Behavioural work requires a lot of patience, but the rewards are great too.
I continued to work with the three mares throughout the day and to my delight Lidia showed real interest. I had been in the field with the mares for a lot of the morning, either training or just walking with them while they grazed, both Lidia and Magda were happy to take treats off the floor just in front of me. Lidia even managed one step closer today.
Lidia took a treat off the floor then to my surprise looked up towards me with her neck out as if to say "More please?"! I offered her another treat from my hand and she had the courage to sniff it, but then spooked herself and curled her lip up at me as if to say "Wasn't I brave?".
Little Irene also decided to join in today. When I was carrying out other training and focused on another mule she seems to appear next to me. She didn't come close enough to touch, but she is showing real interest in me. I am very keen to encourage this so I have let her freely come and go as she pleases.
To ice the cake for my first day in Italy, whilst I was grooming Margherita, Irene stood calmly beside her so I offered her a treat which she eventually took out of my hand after a couple of minutes thought!
This put a huge smile on my face and ended my first day perfectly.
Sometimes when working with mules you have to ride out the highs and lows and eventually get a fulfiling moment like this one!
All the mules have really impressed me today. I believe with continued patience and hard work I could be (very slowly) on the way to gaining their trust.