I woke up this morning to what looked to have been a damp and dreary night, but to my delight the sun broke through and it turned into a gorgeous sunny day. With the sun on their back all the mules waited in their usual morning spot, right next to the stable, in anticipation of breakfast!
Biclo and Margherita both had 3 sessions throughout the day today. I continued to work with them, going over all the things they have learnt and shaping their behaviour to try to bolster any of their weak spots. I concentrated on Biclo's voice commands of stand, back and walk on and with Margherita I concentrated on her feet, especially that pesky right hind that she forgets belongs to her!
They are both coming on fantastically well and their personalities have really blossomed this week. I feel like these two are starting to really enjoy, and look forward to, each training session as am I.
This morning once the hay and chaff had arrived the whole herd were in and around the stable. I stayed with them standing quietly just outside letting them come and go freely so they could build their confidence in approaching me - rather than the other way round for a change!
Irene has been showing increasing interest in me but gains most of her confidence when she has Margherita beside her. With this in mind I stood grooming Margherita as she ate with Irene by her side.
With Margherita as my training sidekick I slowly moved closer to Irene, talking to her the whole time to let her know exactly where I was. Eventually with Margherita and Irene standing touching side by side Irene accepted my presence. Continuing to use Margherita as reassurance for little Irene I slowly put my hand onto Irene's neck. She stopped for a moment and looked at me and then continued eating. This was quite an emotional moment for me as I slowly repeated this action a couple of times before moving my hand down her neck and along the top half of her back. After a moment she accepted me stroking her. However as I tried to scratch her withers to say 'well done' she made a little face at me, so I stayed within her comfort zone and stuck with the stroking her neck and back.
I then left Irene to allow the herd time to eat their breakfast undisturbed and just stood quietly outside again. I went back and worked with Irene, and Margherita of course, a couple more times through the day. Irene gains so much reassurance from Margherita she really tries when in her company. Lidia was also very brave this morning and managed to walk past me and into the stable.
After lunch Barbara Massa (the general manager) explained to me the ongoing case of the Colleferro mules and donkeys. To hear what these animals have come from to where they are today fills me with a great sense of pride that I have been given the opportunity to work alongside the staff at Il Rifugio degli Asinelli in the rehabilitation process. Despite such an awful start I can see potential in all of these mules, with the continued dedication of the staff here in Italy.
Barbara also taught me three invaluable phrases for my training - 'via', 'stai' and 'indietro' which translate to 'walk on', 'stand' and 'back'. I just hope the mules understand my newly learnt Italian, with a Devonshire twist!
I decided to spend the rest of my afternoon working with Lidia and Magda. With Lidia and Magda being so bonded, they pose even more of a challenge to work with. As they are able to escape from the highest of gates at the moment, it is harder to work with them one on one so I continued their training in the open space of the paddock. They are slowly but surely warming to me, but are a long way off from being ready to be separated or being safely put into a smaller space to work. I also don’t want to push them too hard too soon and stress them or lose their currently fragile trust, that I've worked so hard to build. It's lovely to see these mules have such strong friendship bonds but it does make working with them all the more tricky!
I'd also like to introduce you to another little chap currently living with the mules, his name is Taddeo. Taddeo is 1 of the 16 donkeys, along with the 5 mules, currently living in isolation after the Colleferro rescue. Taddeo is a stallion who, shall we say, likes the ladies. As some of the mares are currently in foal and he cannot yet be castrated, as all these animals are still only under seizure, he has been moved to live with the mules where he cannot get up to any mischief! He also likes to queue up for his share of the grooming!