Thursday was a Bank Holiday in Italy known as Festa della Liberazione. It is to celebrate the liberation of Italy from Nazi Germany in 1945. It's was also my last full day in Italy and, as a little present to finish my week, the sun was already out in full force as I drove to work. It looks set to be a scorcher. When I arrived the mules were all at the top of the field lying down and sunbathing!
I had been thinking about how well Irene had been doing, so decided to spend most of my morning with her, after a quick session with my two budding pros Margherite and Biclo of course!
I wanted to see if she would let me repeat the lessons of the day before, and maybe even build on them. The mules were being fed in feeders out in their field as the weather was so good, which was perfect as they have all the freedom to move about. This reduced the pressure of being confined in the smaller stable area so for Irene, who is still quite nervous, this is a much more comfortable working space. I worked alongside her with Margherita there for support, and repeated the steps I did with her and we got along great.
She accepted me being beside her in about half the time and continued to let me stroke her neck and back. I then offered her a treat which, up to now she hasn't been overly fussed about. There must have been something in the air that day as, to my delight, she turned to me and took the carrot right out of my hand! As Irene is so nervous she has tended to snatch treats as quickly as she can, probably in fear that my hand is there for some dual purpose. It felt like the beginning of a real breakthrough.
I continued to work with Irene in short sessions throughout the morning to give her a break away every now and again from the pressure in shaping this behaviour. She worked so well for me with Margherita still present providing comforting support. However Irene was not finished with what she had to offer just yet!
Later as I started to make my way across the field towards Irene for another lesson, Margherita turned towards me and headed off for a drink in the stable. I continued towards Irene thinking I would see how close she would allow me without the support of Margherita. I walked straight to the feeder she was eating from, and slowly made my way closer to her. She stopped eating and looked at me for a second, then continued what she had being doing. Irene allowed me to sit beside her on the feeder whilst she ate so I offered her a reward for this amazing step of faith she had taken. It seemed like in return for all the sessions we had in the morning when she turned to me and took a treat out of my hand. Irene then stayed to investigate and sniff my hand to see if there were any more.
I stayed with Irene for a while after this whilst she stood quietly beside me, every now and again she would turn to me and offer her attention as if checking to see if I wanted to ask anything more of her. She has come so far, and it feels like the youngest of the group has a lot more to give!
When I returned from lunch all of the herd were in the field grazing. I went to get Margherita from the field for a hoof lesson. As I did I had to pass little Irene who was happily grazing on her own. Irene again allowed me to approach her directly for a very short session. I then stroked her muzzle and she took a reward. I couldn't have been happier, but she then went one step more, as I turned to leave her I heard the noise of footfalls behind me - Irene was following me!
This little mule has come so far since I first met her at the start of the week. I had only dreamt that she would have the courage to approach me by the end of the week, so it was lovely that she let me touch her in the freedom of the field. Irene has started to build a beautiful relationship by learning to trust, and I'm chuffed to bits to be here to see her develop. The fulfilment I felt when she turned and took those steps towards me and allowed me to stroke her muzzle is indescribable. That is one of the great things about working with these animals.
Being with Irene in the field also allowed Lidia and Magda a chance to check me out. As the afternoon continued to be blazing hot I spent some relaxed time with the whole herd. I carried on with hoof and grooming lessons for Biclo and Margherita, giving newly accepted attention to Irene and continued patience with Lidia and Magda.
I also introduced them to some toys that I had brought with me from the UK. All the mules had worked so hard for me this last week, that I took the opportunity of the lovely weather to let them kick back their heels and have an afternoon of play time! Of course Biclo was into the toys first!
Everything came together to make a wonderful, memorable day.