Sue Field recently wrote a blog about what more can we ask of foster owners? It is very exciting to be able to help people all over the country and indeed all over the world, to understand their donkeys and mules better, however, it is incredibly challenging to do so when you can’t actually see the behaviour itself to be able to understand exactly what is going on. With any behavioural issue you have to become a behavioural detective because there is always a number of different reasons for any behaviour, whether that be the environment, pain, the owner, previous experience or just normal and natural behaviour that is being misunderstood. Fortunately I have met both Chestnut and Paris at our Town Barton farm where the mules are housed and I have also met Ian when he came to meet Paris and Chestnut and also at a behaviour course so I have some insight into the combinations and with the guidance of Sue I have hazard to guess the issues that may be affecting Paris’s behaviour.
What is really important whenever we are dealing with behavioural problems is that we don’t label the animal as difficult or naughty or just misbehaving because that tends to influence how we view the behaviour and how we react to it. In Paris’s case the best way to understand it is that she is really smart and she is figuring out what works and what gets her her own things and as much as we might wish that equines naturally knew they should do everything right to please us, that is never the case, so we have to begin to work to help her to get the things she wants and let her understand what we require of her.
It is also important to consider, and this is what I can’t tell from an email or photograph, whether Paris’s behaviour is motivated by enthusiasm and her interaction with Ian or with fear or worry, these two can be often mixed up especially with the tiny signals that mules tend to give off, so it is important that we start with caution and allow Paris to tell us how she feels and what she does so I have constructed a detailed set of training ideas where we will be working with Paris and Ian to develop some control and some direction and helping Paris, very gradually and without being confrontational, to understand what it is we require her to do. Lots of positive reinforcement for the right things and the correct timing when we are interacting and leading her so that any miscommunication is very minimal.
Of course it is quite normal for an equine to want to dive in the hedgerow for something to eat and like all things this just comes back to training so what we are essentially going to talk about is lots of work to teach Paris that she can have grass, she can have what she wants but she is going to have it for a different behaviour, instead of diving for the hedge to grab what she can before she is pulled away, she is going to be learning that if she walks calmly and quietly next to Ian then he is going to allow her to eat. It seems a bit like reverse psychology but my experience is that mules are quite smart enough to work out that it is much easier to get grass by walking calmly and quietly next to a two legs that it is by having to wrestle and pull and jump into the hedge to get a brief mouthful before you’re torn away from the lovely green grass.
So I am sure over the next few months you will be seeing some entries from Sue about how Ian is progressing with the training that we have laid out for him and I am quite excited to hear myself how it goes and being able to support Ian further whenever he needs it is an exciting prospect. Having met them all I am pretty sure they will get it figured out very quickly and we will see some great responses.