So I woke up at 2.30 thinking about today, and it took about an hour to get it all straight in my head, I guess when something really means something to you then it's worth being up nights for. When I was first in California 15 years a ago, the barn manager at Crawford Hall used to say “You are not training horses unless they keep you up nights thinking about them”, and I guess the same goes for donkeys too.
The day started with the usual thanks to everyone for coming and the hard work and the length of time this event had been in the planning and how it got started with our very own Stephen Blakeway involved and key right from the start. And you could feel the excitement of the 150 plus donkey owners, rescue and charity workers and vets in the room and what was immediately apparent was that even most of the vets owned donkeys. As a speaker that made me relax because donkey owners are a breed apart, always enthusiastic, generally cheerful and very, very keen to learn, oh and they love to talk about donkeys.
Stephen got us off to a great start explaining to the audience the work of the Sanctuary and it was kind of neat (to use the American phase) to be in a crowd of people who really didn’t know too much about the Sanctuary and the wonderful work we do, and see them slowly begin to gasp the sheer size, amazing depth and incredible impact the Sanctuary makes on the lives of donkeys around the world.
A video presentation of the work in the brick kilns of Egypt really brought home the need for more help for donkeys around the world and the amazing work and success of our teams overseas.
Some technical hitches with the webinar part delayed my start, but actually all the preparation just like when training a donkey paid off, and I was just in the moment and enjoying the wonderfully friendly atmosphere created by 150 excited donkey owners. The result was I loved it, everything went to plan we had fun and hopefully I got people thinking about donkey behaviour and its true importance to welfare.
Then on to the practical. It's OK talking and presenting well, but as a trainer, can you walk the talk? So over to the University's horse yards where 130 people were sitting up in the stands and 5 beautiful donkeys standing in the lovely Californian Sun.
Three of the donkeys were unhandled and very nervous and two really very friendly, so always start with the easy ones. Bless them they very quickly showed that they loved a good scratch and were happy to follow me around wanting more, lovely to see them think and figure out how to get more scratches. I worked with the beautiful bay mare who was a little more inquisitive and we were able to demonstrate the use of negative and positive reinforcement, timing, stretching comfort zones.
Did I get them to do anything? No not really, an arena, in the sun, in front of 130 people during a demo is never really the place to do very much at all other than show the potential for understanding donkey behaviour communication and the donkeys are always the best teachers.
To do this you have to trust the people watching get it, that they care enough to understand doing very little and taking little steps is the best thing to it has to be about the donkey no matter what you are doing, and no matter who you are doing it in front of.
I didn’t need to worry, the wonderful audience totally got it, their questions and comments were so incredibly positive and enthusiastic.
Tomorrow, I am going to work with these donkeys all day to see if I can help them a little bit more so more of that tomorrow.
Photos by Marjorie Farabee, TMR Rescue.