Today we visited the village called Galena in Mexico with a group of second-year vet students and their lecturer. The Donkey Sanctuary-UNAM programme’s behaviourist, Dr Mauro Madariaga Najera, was giving them a class on handling techniques.
The students all come from small communities and will take their skills back with them once they qualify. Mauro chose this town to run his class as they have a large population of mules, many of whom have hoof problems as people are scared to pick up their mule’s feet.
Mauro started by asking the students what they knew about the characteristics of donkeys, horses and mules. They came up with lots of answers for horses, no answers at all about donkeys and the only answer for a mule was that they are very dangerous and strong.
Mauro went on to explain about the differences between the three species and about the right and wrong ways to handle equines. He explained that you need to make a friend of the animal and be gentle with it rather than using force.
He explained about how to effectively and safely use pressure in a positive way when handling your animal, for example when teaching your animal to lead, you would use the pressure and release technique. Pressure is applied gently and consistently on the lead rope until the animal takes a movement in the correct direction at which point the pressure is released as a reward. To emphasize this point he demonstrated by applying pressure to the students in both the wrong and the right way and asked them how they felt about it so they could feel what the donkey feels when handled incorrectly.
All the students said that in future they would think about the donkey’s point of view when handling them, many of the students told stories of how they had seen donkeys and mules behaving in a difficult manner, but in hindsight they can now see it was the handler that was the problem not the animal.
After the theory class, Mauro borrowed two beautiful working mules and a very cute little donkey from a local man he has been working with so the students could put into practice the handling techniques they had learnt. We really enjoyed watching the students gain confidence in handling the animals with compassion, for what we hope will be a very bright future for the welfare of working equids in this region.