By Meredith Hodges
By now your donkey should be getting much better at his turns on the forehand and haunches on the lead line. He should be leading easily at the walk and trot and squaring up while stopped. He should be lunging at the walk and trot in the round pen, and ground-driving at the walk in the round pen, both straight and through turns and reverses. He should be walking and trotting with a rider in the round pen, without the assistant. He should be both ground-driving and walking with a rider through the hourglass pattern and on the perimeter of the larger arena. Now you are going to ask for a little more detailed control by asking him to walk over and through some very straight-forward obstacles.
Set up some obstacles in a confined area. Obstacles might include a tarp, four ground rails, a bridge, a straight back-through, a mailbox and a tractor tire. Your donkey should have been led through these obstacles as part of his leading training, so he should be familiar with these obstacles. Now you can begin to ask him to negotiate these obstacles more on his own by first ground-driving him through them, then (if he is large enough) by riding him through them. Begin by reviewing his turns on the forehand and haunches. Then attach the drivelines and have your assistant lead him as you drive him from behind. Start with something simple such as ground poles, a tarp or a bridge that he can easily walk over. If he is negotiating the tarp or bridge, ask him to “whoa” when he is standing on it with all four feet, reward him and then proceed. If he is negotiating the ground poles, walk over them. Once he is on the other side, stop him immediately and reward him. Then proceed. Then have your assistant lead him to the mailbox while you ground-drive him, and have him stop parallel to it. Reward him for stopping, then have your assistant open and close the mailbox and reward him again for standing still. Then proceed. Walk him through the parallel poles and stop him. Reward him. Then ask him to back out of them. Reward him again. Then proceed to the tractor tire. Make sure your assistant walks through the tire and not around it, because the donkey will do exactly as he sees her do! Once on the other side of the tire, have your assistant stop and allow the donkey to put his two front feet in the tire and halt. Reward him. Then proceed forward and allow him to walk through the tire to the other side and halt. Reward him again. Your assistant will be giving the treats, since you will need to maintain the drivelines.
After he has negotiated all of the obstacles with the assistant leading him, it is time for him to negotiate them on his own. Have your assistant stand on the ending side of the obstacle while you ground-drive him through exactly as you did before, stopping in the appropriate places. Whenever you stop, have your assistant come to him and reward him, then have her go back to the starting position, where she will reward him again as he completes the obstacle. If you have any problems with him at all, have your assistant come back and lead him through it again, then try to ground-drive him through again on his own. Do not try to bully him into doing it. This will only cause resistance and a failure to understand how to properly negotiate the obstacle.
Once your donkey is going smoothly and obediently through the obstacles on the drivelines, you can ride him through (if he is large enough). Begin as you did with the drivelines and have your assistant lead him through first or ride through ahead of him on a schooled animal that he likes, stopping in the appropriate places and rewarding him each step of the way. Depending on how willing your donkey is, this could be the next lesson, on the very same day. Each time you go to the obstacle course, repeat this entire process each time, first on the drivelines with the assistant, then without, ride with the assistant leading, then ride through the obstacles without her. It will not be long before he is going well, as donkeys learn things quickly and thoroughly, although they do have off days and may decide not to comply with a particular obstacle on that particular day. Tomorrow, it may be an entirely different story and he may have no trouble at all with any of them. It’s just the nature of the donkey to “change things up a little” from day to day. They like to keep us honest and on our toes. This is why I have included a separate section in my Training Mules and Donkeys series just for donkeys that is designed to be used WITH the other DVDs. Do the obstacles in a different order each time to prevent your donkey from anticipating and ignoring your cues, and be sure that you are cueing him properly for each obstacle, making your movements as light as possible.
If you encounter resistance at any obstacle, just stop, have your assistant come back and lead him through again. Then try it again. If you encounter only mild resistance at any obstacle, try to straighten your donkey out and repeat the obstacle again without the assistant. For instance, let’s suppose your donkey goes through the parallel poles, but won’t stop for the back. Stop him as soon as you can after the poles and ask him to back. Then go forward again in a large circle and come back through again and try to stop him in the middle, between the poles, then back. Give him every opportunity you can to succeed on his own and be sure to reward him for it.
Often, a donkey will create resistance by sticking his nose out and pulling his head to one side. If this becomes a perpetual problem, you can use the elbow pull to help to keep him straight and to discourage this kind of resistance. Take a 12-foot length of 3/8″ rope with snaps on both ends. Fold it in half and drape it over his poll. Run the two ends through the snaffle bit rings from the outside toward his mouth, down between his legs and over the back on each side. Tie it off with his head pulled to a level where his poll is about six inches above his withers. This is called an “elbow pull” and instructions on how to make and adjust it are included in my Equus Revisited DVD. This will keep him from sticking his nose out and will encourage good posture as he goes through the movements. It is a better way to deal with this problem than it would be to use draw reins (as shown in photos), as draw reins need to be held and adjusted in your hands. Draw reins can too often produce an over-reaction, even in the most experienced hands. Do not use the elbow pull in any other part of his training until he has learned to trot well, both in the round pen and in the open. This comes later than the walk work we are doing now.
To vary the routine and to keep things interesting while cultivating the best responses in your donkey, you should spend one day in the round pen, the next day in the open area doing the hourglass, and the next session on the obstacle course. Be sure to include a review of turns on the forehand and haunches, and ground-driving both straight and with turns preceding each session. And always, before you ride off and immediately after mounting, ask your donkey to bring his head to your knee on each side by offering a treat and vibrating the rein on that side. This encourages light responses in your donkey. Don’t drill your donkey every day. He only needs clear and consistent lessons to learn well, and he needs rest in between so as not to establish any soreness or side effects from using muscles he hasn’t used before. Don’t worry, he will not forget what you have taught him, and even if you have three days or three weeks between lessons, he will be right where you left him! Herein is the beauty of training a donkey or mule.
To learn more about Meredith Hodges and her comprehensive all-breed equine training program, visit LuckyThreeRanch.com, MEREDITH HODGES PUBLIC FIGURE Facebook page, or call 1-800-816-7566. Check out her children’s website at JasperTheMule.com. Also, find Meredith on Pinterest, Instagram, MeWe, YouTube and Twitter.
© 1999, 2016, 2024 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All rights reserved.