By Meredith Hodges
Now it is time for your donkey to learn to move laterally. Lateral movements are essential to the overall balance and posture of your donkey. It will improve muscle strength throughout his body and will reduce the risk of injury or soreness while he is being ridden or driven.
You can begin his lateral work on the drivelines in the large arena. Begin by driving your donkey through the hourglass pattern (after review). As he approaches the first corner cone, ask him to circle it and then turn down the centerline instead of moving down the short side to the next cone. Let him move straight for a few steps, and then, with your assistant at his head, ask him to move forward and sideways away from your circle. The centrifugal force from the circle should send him onto the diagonal with little resistance and your assistant will be in front to keep him from just running forward. If he is to move laterally to the right, you should make a small circle to the left and drift out and onto the right diagonal. If he is to move laterally to the left, you should circle to the right and allow him to drift out and onto the left diagonal. As your donkey is on the circle, maintain the bend with a shortened inside rein. As he comes up the centerline, maintain the bend as he moves forward on the straight line, then begin to give distinct pulls and releases on the outside rein to encourage him to follow it, and back this up with a light tap of the whip on his opposite hip if he does not begin to move diagonally. As he begins to walk diagonally, so should you—step for step. Pull the outside rein in unison with his front legs, pulling back when the outside leg comes back, allowing freedom for the front leg that is to cross over. It takes a little coordination, so don’t be discouraged if things aren’t working well the first few times. Just keep practicing and you will eventually get it, and so will your donkey!
As he gets better at the lateral walk this way, you can add various patterns, which will increase his lateral response. And above all, do not forget those verbal commands: “Haw-over” for left and “Gee-over” for right. You have made it easy for him by asking him to perform the lateral response out of the circle. Another circular lateral response is the spiral. Have him walk in a large circle and spiral down to a very small circle. Then ask him to gradually work back onto the larger circle again by spiraling out in a yielding fashion. Watch his legs to make sure he is crossing over properly.
Now it is time for him to listen even more carefully to your rein and whip cues. You will begin to ask him to change his bend for you before he moves laterally. Walk the perimeter of the arena and this time, you will circle on the second corner. When he has completed the circle and his nose comes to the diagonal track, ask him to halt and move his hindquarters over until he is parallel to the long-side rail. Then give the proper cues for the direction in which you wish to travel, as designated earlier. This exercise helps promote good listening skills on the part of your donkey and more increased coordination for yourself. There are several different variations on this theme. The first time you will want to cross the long diagonal (see diagram), allowing your donkey all the time he will need to complete the lateral exercise with the least amount of angle.
As he becomes more adept, you can teach your donkey to cross the short diagonal from the corner to the middle of the long side of your arena. Then proceed straight through the next corner to the second cone and repeat (see diagram).Always be sure to stop, correct the bend, and then proceed—one step at a time if necessary. He can learn to cross two short diagonals by circling at the middle of the rail on the long side after the first short diagonal, then proceeding laterally to the corner. Two short diagonals would create a change of lateral direction, so be sure to execute your cues very concisely with pauses between your transitions. Circle, halt, move hindquarters, move laterally, halt at the center of the long side, change to the bend of the new circle, complete circle, halt, move hindquarters, move laterally. Take it one segment at a time, one step at a time.
Next you will ask him to move laterally through the hourglass pattern, with a change of direction in the center of the arena. Move into the short side of the arena, pass the first cone and go on to the second corner. Circle at the second cone and halt, move his hindquarters over until he is parallel to the long side then proceed laterally to the center cone gate. At the gate, circle around the cone nearest the rail from which you began, halt, move his hindquarters and continue laterally to the next corner, which should be on the same long side on which you started (see diagram). Continue around the cone, across the short side to the next cone, and repeat as before to complete the hourglass. Use an assistant to help direct your donkey in the beginning and fade out the assistant as your donkey understands and complies with your wishes. Do all of these exercises at the walk until he is impeccable. Then you can drive him through them at the trot with slows and halts in appropriate places.
If your donkey is large enough and seems to react better when you are in the saddle, you can begin these exercises mounted and teach him the ground-driving afterwards. Donkeys are very different in the way they each learn. The other consideration is your own skills. Handling drivelines is sometimes really tricky and you may be better with reins, legs and a crop than you are with drivelines and a whip. The important thing is that you give your donkey a clear message as to what is expected, so he can learn easily and without resistance. Just remember that, when you are riding, your cues need to be just as clear as they are when you drive him. You need to tell him verbally what is expected at each segment of the exercise and make clear pauses through transitions. Use your assistant whenever necessary to minimize resistance at any particular stage and reward your donkey lavishly for his honest attempts.
Once he has learned to drive and ride laterally in the arena, you can take your donkey to the obstacle course to put these movements to work. Begin with your assistant aiding you first in side-passing a log placed near the fence (to discourage your donkey from going forward), then a log in the open and side-passing a “T.” Try backing through two barrels in a figure-eight pattern using turns on the forehand and haunches to negotiate the pattern. Finally, teach him to move appropriately while you are opening and closing a gate, both on the drivelines and under saddle. Once he gets the idea on each obstacle, you can eliminate the assistant and ask him to take more responsibility for himself. He should be able to do everything he learns both under saddle and on the drivelines. There is no rule as to which he needs to learn first, but he should learn both under saddle and on the drivelines to be as responsive as he can possibly be, either in harness or under saddle.
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.
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