WRANGLER’S DONKEY DIARY: After the Winter Break: 3-29-21
Wrangler is such a goof ball! Because Wrangler would lock up in front of the Tack Barn and not want to walk over the grate, I got smart and learned to take Chasity to the Tack Barn first. Then, he didn’t even notice the grate and walked right in! However, he gets pretty rambunctious about waiting his turn. I could lead them both at once, but he needs to learn to be by himself with me sometimes…and BEHAVE! When I first got Wrangler, he would get excited like this and then just try run over me when I opened the stall door. Through repetition and humane discipline, I changed his behavior with Behavior Modification, a systematic reward system of training. To be successful, one needs to target the behaviors that need to change, set up the equine for success and promptly reward the positive behaviors as they occur. AND, you need a specific, consistent and humane way to stop bad behaviors in their tracks when they occur. We work on the premise of POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT, but we also need to learn how to use NEGATIVE REINFORCEMENT if one does not want to be hurt, or even killed, by these VERY LARGE and STRONG animals!
The negative reinforcement that I use really works. When he got aggressive the first time, I raised my hand like a stop sign and when he did not stop, he got a firm slap to the side of his mouth as I said, “NO!” as loud as I could. I promptly raised my hand like a stop sign in front of his face again after which he started to turn back around. I quickly took a handful of oats from my fanny pack, took a step forward and offered him the oats. He did a double-take and came back for the oats to which I replied, “Thank you for giving me my space!” Going forward, he still occasionally gets too aggressive, but he always stops when I put my hand up like a stop sign in front of his face and takes a step back. He won’t need to be slapped again since this was done correctly the first time. He remembers!
As soon as I open the stall door now, Wrangler immediately stops his antics and becomes a gentleman that can be rewarded. He stands stock still while I put on the halter and then drops his head at my shoulder. I hold his lead rope in my left hand while pointing in the direction of travel with my right hand. I tell him to “Walk on” and look down to see what foot he is leading with and follow his front legs, step for step. We get IN SYNC with each other and I lead him that way from the time he leaves his pen to the time he returns. I do this the very same way with ALL of my equines ALL of the time. Consistency breeds familiarity and compliance.
Donkeys have issues with chronic runny eyes and noses. The way to stave off any infection is to clean their eyes, nostrils and ears with a damp towel daily. This also encourages them to accept handling around their face in general.
Donkeys are inherently desert animals and can severely founder or colic on lush feed. Symptoms of too rich feed will be manifested in the hooves as abscesses, crusty growth, collapsed heels and frogs, or just plain stress rings. Wrangler has abnormally small rear hooves and it is important that his core strength is developed in good postural balance to make sure the weight distribution is even so none of his hooves are carrying too much weight for his size.
Wrangler is rather flat-withered and needs a saddle that will “hug” his body, leaving ample room for his spine.
I initially tighten the girth snug, but not too tight. The crupper is adjusted so the tail lies comfortably.
I gently press on the bars of his jaw to open his mouth for the bit and carefully bring the crown of the bridle over his ears, protecting them with my hand. Being polite and considerate will get much more cooperation from your equine.
I adjust all the straps on the bridle so it is comfortable, paying special attention around the ears. The drop noseband helps him learn to hold the bit properly. I always gradually tighten the girth over several times.
The walk to the Round Pen is still IN SYNC…all three of us! Wrangler’s “Elbow Pull” postural restraint is adjusted and he is reminded how to release the tension.
Wrangler’s posture has greatly improved over three years and has given him added strength, endurance, stamina and animation to his gaits. He defies the slow and pokey characterization of donkeys in general! He’s a true athlete!
Wrangler and Chasity do a very nice reverse in sync with each other. Wrangler resumes the working walk.
Five rotations at walk, five rotations at trot, reverse and repeat in the other direction. We do 3 sets with a 3-minute break in between. Rewards are in order with every halt. With every halt, Wrangler is asked to rebalance and square up!
Then I begin riding with three rotations at trot in each direction. I carry a riding crop in case he needs a little encouragement to keep going. If he gets too tired, we call it quits and will do more another day.
I always end the sessions with a halt and rein back. Then I dismount and reward him again for a job well done!
Back in the Tack Barn at the work station, I carefully remove the bridle. I always hold the halter crown strap in my right hand while removing the bridle. I then slip the bridle onto my left arm, pick up the nose band of the halter in my left hand, bring it over his nose and buckle the halter. This way, if he pulls away, I still have my arms (and halter) around his neck to hold on to him.
We make our way back to the barn and Wrangler waits patiently while Chasity enters the stall first (Ladies first, you know!). He follows her sedately into the stall and they both turn around to me to have their halters removed and to receive their rewards. Wrangler “suggests” to me politely that I should hurry with Chasity’s halter and get to the rewards…QUICKLY! He’s still hungry!!! Silly boy!!!