I have been lucky to have had several important mentors in my life and I am grateful for the experience and guidance of those people. For what better way to learn something, than to be shown the ropes by someone who has passion and skill and wants to pass that on.
Now it's my turn to be a mentor! I have been working with my neighbour each week and teaching her about the donkeys: how to care for them and train them; about donkey personalities, their body language and how they interpret ours, how to provide a clean and safe environment for them and how to keep them and ourselves safe. Everything we do is infused with clicker training.
My neighbour just turned nine and sometimes she brings her eleven-year old sister. Both girls are very interested in animals - they love the chickens too - and we have a great 1 -2 hours each week together.
They ask some great and insightful questions and they listen while I do my best to provide answers.
Although I have no idea how this may or may not be important to them as they grow into adults, I'm hoping that my enthusiasm might translate into something like a "life's lesson." That they will take away and incorporate some of the skills and relationships they have nurtured here with my donkeys and some day infuse their own lives with these ideas. I do know that our work together is important to them now and for that, I feel very honored.
Yesterday, both girls came and we took Dorica out on the road. One girl led her down the road and the other led her home. Along the way, we practiced asking Dorica to stop, to back and to turn and then to walk on again. The big "lesson" for yesterday was how to lead with very soft hands. Every time we handle a lead rope attached to the donkey's halter, we are communicating something to the animal through the use of the rope. Grabbing, jerking and pulling are not acceptable.
When I first learned about soft hands, I was amazed to realize how much we "do" without thinking about the consequences. Just watch people with dogs on leashes ... soft hands? Hardly ever! Same with horses - we are rough and tough, mostly, I think either out of fear or from an urge to control. Clicker training fools around with your head though and replaces ideas about control and punishment with ideas about relationship and partnership.
My neighbors really seem to get this and it's so lovely to witness young people get a start in this way. Explaining things to them also helps me to articulate ideas and reasons for doing things a certain way.
I think things through and plan what we'll do next week.
I would dearly love to introduce more kids to the donkeys but in the meantime, I know that the three donkeys and I are truly benefiting from our time with the two young sisters across the road!