Welcome to my blog - a diary about living with donkeys, notes about care, my training sessions and the absolute pleasure of donkey companionship.

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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Hassle or Opportunity?

The sun has been out for several days and it's been such a blessed relief.  Buds are opening, birds are singing, frogs croaking ... it's positively bursting with Spring-time energy!  And along with it all came a sudden onslaught of biting midges!

The donkeys come out in the early mornings to eat their breakfast en plein air (why stay indoors?)  but when I check back awhile later, they have all retreated back to the barn.  At first I was puzzled but the reason soon became evident from the tossing of heads and swishing of tails.

Last year I bought fly masks with ears, so I got them out and proceeded to "dress" the donkeys.
Heather took one look at Rose in her new mask and the look on her face was hilarious ... she was horrified!

You've got to admit ... Rose is pretty goofy looking!  So then it was Heather's turn and guess what ... she wasn't having any of it! 

Heather is very easy to handle, but she suddenly wouldn't even let me touch her ears!  I could have easily grabbed a halter and lead rope, tied her to a post and put the fly mask on, however I saw this as a training opportunity.  Alexandra Kurland taught me that - the animal will show you what she needs to learn and every challenge is actually an opportunity to train.

If I had "made her put the mask on"  what would I have gained?  Some time saved, yes.  But next time, she might even balk at the sight of the halter!  Working through this using positive reinforcement training, not only builds confidence, trust and relationship but also is actually a short-cut in the long run.  Because we have worked through this together, next time will be a cinch. Time saved AND a trusting donkey who understands that I will not hurt her, will not force her and that she has choice.  Since we train at liberty, she can choose to leave at any time.  If she chooses to stay and work with me, she is a willing learner!

So I decided to work through this step by step with Heather.  Grabbing my clicker and treat pouch, I brought her into a small paddock and began.  First, I collected data - can I touch your ear? No?  Okay, I'll back up.  Can I touch your neck?  Yes?  Click/ treat.  Repeat. Can you touch the fly mask with your nose?  Yes?  Click/ treat!  Etc. etc. ...  it took about 15 minutes (although I didn't actually time it)  and after that she decided to stand quietly beside me while I fussed with her fly mask.  Then she got her hay bag ... brilliant!


  1. I love those ears on the donkey masks! haha! Too cute.
    Last year, when all the horses at the barn got their fly masks on for the first time, they took one look at each and started running! Aliens!! Equines are so funny :)

  2. Fabulous lesson for all not to rush, a great reminder about the value of doing things the right not the quick way! And Heather does look mighty fine with her bug shield :-)