Photo: Mr Wilson, a client donkey in training.
I had an experience today that reminded me that the littlest steps are, in actuality, the biggest progress one can make in training long ears. I touched a young, frightened mule. This may not seem like much. But it's been weeks, and after a seemingly small setback, I haven't been able to get up close to this mule without food to tempt him. And today, although I REALLY wanted to get a halter on him, I did get to touch him. I rubbed under his thick winter fur on his head and neck, and although he was snorty, he didn't leave. And I was reminded that small steps are vital.
I work with donkeys (the mule is an exception to the rule) in all stages of training. My youngest client donkey is about a month old, and the oldest I have worked with would have had to be carbon-dated, she had no teeth! Each is or was in a different state of training, regardless of age and life experience. Sometimes, as trainers, it is easy to forget that we are not necessarily working towards goals, but rather shaping an animal's experience and worldview into one that is open to new things, soft and supple in their mindset and body, and trusting of new people and experiences. In fact, we are not only teaching concrete concepts to our animals, but we are developing their thought process, or re-developing it into a more positive thought process.
When we, as people, think ahead to the next step, the next goal, we are really not thinking in a way that benefits our animals. We are thinking like humans. We can't help it. It's who we are, it's a part of our evolution, and how we survived and thrived. But even when we have a goal and break it down into little steps, each step needs to be a conversation, a fluid process. We must allow ourselves to be in the moment and with our donkey. There's nothing wrong with having expectations, but trust should never be sacrificed to what we want.
So yes, I want to get this mule haltered, then handled, then packing. But there's no way to do that without a foundation of trust. Sometimes, a touch is all you get. Don't let that stop you.