Friday, December 23, 2016

Donkey Math

From left to right- Raymond, Charlie, ME, Darlin, and Lass. All residents of Foghorn Farm.

Since it is the Holiday Season, and the end of the year, it is a time to start reflecting on the past and hoping for the future. For this article, I want to talk about Donkey Math, because it pertains greatly to this past year for us...and actually, it pertains to the entire time we have had donkeys. 

"Donkey Math"

Chicken aficionados talk about "chicken math"....they ability to simply add more chickens and think nothing of it, talking about having nine when actually owning seventeen. Or twenty when you actually have forty. They are a bit like an addictive habit. Donkeys are very much the same. The adage "donkeys are like chips, you can't have just one" seems very true. 

Charlie: Guess what? Chicken butt!

In our case, our smaller property restricts the number of donkeys we can safely care for on our property, as well as the fact that we also have other jobs, so time is a rare resource. We always want enough funds, time, and energy to care exceedingly well for our residents, whether they are permanent or rescues in training.  Four or five seem to be our limit here, and right now we are down to four, but at the height of the summer we had seven equines, one off property at a boarding facility, and six on our property. We knew that two, potentially three, would be leaving for new homes either after a certain level of training, or after their quarantine period (having come from a questionable situation health wise). In the end, we re-homed all of the equines we took in, and are back down to four, which is manageable for winter. 

It seems, however, that collecting donkeys is quite easy. I mean, how can one refuse a donkey in distress?
A donkey "in distress". Actually, Darlin begging for treats, but so cute nonetheless.

No, I am not referring to hoarding, which is a terrible disease/situation for the animals. But many donkey lovers I know can't resist a donkey needing a soft place to land, if only to foster, although many become "foster failures" and keep these donkeys if they have enough room and resources. Our first rescue was Tilly, an incredibly aged, toothless, blind, deaf, foundered donkey with cancer, and because rescuing and rehabbing her was such a wonderful experience for us, we now take in donkeys when we have room, and rehab them physically, train them, and rehome them. We do this with our personal funds, we are not a nonprofit nor a rescue. However, we love doing it, and feel strongly that donkeys in need should have a chance.

I can't tell you how many people I have talked with who started with one donkey, then researched and realized donkeys truly need another donkey for a companion. Well, once they had two, they realized how fun it was to have more...and there's a donkey at auction that is at risk. Well, now they have three. And so on and so forth. It's very common. If you are a part of the "Donkey Math" club, you are in good company. Well, something similar happened to us, and that led to a full out obsession and then the training business.

Perhaps in looking at the year ahead, we should all take a look at where we were, and where we are now, and where we would like to be next year. For those with one or two donkeys, beware, you may also fall victim to "Donkey Math" like the rest of us. While you are at it, better start looking at a bigger property for next year. Maybe some extra panels to make a makeshift pen if you should suddenly need it. And maybe an extra side job to buy a bit more hay.  Donkeys can be a grand passion, if you truly love them.  

For all of our fellow donkey lovers out there, blessings for the Holidays! For those extra special people who rescue and rehome-my deepest love to you and your animals. May you find wonderful forever homes for your charges, and may you all stay healthy in the New Year!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Littlest Steps

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.