I was sent a video by a friend recently showing some "amazing therapy for phobias" and was pretty shocked by what I saw... was this for real? So let me tell you about it....
The patient had a longstanding phobia of having his feet touched and tickled so was approached by an eminent psychologist who said that he could help the patient quickly if he followed his 'programme' of behavioural training. The patient was a trusting chap so said yes, the Dr was a professional after all. He went along to the Dr's office and was quickly put in to a very small room, a bit like a cell with bars everywhere. The Dr said it was essential for the patient's safety that he was tied up, OK he thought and was a little shocked when the Dr got a thick rope tied it around his neck and head and then tied the other end to the metal bar. The patient pulled but he couldn't get free..... this was not the kind of therapy he had imagined but he was a trusting chap so went along with it.
So the Dr then started talking loudly and appeared nervous about what was going to happen, he was already out of breath - Oh My Goodness! What is about to happen?!
So the Dr quickly leapt in and picked up the patient's foot, so quickly the patient lost his balance. The patient tried in vane to get his foot back! But the Dr held on grunting and panting and then gave the foot back - yikes! That is not happening again thought the patient! Then the Dr slapped him a lot and pushed him around some to make sure he was thoroughly petrified. Therapy? WHAT?
Not content with this the Dr then ran around the back of the patient and grabbed hold of his foot from behind, any wonder that the patient kicked as he wasn't expecting it and he couldn't see! No warning, it tickles and I don't like that!! So what did the patient get next? A rope! Yes that's right he had a rope flicked around his feet and then one of his legs was tied up so he could barely stand properly.... in his desperation not to fall over the patient leant on his head and neck and nearly strangled himself because he was tied up. All the while the Dr was talking about submission and success and how he was teaching the patient to have someone touch his feet and overcome his phobia. Really?!
By this stage the patient was frozen with fear and had just about forgotten everything but survival, he didn't want to strangle himself to death, he thought the Dr was a very dangerous person and had given up hope of ever getting out of that cell until he'd given in and the Dr thought he had trained him out of his phobia. So he did what he was told and the Dr picked up his feet and tickled them (hard to be ticklish when you're petrified) and huffed and puffed about having taught him. Clever man.....?
This had all taken 7minutes..... the longest 7 minutes of the patient's life. When the Dr said he was on the way to being cured and should come back for more therapy next week the patient smiled and said "sure". He got out of that cell as quick as could be and ran away quick smart. The Dr was totally mad and nasty and if he ever came near the patient again he would know what was coming and fight back before he ever got the head restraint on.... surely Dr's aren't allowed to do these types of therapy anymore? Sounds more like torture?
The video was shocking and I felt pretty sad, it has played on my mind for the last two weeks, surely there are laws against this kind of thing? You know what was even worse? The 'patient' was a beautiful old donkey and the 'Dr' was someone who is supposedly an expert and really should have known better, what's worse is that this is being shared with others as the way to solve all your hoof trimming issues.....
I am not going to 'name and shame' the video or the organisation from which it came because sadly there are many like it and this is just an example. What I hope to do is give you some food for thought about judging what you see yourselves and questioning some of these 'experts'.
Love Not Anger
It is my real belief that mules, donkeys and horses know when you love them and when you don't. Love does not mean sloppy kisses, treats and no boundaries, it means a lifelong commitment to learning about each other, communicating and treating each other with respect - a bit like a good marriage.
Slow Not Quick
How can anyone learn when they're in a rush? If someone asked you to learn Vivaldi's Four Seasons on the violin in 1 week (when you can't even play the violin) or else you'd be pretty stressed wouldn't you? Imagine that your teacher can't even speak you language.... even more stressful! And yet we face our equines with these problems all the time. Take things slow, learn the right language, break things down in to small steps - learning to play a fine instrument takes years of patience and practice and should not be rushed. Small steps should be rewarded and sometimes you need to think of alternative ways of teaching, the best teachers never stick to the same 'teaching by rote' approach, they are creative, encouraging of small achievements and share in the joy of the journey.
Gadgets Have No Place
The equine world is full of gadgets that will help you achieve your goals quicker and supposedly with more 'finesse'. In particular our horse friends are bombarded with gadgets - market harboroughs, pessoa systems, bits with shanks, cranks and ports, side reins, draw reins, spurs, whips, martingales, flash nosebands and the list goes on..... These items are never in the interests of the animal's welfare, very occasionally they may have a place in the hands of extremely experienced hands (how many of those are there?) but mostly they are used by owners as 'quick fixes' to stop their equine expressing natural behaviour in response to something the owner is doing wrong. If you have a bit of metal shoved in your mouth that is then roughly yanked by strong hands (to try and make you 'go on the bit' - whatever that is) your natural reaction is to open your mouth and try to get rid of the pressure.... so what does your human do? They tie your mouth shut with a tight noseband so that you can't move it.... kind huh? If you are tempted to use a gadget think very carefully about why you are doing it and put yourself in your horse's hooves, would you like a similar thing used on yourself? Also are your hands educated enough to be using such an instrument? If you're not sure do not use it.
When you are trying to work out an issue with your equine always try to think about whether what you're doing is going to evoke understanding or fear. Is your animal simply going to cooperate because it is fearful of the consequences if it doesn't? This is no basis for a happy, harmonious relationship; trust me there will come a time where the fear will be so great that the fear is expressed as aggression and you may just come off worse. In the cases of donkeys and mules it is often difficult to determine when they are fearful as they hide fear well, they will often freeze or just 'switch off' when they learn that fighting back does them no good. It is your job to never push things this far, again put yourself in their hooves and see if you would be fearful and you'll probably find the right answer.
Listen to Your Heart
Whenever you are taking on board the advice of others please listen to your heart and have confidence to say no. If you have a small inkling that something is not right then it probably isn't. There are some wonderful trainers out there who work with empathy and love, there are others who should be ashamed of themselves. Often there are words that can give you a tell - stubborn, submission, dominance, giving in, chase, fear, stupid, naughty, must, will, all negative words that will tell you all you need to know.