Sunday, 13 October 2013

Training Donkeys, Mules and Horses with Love and Empathy

The Muleteers have kindly leant me their blog to talk to you all about some issues that I have been struggling with.... for once I may just climb on my soapbox or high horse (read high mule ;-)!


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.....


It's rare that I speak out about these sorts of things, I see bad things all the time in my line of work with donkeys and mules and know that it is not a 'perfect' world, I know even I have been guilty in the past of uneducated techniques - I have learnt and am still learning the better and more compassionate way of  communicating with the other wonderful species we share this world with.  I have been lucky to be enlightened by so many caring people willing to teach others the better way of doing things, the loving and empathetic way, not the way us humans think works quickest!

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'.


When I watch or listen to others talking about training equines I want to hear two messages in all they say, they must work with empathy and love.  There is no place in my world for machoism, quick fixes, gadgets or fear.  Some basic elements of donkey, mule and horse training that should be present in all situations for me are:

Love Not Anger


Always approach everything with love in your heart not anger, find something to love about the animal you are working with, some will be more challenging than others but they are never bad, naughty, nasty, evil, trouble, mean or any other such word you may use to describe them.  Animals react in response to their previous experiences, their environment, pain and what you are doing to them.  Animals do not set out to troublesome or 'naughty'.  If you go in to a situation thinking the animal is naughty that's probably what you'll get, you've already used an inappropriate label so you've set the relationship up the wrong way!

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.

Never Fear

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.

So if you're still here at the bottom of my rant, thanks for listening!  I hope that I haven't offended anyone and may cause just one person to question what they see a little more.  Sometimes I am beaten down by the number of 'bad' things I see in the animal world, but I do think occasionally you should speak out because saying nothing only condones.  I am by no means perfect and am still learning with every day, we are truly privileged to be allowed to gain the trust of our animal friends, may we never break that fragile trust which they place in us.  And when we do wrong may we learn from our mistakes and move on with a more educated approach.




28 comments:

  1. Well for one, I totally agree with you and I have seen this method in various forms. I've seen my husband try to use methods similar as that is the old school way of training in so many areas.
    It doesn't work as well. You cannot train from fear.
    It took me more than a year to get an older mule to trust me enough to catch her safely each day.
    Trust is the key not force.
    Good work.

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    1. Thanks Val! Really appreciate your comment. Sometimes we have to see how things don't work to truly value the 'right way'. I always enjoy and admire the way you work with your mules and find your posts inspiring and helpful - keep sharing :-)

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  2. Shocking but sadly not surprising. Patience, gentleness and kindness are what is needed. Poor old donkey...
    Well done FH for speaking out.
    With very best wishes from Judy in Cambridge

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    1. You're absolutely right Judy, often the obvious stares us right in the face but people are quick to want to look clever or macho or fix something fast - they forget the foundations of patience, gentleness and kindness as you rightly point out. I can only hope the donkey is left alone poor soul. We are trying to change the behaviour of this person in other ways.... maybe he will see the right way, we can only try.

      Very best wishes - FH

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    2. That's great - it's so good that you are trying. Thank goodness for people like you.
      All the best, Judy

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  3. Totally agree! Thank you for this, as it was something I needed to be reminded of as I get myself ready to go work with Shy. It can be frustrating that our work seems to take forever, but it is what she needs to gain trust. Something happened to her before I got her and I will never know what, but we are working hard to get over it. And I can see she responds much better to everything you wrote than any other method.

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    1. Your love and patience for Shy shine through in your posts and you are patient with her and understand that she has 'baggage' as so many of our equine friends do. She is so lucky to have found you. Keep blazing your own trail, you are doing great and inspire others :-)

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    2. Awww, thanks! That is so very sweet :)

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  4. I like the gadget my Mom uses. It's my clicker, and whenever I hear it I know I get a treat AND I know I got the answer to Mom's question right too! Otherwise Mom's thinking is "slow n steady wins the race"! So we likes your post very much

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    1. We thinks you is very lucky with your Mom, what a great way to communicate together! Slow and steady is always best - especially when you're Roller ;-) Snuffles, neighbrays and braywhinnies to you and you lovely Mom xxx

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  5. Oh FH Thank you for speaking out! We must stand up for our animals friends, some of whom have suffered so much in the company of humans. The methods of training that you describe that DO work are positive reinforcement (aka clicker training!) and now there is TONS of proof and examples of how wonderfully it works with all species. I could go on and on ... maybe a blog post for the donkey dame! Hugs to you, MH and the muleteers!

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    1. Dear Cynthia, thank you so much for your kind words! You are so right about clicker training! This is a method of training that I have a little experience of but it would be great to hear it from someone with lots more experience such as you - you must post :-) Hugs back to you and all the gang xxx

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  6. Dear FH, it is terribly sad and shocking that such "therapy" is taken as the right thing to do; thank you for raising awareness. I hope that those cruel techniques are challenged in the best interest to educate the public and to protect those who cannot defend themselves.

    On the other hand, all the elements that you use should be a paradigm. Behavioural training is about love, compassion, understanding, trust, education, patience, feeling. To improve oneself in order to help our animal friends. How you are successfully guiding The Mini to overcome his deepest fears, how you are patiently helping Callie to be her wonderful self --your method is an example to follow. Each point you described talks to the heart. Each point addresses the spirit of the animal friend.

    You have vast knowledge, a great background and superb writing skills. Would you write the book "Training Donkeys, Mules and Horses with Love and Empathy"?.

    A warm hug,

    Carmen

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    1. Dear Carmen,

      Thank you for your reply, it means a lot to me to connect with others who share the same values. These techniques will be challenged - in thoughtful and respectful ways to try and change behaviour not push it underground and away from our eyes, sadly I feel it will take a long while but with enough people speaking out in the defense of our animal friends we can make a difference.

      My darling Muleteers and the other wonderful creatures I get to work alongside every day teach me all I need to know, when we try to look at the world through their eyes their needs are straightforward, our fellow creatures are clear with us if only we listened.

      Your suggestion of a book is so wonderful and I am deeply honoured that you think I could undertake this, I would love to one day when I feel I have enough to share, I learn every day and maybe I will put pen to paper sometime soon, you have inspired me to think a little more about this project, thank you :-)

      Sending you heartfelt hugs and of course The Muleteers are adamant I must pass on miaows, neighbrays, snuffles and whinnybrays xxx

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  7. Beautiful examples that we should all follow!

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  8. I think I know the video you are talking about, if not, I know a hundred more just like it. It is hard not to get beaten down by it all, I have certainly been there. One of the best things about blogging, that I never imagined happening, is connecting with with people who bring some hope into the world. It helps. I like to think that if enough of us keep speaking out like this, that eventually the bright spots will outshine the bad. Thanks for posting this.

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    1. Dear DD, you are so right blogging has been a wonderful way of connecting with others with the same values and realising that we have a fantastic network of caring people with similar values. Between us all we can raise awareness in a fun, caring and thoughtful way wherever we are and whatever our experiences and background, I am so grateful to find all my lovely blogosphere friends!

      I am sure that with more and more exposure of the 'right' way things will gradually change, I have seen it happen rapidly with some of the programmes I have been involved in recently, what is for sure is that using caring and thoughtful training reaps the best rewards that last a lifetime, makes me think of my favourite saying.... the proof is in the pudding! And I like pudding too :-)

      Best wishes,
      FH

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  9. My gosh, FH... this is one of THE best blog posts I have ever read, and applies across all species, not just equines. Thank you for writing it and sharing it with us. I'm going to recommend everyone read it today.

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    1. Dear Mary Ann, thank you so much for your wonderful comment! You are absolutely right that these principles apply across all species - including humans who are often in need of deeper understanding too. I wrote the blog with trepidation as I didn't want to rant but I am so glad I did, it has made me feel that by sharing these thoughts I am a step closer to a small piece of the solution, it has really helped to clarify my thoughts so thank you for reading and commenting, it really is appreciated.

      Best wishes,
      FH

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  10. Well said. As a relatively new donkey and mule keeper, the most useful advice I was given was never (unless in a situation of immediate life threatening risk) put the task ahead of the relationship. It is not a technique to be packaged and sold, but it is a mindset to be strengthened by sharing.

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    1. What fantastic advice, it sounds like it came from a very wise and wonderful trainer, thank you for sharing with us :-) It's always nice to receive comments from other long ears owners, sharing experiences and thoughts give us all the opportunity to learn from each other - hope to see you back here again soon.

      Best wishes,
      FH

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  11. Dear FH, an additional thought if may I: until you feel that the book project idea reaches maturity, I think that a dedicated blog about humane training would benefit greatly the global community and be of great service to our equine friends. You have written such wonderful articles on this matter here in this blog, that also putting those ideas, reflections and experience together into one specific channel will reach even more circles that deal with equine training. Well, you already have a couple of hooves to help you type ;-)

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    1. Dear Carmen, this is a great idea and I shall certainly put my mind to it over the winter when I have a little more typing time.... I'm sure the Muleteers will all assist :-) Watch this space....

      Have a great weekend!

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  12. Don't loose hope things keep changing for the better all the time I am positive and you are fantastic part of this! ..I try to keep in mind for any session that I do that the most important thing is that we both have fun. Equine and human. Of course that can be difficult to start with when you have a fear of learning new things but what we both have in common as a specie is that we are the most adaptable to anything so get the attitude right you can achieve and enjoy anything together... I never forget this...xxx

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    1. Thanks Jo! You are so right, it is important to be positive that things can and will change. Such great advice about the fun - essential, especially with mules as you well know ;-) Hope you're well! x

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  13. What a truly wonderful post. Mom always said, "You can catch more flies with sugar than vinegar." I truly believe in the love and trust part of training. Thank you.

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    1. Hi Gail, thanks so much for your comment and what a great quote, your Mom was a wise lady!

      Hope to welcome you back here soon!

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