My name is Kelly, and I am new to this list. I haven't been around horses for 30 years, and have forgotten most of what I knew. I sold my horse when I was 16, after I got out of the hospital following a bad accident that could have been much worse. I still love horses, though.
I was given a 6 year old mini (Welsh) mule in January. His history is, briefly: raised as a pet; boarded with relatives for a year and half; when they got him back they couldn't touch him; given to some friends of ours; wouldn't let their horses eatand got them all stirred up during meals (they threw dirt clods at him to chase him away); they couldn't touch him either (he was very buddy sour); given to us. I do
know that he was mistreated at some point. The folks who gave him to us told me that he had been beaten with a halter by the previous owner (who was heavy handed), and that the only way those owners could catch him (after they got him back) was to trap him in a shed or other enclosure. He does NOT like men.
When our friends brought him over, they had managed to get a halter on him, but I understand it was quite the ordeal. He did NOT like the trailer. I don't know how they got him loaded, but he was all over the place when they got him out. They used two lead ropes and a person on each side of him to get him through the gate and into the makeshift pen we had thrown up the day before. They told me to leave the halter on him in case I absolutely had to catch him.
Not too long after we got him, he ventured into the little shed in the pasture. I was standing not too far away. I shifted my weight, and he almost fell scrambling out of the shed in a panic. It was quite some time before I could even walk in the pen with him without his becoming very nervous. He was only penned up a couple of days. It began to rain the day after we got him, and by midday the pen was a soggy mess.
He tested the panels with his head and climbed right out. I didn't bother putting him back in because it was so nasty. Of course, the pasture was too, as it rained for nearly two months, but at least he had a small high spot where he stood most of the time. He only went in the shed the one time.
I couldn't touch him for the first week or so. I have never been around mules, and I have never trained a horse to do anything. (When I was a teen I bought a horse that was already completely trained.) I have worked with feral cats most of my life (I tamed my first one when I was 11 - she was a wonderful pet and friend for 10 years). With cats I learned that they have to trust to you NOT touch them before they will trust you to touch them.
I held the feed bucket to feed him every day, and I held the handle in such a way that his forehead had to touch my hand in order for him to eat. I didn't try to touch him for close to a week. Then I started gently rubbing my thumb on his forehead. Of course he bolted, but I gradually worked up to rubbing him with my thumb, then the flats of my fingers. I eventually managed to slide my hand over his head to his neck. If I ever tried to pat him (even just lifting the tips of my
fingers then putting them back down) he would whirl and bolt. I guess he equated that with hitting.
I did finally discover that if I held a treat (he loves peanut butter crackers!) in my left hand, up by my shoulder, he would let me stroke his neck with the other hand. He even let me pat his neck one day, because he wanted that treat! He doesn't care if I walk out holding a rope, but if I pick up a stick, he is on the other side of the pasture before I can blink. He kicks at me if I hold a stick, so I'm guessing
he feels threatened by it. Perhaps he was hit with a stick, too. We have some tall plants that our neighbor's goats love, so I often snap some off to feed them. One day I snapped one off while he was standing close by, and he whirled around and ran off, kicking.
He does kick. He only kicked me once, and that was just a graze. I was standing by his shoulder (this was great progress) and ran my hand down to his withers. I had done it before, but this time he whirled and kicked before I knew what was happening. He grazed my hip, and there was a muddy streak on my shirt and pants. From what I have been told about mules, he only "missed" because he meant to. He has kicked at me several other times, from enough distance that there was no danger of his connecting, but he was obviously trying to tell me something. The last time I attempted to touch his withers he dug in and ran past me to get away, but he did not kick. I considered that progress.
I have moved very slowly, both because he is simply not trusting, and because I am a novice. I do not want to make a mistake, as I understand that mules never forget, and they hold grudges. I can tell he really wants to be friends, but he just isn't sure. I have not tried to lead him yet, though we do walk around the pasture together.
He shadows me when he wants to, usually when I have a treat. He will let me stroke his forehead and neck, and will sometimes let me brush him. (Getting him where the brush could touch him was a long process! He still won't let me touch him with the rubber currycomb.)
He will let me rub his face and under his chin. I can stroke and/or brush to his shoulder, though only sometimes. He will not allow me to approach him from the side; I have to come at him from the front. And I cannot touch him anywhere unless I touch his forehead first. He has times when he really lets me pet him, and times when he will jerk and walk away if I try. I just don't understand him well enough to read
him, and I am sure I am inadvertently inconsistent in the way I go about things.
A couple of weeks ago his halter tightened on him because the prong slipped out of the hole. He was shaking his head and letting me know it was bothering him. But he wouldn't let me touch it. I didn't want to teach him that he could jerk away from me, so I quit trying after a couple of failed attempts. I tied a lead rope to a tree and finally managed to get it snapped on his halter; I was standing on the other side of the fence. He reared up and jumped back and hit the end of the lead rope, and danced around a bit, pie eyeing me. I couldn't get him to let me touch the halter, so I tied the other lead rope up shorter, and put it on him too. I managed to get him close enough so I could try to adjust the halter with my right hand. Once the halter began to loosen he stopped fighting and stood so I could adjust it. I still had to hold him and just use one hand, but he let me fix it! I used lots of treats during the whole process, and I was really pleased with how well it went.
I have the lead rope still on the tree and hanging where he can see it, just so he can get used to it. But he is smart enough to know what that means, so he won't come close enough where I can get it on him again. His halter slipped again a few days later, and I simply could not get a rope on him. I did hold the halter, but he jerked away from me. Fortunately, that caused the prong to slip back in the hole, and all has been well since then - so far.
A while ago the farmer in the back of us rotated his donkey to another pasture, so my mule didn't have his fence buddy. He really started hanging around by the back yard, and we made a lot of progress. But now the donkey is back, so Little Man just hangs around by the back fence with him all day, and won't even come up when I go out now. He will come up to eat (I just give him a little to mix with his daily wormer) if he feels like it, or if he sees me petting the other neighbor's goats. He comes up really quickly to see what they are getting that he should have! LOL.
He is very gentle, and has never offered to bite. But I feel like we are stalled, now that his buddy is back. I am wondering how he would respond to clicker training, but I know nothing about it. He's not wild, but he does not trust people. He won't let anyone beside me even touch him, though he will stre-e-e-etch out his neck and take treats. He still walks with me in the pasture, but not every time I go out, like he did when his buddy was gone. Sometimes, when I go out, he brinneys (what I call his whinney/bray cross) at me, but he may just be calling for food.
I am thinking about getting a riding donkey, and I wonder if that will help or hinder our progress. I think if he could see me interacting positively with another equine, he might come around a little faster. He comes right up if he thinks I am giving the goats a treat! And he hangs around and lets me pet him if he knows I have something yummy.
So, now I have rambled on and told a long story. I am glad to have found this group, and I hope to learn more about clicker training. I am going to buy a clicker as soon as I can find one, and in the meantime I am going to read every message on this list and find more information on the web, too.
I would appreciate any advice anyone can give me about what I should do next. Thank you so much.
Blessings on you,
Teaching a Horse to Talk
7 years ago