glenatron: (Iris)
Two things happened last weekend - I spent three days riding a clinic with Buck Brannaman and [livejournal.com profile] herecirm pretty much reached the end of her tether with Marty the mule. She's been working hard with him but lately a string of setbacks and periods of patchy progress have really left her feeling a little lost and unhappy in her work with him. I have been ever so impressed with her progress both in horsemanship and in her relationship with Marty but I could see her getting dismayed and I know just how difficult it is to be learning a new way of working and to be working with an animal who is also learning, even with a lot of support. After talking about it, I suggested I might work with him for a week and see what I could get.

You might wonder why I wasn't being more help to start with, but the truth is that I have learned time and again unasked for help is almost invariably unwanted help, so I won't offer help ( rarely even an opinion ) unless someone has asked for it. Unfortunately [livejournal.com profile] herecirm is far too considerate and consequently hadn't been asking me for help in spite of wanting it because she thought it might inconvenience me. As having a happy Sari is my A1 top priority, I found myself in the happy position of being able to do the thing I most enjoy in the interests of making my true love happier. A most auspicious confluence.

I had an idea of where we had gone wrong in our work so far and at the root of it we had really listened to too much advice from too many different people. Marty is very sensitive, he feels everything, he is aware of everything, he can respond to the most subtle energy cues, he also tends to get introverted, which means that there is a chance he might shut down if pushed too hard and avoiding that was a priority.

We've done a lot of good work, but where we went wrong was that we worried about that last one and allowed it to back us off. He is sensitive, he can feel everything, but that doesn't mean he needs to be cut any slack. Whether or not he is sensitive, if he isn't trying to get along with us then he needs to change his mind.

"A good horseman," Buck said, when I asked him if he had any mule tips, "might have very high expectations of a mule." So when we began our first session I went in there with high expectations. I had done some work to where I could catch him a few months ago because he was of the opinion that I wasn't allowed to do that at all which didn't seem entirely practical to me. Now I was saying that I needed him not only to be caught after a cautious approach and very careful preparation, but to really buy in to the whole idea of being caught. That day it took me most of an hour to put a halter on him and most of that time he was running around like a goon. I don't mind that kind of thing - I am always working on the horse's time ( or the mule's in this case ) so I just kept him moving and started pushing if he wanted to turn his back on me, dropped the pressure if he thought about coming over. It was a long session because he just didn't have the slightest interest in being caught, but as soon as he was I took him out and we got to work.

Marty has an irritating trait of running out backwards from any situation he isn't keen on. It has been successful for him, but I wanted to start to get it changed. He's also very twitchy around his flanks and hindquarters, so it seemed to me that using a flag was a good way of working on both of those. As soon as we got into the school he thought that running backwards would probably help him to achieve his complex mule-type plans and vanished towards the corner. I went with him, using the flag vigourously in the general direction of his hindquarters until he tried moving forward instead. We worked first on him just walking with me - not walking alongside me but actually connecting in with my feet and my intention, so he could start following my changes without needing the flag.

It took a while- he would drop back, then run forward when I used the flag at all and get ahead, which turned out to make the flag appear in front of him. It was a very trying day to be a mule. But after a while I started to see what I wanted- instead of jumping to conclusions about what I must obviously want, Marty began to start tuning into what I was actually asking him for. He started being able to walk and stop with me. After a while he was able to trot with me when I picked up my pace a little - putting more speed in tends to bring back any trouble that you were dealing with before, but you have less time to sort it out.

I was very much influenced in this work by watching Buck help a horse find changes by simply being clear, firm and persistent so although they had a few anxious minutes initially while they tried all the things they expected to work, the horse really quickly accepted his leadership and clearly felt a lot better for it once it happened.

Over the next few days I worked a lot on having Marty walk with me, then on accepting the flag coming in and touching him while we walked- a doubly useful exercise because he gets to figure out that he doesn't need to flinch the whole time and we get to work on distinguishing between the flag just waving about without any intent and me using the flag to direct him.

He is a very apt student - I found myself having to rapidly move the goalposts to keep us from getting stuck and to keep him interested. We go back to the flag work often as he still needs to work on all those twitches, but I have also got a saddle on him ( he wore one but then had a big saddle related scare ) and after a few rather humpy strides and a couple of sproinks he settled to it pretty well. He's going to need a lot of work to be properly settled with it and between that and the twitchiness I think long-reining will be an excellent exercise for him.

He has changed a lot in the last week - from being quite sceptical of me at the start of the week I like to feel he has come to think of me as "a person he met." Our catching times have come down from most of an hour ( I wasn't timing on the first day ) to being instantly caught by Friday. After a day off we were back to a little over ten minutes, but one wouldn't expect steady progress in this kind of endeavour and he marked me out for his highest honour on Saturday evening, as he kindly gave me permission to scratch his butt while he pulled ridiculous faces. It was a lot like being on the New Years Honours list.
glenatron: (Iris)
I apologise for my dearth of posts, I am very busy at the moment - as usual - on a whole bunch of things about which I wish to tell you all and shall as soon as I afford myself a break.

This weekend has been quite singular, however- we set out with a single goal and went out and achieved it. Specifically the outcome was this:
arrival day

The process we underwent was to travel to Dartmoor ( approximately 160 miles, as far as I can tell ) yesterday, meet Marty the Mule, train him to load and bring him back with us today.

It was an interesting experience and I've certainly had some time to find out the differences between a mule and a horse, but the little guy is unbelievably cute and very smart and he came through great, although we took a while longer than we would have with a horse.

Also he didn't think much of travelling and decided he needed to make his own bid for freedom by climbing over the breast-bar of the lorry. Luckily he didn't actually achieve freedom, but we had some anxious moments while he stood with his front legs over the bar trying to hop forwards while I performed the full "YOU SHALL NOT PASS" with a stick and string in front of him until he backed off. It was a stomach-droppingly anxious moment. After we tried to create a more visual barrier and he attempted to clamber out again, this time ably averted by [livejournal.com profile] herecirm, we turned him to face forwards and he travelled better the rest of the journey home, although he was still pretty anxious.

So now we have a mule, or specifically Sari does, and we have the adventure of teaching him to be a riding mule. It's been a rocky start, but he's a smart little guy and hopefully he'll give us the chance to show him we're friends really.

July 2017

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