I was very tempted to take the mule out again today, bad back be damned, but I had the strong feeling that after Monday’s anxiety it would not be wise to continue pushing him. Instead, I decided to keep it really easy for him and do some more liberty work with and without the neck-rope. We can always go off property again at the weekend.
Once again, I ducked in further up the fenceline and called Marty over to me (he responded instantly). He was happy to have the rope on, and led beautifully. We wandered around a bit, stopped, started, backed up, stepped the hindquarters round; all with hardly any pressure applied on the rope. I led him back down to the gate as I’d left some grooming tools there, and he walked so nicely and so eagerly that I began to wonder if I could take him out the field like this.
When Stacey had suggested using the neck-rope, she’d also said that I could take him over to the arena with it and give him scratchies there. I hadn’t been sure of this, but now I saw how well he responded I wanted to try.
I was so impressed with him. He stepped through the gateway without fuss, turned and waited patiently while I hooked it closed, and then walked with me over to the arena. I should point out that their field and the arena are all enclosed within a much bigger field which is totally secure; so although it would have been a bugger if he had got away from me, he wouldn’t have been in any danger.
He did think about grazing while he waited for me to open the arena gate, but I just said “Hey” and he immediately brought his head up and stood quietly.
We did a little more leading work while in the arena, and then I had the bright idea to let him loose. I could ‘pick him up’ no problem in the field, but what would happen when I introduced something more interesting than me – such as the grassy bank on the edge of the arena? So I took the rope off, gave him some scratchies, then asked him to follow me over to the bank and gave the signal to eat. I sat in the sunshine for ten minutes or so while Marty grazed and did his own thing. I was really interested to see what would happen when I attempted to catch him again.
…You’re way ahead of me here, aren’t you?
So yeh, he wasn’t too pleased. He let me approach and touch him with my hand, but when I touched him with the rope he reacted like he’d had an electric shock and ran along the bank to the other end of the arena. He wouldn’t let me near him after that, and we had about five minutes of him running around and me keeping my energy as low as possible (I didn’t want him to feel like he had to jump out) until I realised he’d begun to adopt a pattern.
He would race to the highest corner of the arena, stuff as much grass into his mouth as he could, and then whirl and canter back to the other end as soon as I got too near. He would then leave the bank and canter across the arena surface straight towards me, veering round at the last minute and leaping back up onto his high corner. I didn’t feel at all threatened when he ran towards me: there was nothing in it that suggested malice, his attention was fixed entirely on me and his eyes and mouth were soft. At first I tried to use this as a way to hook him in; I’d drop my energy and back down, but it didn’t slow him or make him think about stopping when he drew level with me. So on the next run I blocked him and kept him from going to the corner.
He could easily have just turned around and run back the way he’d come, which is what I assumed he’d do and why I hadn’t tried it earlier; but he stopped and looked at me. I dropped my energy completely. He dropped his head to nibble a patch of grass by the fence, so I advanced. He looked at me again, but allowed me to come into his space and stroke his neck. Then he looked away over his shoulder and I had to drop my energy again, as I knew he was thinking about leaving; but he turned back to me and, as easily as that, I slipped the rope (clumsily! I made a real hash of it and he still stood quietly!) over his neck, gave him a rub, and led him back to his field.
The whole thing was just quite amazing to me. I’m really glad I ignored my initial doubts and tried this, because I feel like it’s really helped me to see all the good stuff in our relationship and shown me how far we’ve come. I’m feeling optimistic again!