Work with Xato continues to go really well. He’s just so quick to learn – and then retains what he’s learnt, too! What a bonus!
During my more challenging times with Marty, I did have a few people who seemed to think that it couldn’t really be that bad because their horse or their mule never acted like that. At the time it annoyed me, this inability to see that not everyone is the same, but now that I have Xato I can see things from their perspective and, yeh – Marty does seem extreme in comparison! If I’d only ever known a mule like Xato, I might think that I was making mountains out of molehills with Marty, too.
For example, on Monday night I let Xato out of his pen and gave him his treat. Both mules come into their pens twice a day and, rightly or wrongly, I’ve fallen into the habit of giving them a little nugget of something when I turn them back out. They’re usually very good about it and wait politely while I close the gate – thems the rules! Unfortunately, that night Xato was a bit enthusiastic and ended up biting my hand. I yelled “Ow!” and sent a lot of energy at him, mostly to make it clear that he needed to be paying attention rather than because it actually hurt me. He backed off, considered the situation, and then approached again. This time he was a lot more gentle and careful, and he was happy for me to rub his face and love on him before he turned and followed Iris who had already gone to find the fresh grass at the top of the track.
Then I went to Marty’s pen and let him out. I always do it in the same order – Marty goes in first, Xato comes out first. So there was no chance of Marty feeling aggrieved that I had favoured Xato by interacting with him first, and yet he didn’t want to look at me as he exited the pen. I closed the gate and he was already walking away across the field, his head turned carefully away from me, his back slightly rounded and tail clamped tight.
I caught up with him and put a draw on to bring him round to me, where I offered him his treat. I could have left him, but I know from experience that if Marty gets the idea that people are bad news then he needs to have that thought interrupted fairly swiftly, else it will take hold and he’ll be a nightmare for a while.
He hovered his nose over my outstretched palm then snorted, shook his ears, and backed off. I tried again and received the same response. Xato and Iris were lost in the darkness by this point and there was nothing stopping Marty from following them, so I knew that he did want his treat and his scratch – but he could not bring himself to accept them.
Having spent a lot of time trying to figure this mule out I already had some idea of what the issue was, and I tried offering the treat in my left hand – the one Xato hadn’t engulfed in his entire mouth – in case it was the smell of another mule that was bothering Marty. Initially he rejected this too, and then stood for a long time with his head turned away, his ears tilted back, and every muscle absoloutly motionless. I waited him out and then he suddenly decided that it was alright after all, because he acknowledged me, took the treat, and let me rub on him.
I am pretty sure this was a response to me having given Xato a treat and then got “loud” with him. Marty, who is sensitive by nature and particularly sensitive at this time of year, could not comprehend what had linked the two actions and was either concerned that he would get the same treatment or thought that he was already in trouble – even though he’d been nowhere near us when I’d been bitten. I hadn’t lost my temper with Xato, I hadn’t hurt him, all I had done was make one sudden spike of energy and let it all drain out again. But it had still been too much for Marty.
I stood there for a long time, watching him as he ambled off into the night, and reflected on how Xato – the one with whom I had got firm and loud – had been able to understand his mistake and not take it to heart, whereas Marty, who had not been involved at all but had merely witnessed it, was acting as though I had personally threatened to beat him.
Mules are known for their extremely high sense of self-preservation, a habit that is often mistaken for stubborness, and I think Marty got the lion’s share when this was being handed out. It feels like he has more of it than Xato, who – despite his obvious intelligence – seems to get himself into some very bad situations in the field. A few times now I’ve seen him stand there, completely oblivious, while Iris or Cash or the entire herd move into position and trap him in a corner or against a fence. I intervene of course, but that’s only when I’m actually there to witness it! If I can read the horses’ intention, why can’t he? Perhaps he’s just playing a long game. Or, perhaps, he knows full well what is going on and is waiting for me to prove my value and sort it out for him!
Marty, on the other hand, has mastered the skill of teleportation. He never gets caught in a bad situation because by the time the antagonist has formed their bullying thought, Marty has already left the scene.