A very anxious mule

I’ve been putting in extra hours at work this week, and as such my mule time has been reduced. However, although I haven’t been able to bring him into the school or take him out for a walk, I have been making sure that I still interact with him. He gets one-on-one scratchy time every morning before I put the hay out, and I try to drop in whenever I’m passing just to hang out and scratch on him. I’ve also been asking him to back up, come forward etc. while at liberty, and yesterday he let me pick up all four feet while loose in the field. This was a big thing for him!

…I hasten to add that was all four feet individually. He may be mulificent, but he’s not quite learnt levitation yet.

As I hadn’t haltered him since Monday, I decided to catch him this afternoon and just bring him down to the yard for a groom. We’re still having issues with him planting himself when asked to leave the main field – he will leave his shared paddock quite happily and walk as far as the arena without hesitation, but as soon as he realises we’re headed for the exit (i.e. out of sight of the horses) he puts the brakes on – and I’ve been experimenting with ways to handle this. My technique of just maintaining tension and letting him release himself works fine, but I admit to getting quite frustrated when he releases only to take two steps and hit another invisible wall. On Monday I responded to this second stop by picking up my energy and making him work on a circle for a few moments. Afterwards, he walked straight down to the yard without issue.

Today, I had the idea that although I was only going to bring him down to the yard for a groom, I’d take him the long way round: through the top gate opposite his paddock, down the lane for a few yards and then back in through the property’s main gateway. I was interested to see if he’d respond the same to this exit as he does with his usual one.

The short answer there is: yes. Yes he does.

After initially waiting for him to sort himself out, I became less passive and backed him up, circled him etc., and that got us to the gate. He tried to rush back through the gate – and me – as I was closing it behind us, which was pretty naughty and very unlike him.

He was incredibly nervous, and although he stopped jumping and trembling once we began walking, he was still very, very anxious. I asked him to halt before we went through the gateway that would take us back onto the property; I wanted to make sure he was paying enough attention to me so that he would stop when I did, no rope necessary (he did). I gave him a treat, just to show that this was fine and we could stand here and chill and no one was going to die, but just as we were about to go through the gate the postman came out from the property and we had to move aside and wait some more.

I was about to ask him to back up a couple of steps before taking him home when a mere whisper of wind rustled the leaves in the trees. His hind end went completely rigid, and I felt – rather than saw – a ripple of terror run from his tail to his head. When it reached his head, he lost his mind completely and came skittering forward – through me.

This all happened in a millisecond, and I made the choice to get the hell out of his way rather than try to block him. On hindsight, if I’d been more experienced what I should have done was to interrupt his thought before that ripple reached his head: but I’m a newb, and I didn’t react quick enough.

He was genuinely frightened and there was no malice in his behaviour, but I sent him back pretty strongly because he’s never pushed on my space before and I absolutely do not want him to think that’s a thing he can do.

We walked a little further down, turned round, came back, and went home. He was anxious until we reached the yard, and didn’t relax completely until we were back in the main field and on the right side of the gate (in his opinion).

I was pretty disappointed because he’d been so good on Sunday’s walk, and I’d hoped that he’d got over his anxiety – at least a little.

There was no flinching or running away when I took his halter off, though (usually a sign that a session has been stressful for him), and he was more than happy to walk with me at liberty and have scratches. So hopefully I haven’t buggered up this lovely fortnight of being able to catch him!


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