Quarter step back, half step forward

Today was a very brief, but very interesting session with the mule (I really need to think of a different adjective for describing what it’s like to work with him. Fascinating? Thought-provoking? Intriguing? Bloody challenging?).  I had an epiphany about what could be causing this catching issue of ours, and if I’m right it’s really simple to fix and also quite embarrassing because I should have figured it out much sooner. Once again, hindsight cheerfully shows me the glaringly obvious. But I’ll write more on that later!

So anyway, he didn’t want to be caught again. I eventually persuaded him to let me start putting the halter on, but he panicked as I was drawing the crownpiece up over his neck and ran away. So I walked up the field, moved the fenceline so that the horses could eat some fresh grass and stay out of the way, and made it very clear to the mule that if he wanted some as well he had to come and see me and the Halter of Doom first.

He understood the rules right away, as this was what I’d done last Wednesday (and we’d both been unsuccessful. The mule didn’t get fresh grass again until Sunday, after he was finally caught). He did let me approach him, but when I suggested haltering him he ran out backwards and trotted a meandering route down the field before stopping and turning to look at me. I turned my back on him and watched the horses instead.

Two minutes later, I glanced over my shoulder and saw that he was making his way towards me.
“Come on, mule,” I said, as he stopped in front of me with his ears pricked. “I know you’re smart enough to figure this one out. How did you get grass last time?”

And you know what, after some gentle persuasion, he stood perfectly while I haltered him … the little troll. I praised him excessively, gave him his treat, took the halter off again, then asked him to follow and led him over to the grass. I also gave him the ‘eat’ signal when I reached it, which is usually reserved for when he’s being worked (he knows that if he’s wearing a halter, he’s not allowed to graze. But sometimes there are exceptions to the rule, and the ‘eat’ signal tells him when the exceptions are).

I just found it really interesting to watch him work out a problem. I honestly think that when he ran away down the field, he was waiting to see if I’d follow him – which would have left the grass unguarded. He was certainly watching me very intently. Actually having his halter on was his last option to try; like I say, I believe there is genuine anxiety there, but if my theory is right then Ben says it is very simple to correct.

The reason I released him once I’d caught him, rather than take him out and work him as initially intended, was because I felt it was important for this to be a positive lesson that he would remember. I would much rather that he thinks up a practical solution and applies it, rather than just running around and grumping at me. Hopefully, today has now made it clear to him that being caught does have its positives, and I can start working on what I think is causing all of this. And then … I may have a catchable mule again!

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