Ropes and bells

The mule was really excited to see me arrive this afternoon, and he hurried down to the gate and brayed for me when he thought I wasn’t coming to see him after all. But when I reached him he pinned his ears, turned his back on me, and stomped off. I caught him fairly easily, and there was no reaction to the halter today; he just had to have this strop beforehand. I’d obviously offended him in some way and he needed to make sure that I understood this. Sigh.

We did some arena work – for a change! I have let our schooling lapse a little in favour of walks, lately. I have no real excuse for this. Part of it is that the big things we’ve been working on – saddling and rugging – have reached a point where I feel like I need Ben (i.e. a professional!) with me before I take the next step. I also just haven’t felt very inspired about coming up with new things to do in the arena. And if I’m bored, then the mule definitely will be.

The main thing I wanted to do was more desensitisation with ropes, specifically around his girth and belly. He’s had the saddle on and the girth loosely placed around him, but not done up; so I wanted to make sure he would be alright with the sensation of it. I also felt this would be useful in getting him used to surcingles being passed under his belly when it comes to putting a rug on.

He was pretty much excellent. Unperturbed by the rope being pulled tight around his girth (I also used it to simulate a back cinch), didn’t mind me looping the rope over him and bumping it along his back and belly, and tolerated both these things in walk as well as at a standstill. Then, with the rope still looped around his middle, I progressed to bouncing it along his back and over his quarters. He tightened his haunches for a moment, then relaxed. I praised him, and did the same thing again. This time, however, I was a bit too energetic and the rope bounced over his tail and slithered down to sit on his hocks. He didn’t react, so I twitched the rope just enough so that it fell to the floor. He now had a loop around his hindfeet and partially over one hoof. IĀ asked him to take a step back, which he did; he shook the hoof that was touching the rope, but did not panic, and instead neatly stepped out of the loop and waited calmly while I reeled it back in. This may not sound like much, but if I’d done that a few months ago it would have been a major drama!

I then put his bells back on and sent him out on a circle in walk and trot (and a little bit of canter). He wasn’t in the slightest bit concerned by the increased jingling! His circle work was also phenomenal. It was like I just had to think it and he’d respond. He went up a gear at the exact instant that I did, he went down a gear at the exact instant that I did, he stopped when I stopped … it was incredible.

We finished off the session by doing some trotting in-hand. Until recently he had a real problem with this: he could trot when out on a circle, but if I asked him to trot beside me while I ran then he just couldn’t handle it. I figured out that it was the increased energy of me running that upset him, so I spent some time jogging on the spot next to him, crying: “Look at me mule! I’m jogging! Jogging is fun! Wheeee!” I guess if he can handle that then he can handle anything. Anyway, he was pretty much perfect at it today. He needed a little persuasion to break into trot the first couple of times, but once he got the hang of it he was just beautiful. No charging off, no pulling, no being silly; just running alongside me in his wonderful Iberian style, silver bells ringing. He is a very good mule.

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