Donkey training – two steps forward, one step back

Hello everyone, sorry I haven’t been around for a while! I have been insanely busy with work, kids and animals. Missing deadlines left, right and center. Really had to knuckle down and get some work done. But I still found time for donkey training, so let me update you!

I have come to the conclusion that training a donkey is more like trying to train a cat. A cat with the intelligence of a dog. (Not that cats aren’t clever, of course!) 

Dead right. Cats are much wiser than dogs, human!


Donkeys have superhuman patience and they have a mind of their own. They are very clever and they often understand perfectly what you want from them, but if it doesn’t suit them, they’ll ignore you. But – and this is important – if you’re in possession if The Treats, they’ll follow you to the end of the world. If I want to put Layla in her pen, all I need to do is walk there with an armful of grass, and she’ll follow me like a dog. If she goes on strike, the promise of a carrot will often make her move again. If it does not – there is something the matter. You can depend on that. And you better take it seriously, because she is not giving in.

If I’d let her loose in this wheat field in the morning, she’d still be there in the evening, the field decimated.

But that does not mean that they can’t be trained. When they see it’s to their advantage, they have no problem doing everything you ask. They are very affectionate and they are creatures of habit, making connections very quickly. Layla has learned to connect her halter with treats and walks outside, so she lets me know she wants it.

Put it on please, human!

She takes it in her mouth like a dog and tries to put her head inside. It’s adorable and incredible!! I have never ever seen a horse behave that way. Admittedly I have never been so lucky as to train a horse of my own, but still.

Talking about horses – I’ve started taking her to visit the horse stables on our walks. The stables belong to the kibbutz but the horses don’t, people from town rent the space to keep their horses there. I often linger and admire them, now I do it together with my donkey, LOL. I waited until her quarantine was finished and gave her worm paste – wouldn’t want the horses to catch anything! Layla is interested in them, but not obsessively so. The horses are very excited to see her.

There’s the cremello foal, all grown up! Isn’t he gorgeous? Also, the horses’ ears look ridiculously small to me now.

So what do I mean by two steps forward, one step back? Well, it seems like every second day, a minor disaster occurs – but the day after, she behaves like an angel. Sometimes it seems as if nothing is going right, but on the whole, we seem to be making progress rather than standing still or going backwards. I have finally been able to lift her back hooves – the first time I tried, she kicked backward so hard that she almost splintered a small tree. I have been VERY cautious since then! But now she seems to understand I’m just trying to clean her hooves, not to tie ropes around her ankles. Kicking is a thing of the past, fortunately. She has also mostly got over her fear of trucks and tractors and is not bothered in the slightest by dogs following her and barking at her – a huge advantage over here!

We do still have a bit of an issue with running off – or trying to run off. I perfectly understand how she came to be wandering around on her own. She is an escape artist. She understands the words “come” and “halt”, but she only listens to them when she feels like it or knows it makes sense – like when she has to stop to let a car pass. 

Oh hello! You have carrots? Yes, I am coming!

Last Saturday, I made the mistake of taking her out after she had been in her pen all day – and of putting her on an extremely long lead rope, thinking that it would give her some space to move, like a retractable dog leash. Unfortunately, it also gave her space to build up speed and run off. When I hold her by the head, she has to drag me with her and that does slow her down, lightweight though I am. 
So last Saturday was the first and only time I was forced to let go of her. She ran around the kibbutz like a donkey possessed, no doubt egged on by the lead rope dragging behind her. I thought we’d lost her when she ran down the field road, but for some unclear reason, she turned sharply and thundered back again the way she came. In the end, we found her nibbling on some bushes by the synagogue. Sacrilege, Layla!! 

It went sort of like this.

She seemed to have run out of steam and followed me back home without protest. I was still quaking in my shoes and didn’t dare take her out again until days later. I tried to devise ways to give her more exercise without me being dragged around by her like a helpless rag doll. I tried one morning to turn her loose in the fenced basketball court, but all she did was roll on the floor (looked very uncomfortable) and then stand around waiting until I took her out again.

I admit that this did not work the way I hoped it would.

Then, I made a huge mistake. I tried to make friends with the horse people, hoping that they would let me use their paddock for training or even let Layla run in the horses’ field now and then. The horse people here are all macho men, and I knew they would regard me as a silly girl who has no idea what she’s doing, but I thought I could handle it. What I hadn’t counted on was that Layla couldn’t handle it. 
Yesterday, I met up with one of the guys who has two horses there. I initially liked him because he told me donkeys are very clever and more loyal than horses. Not that I needed him to tell me that, but still. Well, he immediately started lecturing me on how to handle equines and seemed all set to give me a lesson. He told me I didn’t control the donkey and I was “too nice” to her. He took her lead rope to “show her who’s the boss”. Layla did not like it and tried to get away, but he kept pulling her around, touching her rear end with the rope, which she HATES. “You see? She knows I’m in control!” he told me as she danced around him like a nervous filly. Um, right. Can I have my donkey back now?

As soon as he handed me the rope back, Layla took off, dragging me along with her. She seemed dead set on putting as much distance between her and him as she could. I was surprised, since he didn’t do much to her except pull her around a bit, but she was extremely put out. She came to a halt in the middle of the road and would not go back, no matter what I tried. I admitted defeat and took her the other way. Immediately, she was sweet and calm again.

On the way back home, we met the macho man again when he was riding out on his horse. He had his yearling mare – beautiful creature – running loose behind them. The young horse was excited and started dancing around Layla. But Layla had had enough of horses and cowboys getting into her personal space. She kicked out at the horse and then took off again, me resignedly whizzing along  – rag doll comes to mind again – and did not stop until they were out of her field of vision.

The horses are all of a flutter, while Layla just wants to eat grass.

So, that was a bit of a disaster. Layla and I both felt the worse for wear after that encounter. I swear Layla was annoyed with me for putting her through that – she turned her back to me and did not call after me when I left, as she usually does. As for me – my confidence was dented. Was the guy right..? Was I being too nice to my donkey? The way he spoke to me brought back some very old memories. Being shouted at and told off by my (male) riding teacher while I tried desperately to get my horse to do what I was expected to make it do. Never quite feeling up to scratch. Always feeling like I failed, no matter that I was one of the best riders in the school after years and years of practise and sheer determinedness. Always biting my tongue while people (men) told me – get this – I was TOO NICE and I should be tougher. Always trying to prove how tough I was, even if it didn’t suit me at all.

Too nice, my a*se. Layla and I have more in common than I thought. I’m pretty sure men put those scars on her feet, just like men put those (and worse) scars on my mind. I have had enough. From now on, I’m doing things my way – actually, I was already doing that, ignoring men who tell me I’m spoiling the animals. My animals love me, they greet me, follow me and eat from my hand. This is what I want, not for them to be intimidated into obeying me. 

End of story, cowboy.

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About tarnegolita

Dutch expatriate, mother of 3 boys, freelance translator and pet zoo keeper in a kibbutz in Israel.
This entry was posted in Animals, donkeys and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Donkey training – two steps forward, one step back

  1. Teaching by force and fear? Last century, maybe. Keep doing what you’re doing!!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. dayphoto says:

    You and my oldest daughter have the right idea…love your equine to death and they will do anything you want forever!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. aheikkinen says:

    It’s fully understandable you are a busy lady. It’s so nice to have the update on how you and your animals are doing. Neither do I like the tough and the force method. I believe so much more in your way. Kind and gentle.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Lovely update, donkeys are definitely clever animals but like any animal will respond to kindness and love. You’re doing a wonderful job 🙂 x

    Liked by 1 person

  5. daisymae2017 says:

    Reblogged this on COUNTRY LIVING and commented:
    Interesting animal post.

    Liked by 1 person

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