Bronze's Expedition Log

Expedition Log

Crop Power

I am now beginning to learn the other, more important tool in the mule-handlers arsenal: the crop. Treats only get me so far–what Bootsie really responds to is a nice whack. It sounds mean, but as anyone who owns a horse knows, they use bites, kicks, and swats to communicate with each other in the herd. A whack from me is a like a good scolding. She doesn’t pout about it. The term carrot and stick is bandied about a lot, usually in reference to North Korea, or tax policy or something. It’s fun to experience that term non-metaphorically!

I had a nice long session today with Dee Howe, my Mule Guru. It was incredibly informative, and served to illustrate just how little I understand how to handle my mule. It’s humorous to me that I am attempting to walk 1500 miles with a 900lb creature of whom I have little comprehension, and on whom the success of my entire journey hinges.

Up until now, when I’ve reached any resistance or fear I’ve consistently chosen not to push through it. I figure it’s better to err on the side of caution since any mistakes I make could take precious effort to undo. Thanks to Dee, I know have a pathway through the fear, pain , or resistance I might encounter in Bootsie and I can’t wait to get out into the streets and work with her. Things had become sort of dull around the yard…

Seeing Dee handle her was eye opening. As mentioned above, it gave me a good perspective on acceptable amounts of force to use. After observing, I would try the exercises myself and Dee would give feedback. I could sense a change in Bootsie’s responsiveness and comfort almost immediately. Keep in mind here that I’m the one being trained. These exercises aren’t about teaching Bootsie how to be lead, but teaching her that I can be trusted to lead her. As it stands, that trust is negligible. That is going to change starting this week.

One of the most useful things we did–almost by accident–was to have Dee lead me. Being on the other end of the rope was very illuminating and I think it’s a good practice for anyone who wants to handle horses. It demonstrated to me just how clear and direct every signal must be. Not necessarily big or forceful–but clear and direct.

Some things I learned:

  • Her nose is never to pass me when leading. As soon as it does she gets a whack on the nose. I should be able to walk, speed up slow, down stop, start, anything–and her nose should never pass me.
  • If she gets scared I want her attention on me. I should be facing her directly, an arms length away, and her attention should be locked onto me. I can use the crop to keep her from swinging away or pivoting. We’ll stay like that until she realizes she’s not going anywhere, and she’ll still be fine.
  • If I ask something of her, I must keep at it until she does it. No angrily or impatiently. I’m just going to keep tapping that foot with my crop until she decides it’s in her best interest to move her legs.
  • Likewise if she does something I haven’t asked, like stepped forward or turned her body away, I’m going to ask her to return where she was. It will be for me to decide when she moves.
  • She can turn her head and neck wherever she wants, but not her body. It’s important for her to be able to see what’s going on around her, in fact encouraged. But she only moves her body at my direction.

All of these things are good practical rules for obedience and training, but the underlying product of these actions is that she sees me as the absolute authority. Thus, if I’m calm–she’s calm. She will look to me for safety and leadership, not look to her surroundings for hazards around every corner. I’m eager to head back and start practicing all my new skills, but of course when I’m by myself it will likely be an entirely different experience.

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