I know that a donkey is good at reading body language. He takes his lead from mine, and for the first few days I was jubilant – we’d picked him up smoothly, he’d come to me on the first morning, I’d not yet begun to worry too much about the various ways he could die… Then I got unnerved, and him in return…
(Yell!) HE WAS SO OVEREXCITED WHEN WE WENT OUT OF THE FIELD, THEN THERE WAS STALLION DAY, I STILL CAN’T PICK UP HIS HOOVES, I’M FAILING, WHAT AM I THINKING, IT’S RAINING, HE MIGHT DIE, I CAN’T DO THIS, HELP! WHAT IF HE KICKS ME IN THE FACE? ALL THE SHEEP IN THE FIELD ARE HAVING A MAD MORNING CHORUS, CHICO’S SKITTISH, BAAAAA, BAAAA!
Last Sunday I changed tack and ignored him, turning my back instead of following him about the field, and leaning nonchalantly on the gate. I ate a few carrot pieces myself. And sure enough, he came up. Fuss and carrots, please, ma’am?
(Whisper…) So we got calm. I hum ‘She’ll be coming round the mountain’ very quietly when I’m grooming him these days – apparently a mama donkey would be making a low hum, inaudible to human ears, while grooming. And –
– he let me lift his hooves. I didn’t pick them out yet, but it’s a giant improvement on four days ago, when he wouldn’t let me groom his legs at all.
Harry whispered sweet nothings to him, scratching behind his ears and around his big brow, and Chico leant in, and asked for more: gentle, calm, quiet, enjoyable. It was like a Sunday morning spiritual experience, Chico transported to a different plain, by our body language and calm. The lesson was mine – to learn not to freak out about every little setback. Chances are it’s not even a setback, just my fraught interpretation because everything is too important, with such a colossal task looming. I’m the nervy little colt, and I have to get my body language under control.
Everything was measured in what’s not achieved yet, rather than in daily successes. My school friend of yore, Rhian, suggested I write down the daily successes, the ‘small wins’, and so I began to look for them. Just the change in focus, from the bad stuff to the good, made all the difference. Now I walk into his field expecting some small wins, with yesterday’s in mind. It’s much better, and departure is on the horizon.