After being pretty sociable in his field for the first day – heehawing a morning greeting at field-lender Hazel’s friend, and coming to see me when I arrived – I left Chico largely to his own devices for 24 hours. Mum and I both went and sat in his field, and he came by to say hi, but tentatively, and ran away again. So yesterday I felt he needed some extended human contact to get him back in the swing.
Lesson #1: catching him
The trick is not, under any circumstances, to look like you want to catch him. For the first ten minutes he ran away when I got too close, but very quickly he began to get used to my company. He still led me through the gorse bush three times – on the fourth time, after half an hour, I leaned in and clipped on his lead rope. Bingo! Donkey caught, Hannah somewhat scratched.
Lesson #2: leading a donkey to water
Chico’s got a steam in his field, so I’m trusting that he’s drinking water when I’m not looking. He’s an animal, for heaven’s sake – he must have some sense. I do want him to learn to drink out of the collapsible bucket I have bought, though, and he’s not shown any interest so far. After giving him a substantial grooming to thank him for letting me catch him, I dipped his nose in the water bucket. No interest whatsoever, let alone drinking. Some drips fell off his velvet muzzle and he looked at me dispassionately. Faliure.
Lesson #3: tethering, and tying himself in knots
This is the scary one, according to my donkey godmothers. Donkeys don’t take well to tethers, and can freak out and hurt themselves trying to get loose. Tethering seems so obvious to me – tie donkey to rope, donkey wanders about grazing. Simple. Mais, non. I banged the stake in with a sledgehammer (no concern from Chico), and tied him with a fifteen-or-so foot rope. He remained completely still for ten minutes, and then wandered off for a munch. Within three minutes of wandering he had stepped over the rope so that it was hooked on his back feet, and when he moved his leg it pulled his head. He pulled away to the edge of the tether radius, making it all tighter and worse, and tripped himself up a bit. I managed (it was hard) to stay still and give him a chance to release himself, which he did by walking back towards the tether so that the tangle loosened and fell to the ground. PHEW! Minutes later he’d hooked up his front leg and had to hop along, again not looking too paniced, but it was as much as I could take – I untethered him. Lesson one in tethering – pretty successful in that it’s made me realise the dangers, and Chico didn’t freak out about being in knots.
Lesson #4: the crinkletastic rain mac
I have bought Chico a rain mac to keep him dry during the walk, but like most donkeys he’s not a fan of crinkly things. After the tethering incident I didn’t have the stamina to try this for long, but I showed it to him, and sat on it next to him for a while. He backed away to the extent of his rope, but we’ll do this one again later. And he’s got his gorsebush for shelter in the meantime.
Lesson #5: Electric face
I staked out my borrowed electric fence (a very kind man called Tom at a local livery yard lent it to me, and taught me how to use it when I called up out of the blue worrying about my donkey getting too much grass). This entailed lots of unknotting the tape and leaping back and forth over the bog, all the while watched by Chico who was tied at the top of the field, having a last supper of the really lush stuff. After the tentative tethering, the corralling was simple and busy, quick and effective. Perhaps a portable electric fence wouldn’t be such a bad idea…
I lead Chico in, attached the battery, and within a few seconds he came over to touch the tape with his nose. Boom! A shock to the face, and he stepped back quickly, turned away and ate a few reeds. Not too bothered. Then he checked out the peripheries, and went to hide in his gorsebush – whether because the nicest grass is in there, or because he was sulking, I don’t know.
Lesson #6: Children
I left him to it for a few hours, and came back later with an old schoolfriend, Rhiannon, and her kids. She’s got several – four, seven and fifteen years old, plus another in utero. She says when the next is born they’ll technically be numerous enough to be considered a tribe. I caught Chico (much easier than this morning, which was lucky considering the audience), and seven-year-old Oscar and four-year-old Polly fed him carrot pieces off their flat hands. Oscar fell for him, stroking his forehead and neck very gently, while Polly raced about like a high-pitched human pinball, offering us the perfect opportunity to see that Chico, once he’d figured them out, wasn’t phased at all. Great success! He chased Hazel’s dog earlier, so Hazel is going to take the dog down more often – ongoing lesson seven.
Lesson #4.2: Rain mac revisited
Rain mac lesson was stepped up the following morning due to rain. Chico’s hair had set itself in a beautiful gingery wave in the Welsh drizzle, so he was subjected to a more concerted rain mac effort. He didn’t like it, but he dealt with it admirably. Well done, stalwart Chico.