Project Pack Donkey

Donkey Enrichment Activities

Rusty has been here two weeks and he has settled in nicely and become a part of the herd. Actually, he makes it a herd because before it was a duo of chestnut geldings. Having Rusty around has been good for the group dynamic. Now when I take Baron, my big horse) out for a ride, his buddy doesn’t lose his mind about being left behind because Rusty is there to keep him company.

Rusty and the two big boys.

I originally got Rusty to be a pet for my daughter but, when she lost interest, I decided to teach him to wear a pack and hike with me. In Georgia we took walks through the woods and walked around the neighborhoods near the barn. Rusty took to hiking like a duck to water. I tried to take him on a long walk at least once a week, but his training went on the back burner because I had foster horses that needed to be ridden and worked. Rusty knows the basics, but he’s still rough around the edges. Now that he’s here on the island with me, I’d like to ramp up his training again.

He makes great faces.

When I got him, he was completely unhandled. I got a halter on him for the first time, taught him to lead, taught him to pick up his feet, to stand tied to the trailer, and to stand for the farrier. He’s still funny about his feet, so since he’s been back we’ve been working on that. Because I’m the only one who’s ever trained him, I can take credit for some things but I also have to acknowledge where I’ve messed up or missed things. I am excited about the opportunity to use what I’ve learned with other horses to train Rusty. I’ve changed a lot in my philosophy of training since my first horse. I did a lot of things back then that I wouldn’t do now; I feel that I can do better because I know better.

With Rusty I’ve been doing a lot of liberty work- asking him to do things when he’s free to come or go. He has no halter, no rope, no containment. We’re standing together in the field or in the barn and I’ll ask him to pick up his feet, for example. He can walk away if he wants, but he often surprises me by staying and cooperating. He loves attention, especially anything that feels like a game. He enjoys figuring out what I’m asking and getting a reward; sometimes the reward is a treat and sometimes it’s some scratches or an ear rub.

One recent victory we’ve had is getting him comfortable walking on the rubber mats in the barn aisle. You may remember his complete refusal to step into the barn on his first night here. Little by little I’ve been asking him to step onto the mats to get a treat or to have his dinner. Putting a halter and lead on him and trying to pull him did NOT work; instead, I put his dinner on the mats and made him step farther and farther each day until eventually he was walking on them with no problem.

Eating dinner on the Rubber Mats of Doom.
Exploring the mats on his own.

Yesterday I put his halter and lead on, opened the barn doors wide and led him over the mats and out the door with no problem. He was rewarded with a long hike (3.5 miles) and getting to graze on the good grass in the yard. Now that he’s seen for himself that there’s nothing to be afraid of, I’ll never have a problem with it again.

His first hike in his new home! He was very interested in the vegetation.
Enjoying the grass while the big boys look on jealously.

I’m excited to have Rusty back in my life!

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