From the Ranch

From the Ranch

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Command Climate or Charm School for Donkeys

The day before Colonel LeCompte went back to Iraq a neighbor dropped by and asked if we would like to have a donkey. It seemed that the donkey was kicking and seriously injuring his cows, at least that was his theory. In Texas ranchers frequently keep donkeys in with cattle, sheep, etc., because donkeys will protect them from coyotes and other predators, and that was why the rancher had come to own the donkey. So we followed him over to his pasture to take a look at the donkey, as such offers always intrigue Colonel LeCompte. When we got there the little donkey immediately knew something was up and took off across the pasture. She was a cute little paint donkey, and obviously spunky. I said, "I don't know Sir..."  My husband said, "she's cute and spunky, that's exactly how I picked you."   Now, what woman can resist an argument like that? As we talked further with the neighbor he pointed out two calves that were down and not doing so well after being kicked, and pointed out a full grown cow who he discovered, as we drove up, that according to his theory, had died after being kicked and having a rib broke which punctured the cow's lung. The rancher told us he had the vet out to make sure the cows were not ill, and after examination of the three animals, the vet had pronounced that all of them had "blunt trauma injuries." All during this discussion the donkey was running around the pasture kicking, pardon the pun, "like a mule," with no target other than the air. She was indeed a "spunky donkey" with some bad habits and an attitude.  She tossed her head raised her tail and trotted around us way out of reach. The neighbor told us that he was going to give her "lead poisoning" if we didn't take her. I saw a lightning quick flash in Randy's eyes and I knew we now owned a cute, spunky, little paint donkey. Colonel LeCompte pronounced we wanted the donkey. Colonel LeCompte believes that every Soldier should be given the necessary instruction, training, encouragement, mentoring, leadership, and discipline to achieve "all they can be." He believes the same of animals.

We have four female horses, plus two female miniature horses.... it is like living with a squad of eighth grade cheerleaders. Obviously they aren't yet "all they can be," but it requires time, patience, discipline and diligent effort. You can't imagine the amount of jealousy, manipulating, and orneriness that still goes on in that pasture. There is a bit of hazing as well. In other words, poor little donkey, she was in for a "schooling," and there was going to be a bit of trouble at the "OK Corral." It would require leadership and direction to keep everyone from losing the ground gained thus far
when the little way-ward donkey joined the group. After a great deal of effort and a display of intelligent strategy capability on the donkey's part, she was loaded in the back of the trailer,

I reminded Colonel LeCompte on the drive home with the donkey in the trailer in back, that remarks like the one about "cute and spunky" made toward anyone but the donkey constituted running with scissors. When we arrived home and backed the trailer to the pasture gate, everyone of the "girls" perked up with curiosity immediately and began circling
the pasture in a most haughty way. Trotting, shaking their manes, and breaking into a full gallop periodically, the analogy of the eight grade cheerleader squad took vision in my mind once again. Colonel LeCompte just laughed and got out of the truck to let the donkey out in the pasture. He opened the trailer and she confidently trotted into the pasture. That was the last confident thing I saw her do for about a week. The "girls" ran up to her as a group, or if you will, as a herd, an even better description would be like the angry mob that beheaded Marie Antoinette.  They were all charging at her as fast as they could run.  She stood frozen for a minute, and then, being the intelligent animal she is, headed for the hills... trouble is, we don't have any hills.

Two of our horses are official "rescued mustangs." Mustang Sally as we dubbed the larger horse has abnormally short ears, they had severe frost bite at some point, and their tips fell off. Hillary, the other rescue is sort of short and chubby, and has fat ankles, but she is an excellent ride and has a beautiful mane and tail. We acquired these horses, when we moved to our place, from the family we bought it from. The family didn't have a place to keep the horses when they moved, so they were "thrown in" as part of the deal for the house. They would not even allow you to touch them. The other two horses I bought from a horse trader when we found out we were moving to Sealy. Once I had asked Colonel LeCompte one of my probing and strange questions, "what, as a kid, did you most want for Christmas that you never got as a child?" He had responded, a horse. He told me I was crazy for buying two horses when we didn't even have a place to live yet. I am a person of faith I told him.  He worried about the horses, which we being held by the horse trader until we found a place. He still talks about how reckless that was, and how much he loves the horses.

I paid $400 for Three Chicks Native, a registered quarter horse, chestnut in color and with blood lines going back to Red Rocket. She is a prize. Once in a Blue Moon is a blue roan I paid $600 for, and when these two horses joined the pasture, Mustang Sally ruled the squad, but that didn't last long. When the horses were fed, Sally served herself from the first p
ortion and by the time all four had been "served," she was through and moving down the line to the next horses' feed. That was before Randy deployed, and this unfair bully practice was quickly extinguished by his standing with the horses with a long green horse whip which he whirled over the top of his head each time Sally gulped her feed and headed for Blue's or Chick's feed. She spared Hillary till last because they had first inhabited the pasture together, evidently loyalty counts. However, with Randy standing by the fence, she quickly developed manners. Soon, with this training, he could leave them after putting out the feed. However, if he were out of town for 3 or 4 days with work, the old habits would return, and his attention and discipline would again be required.

In fact, in all areas of conditioning of the horses, if even one of them is allowed to be a renegade, it spreads. When Sally went after the others feed, Blue would go after Chick's feed. In fact all the horses would pick on Chick. During one of Randy's absences, one of the horses ran Chick through a fence, leaving a horrible wound I worried she would never survive. I had to nurse her in a separate stall for several months once the vet released her from his care in the "horse hospital." This incident happened after dark, and even though I was outside working in the yard at first I did not notice the wounded horse until I heard her whinny had an urgent and constant call to me. She had always been a "mama's girl," and by the time she recovered, she really was. She and
Hillary are not as prone to attempting to dominate the other horses as are Sally and Blue, it is just not in their nature. This power play will go on just as long as it is tolerated, and with its' tolerance, the behavior is adopted by the other two horses. They take turns trying to chase, kick, and bite one another, all bad habits in horses which lead to their uselessness as riding horses. Just like with Soldiers, tolerating the breakdown of discipline, bad habits, and bullying leads to worthless horses, prone to getting in trouble, and making unwise decisions.

So when the horses began chasing Donkey, as she had by then been christened after the character in Shrek, I began shouting commands to the running horses. Usually, because of it being established that I am at the top of the chain of command, and the person who controls the feed bucket, my commands are heeded, but not this day. So, as this ancient herding behavior surfaced as it does in the wild, where your ears can freeze off, for the good and usefulness of the unit, I had to regain control, and once again establ
ish the boundaries of order and discipline. 

It hasn't been easy. Blue has long since coming to the pasture established that she is the rightful head honcho of the pasture. She has given Donkey a terrible time, requiring that she be sent to the time out pen. She has chased Donkey biting her, and kept her from her feed unless I stand right there, even though she is on the other side of the tack barn and separated from the others for feeding. Yesterday I caught Blue chasing Donkey down, biting a huge 8-10 inch hunk of hair off her rear and spitting it on the ground, still having a wad of hair in her mouth and just having to eat it, because she couldn't get the hair out of her mouth. I reported this to Colonel LeCompte by email and complained of it being cold, he emailed me back saying, "But there at the ranch…you can just stay inside, look out the window, and watch Donkey get her ass chewed." Sometimes Colonel LeCompte needs to be told, just keep your day job, you are never going to make it as an advice columnist.

This leads to the other horses, even the miniature horses who are in an entire different area, sepa
rated by a gate, running toward Donkey and turning to try and kick her, and of course she would make short work of them were they actually in the same area. Now this is really out of character for these usually "lap puppy" little horses, but evidently, monkey see, monkey do. 

Donkey has not had the time to position herself even one time to kick anyone, she has been ostracized to one area of the pasture, and just for good measure Blue periodically runs at her. You can watch Donkey try to turn, set, and kick, but again she is intelligent and accurately determines she isn't going to get to kick anybody before Blue runs her down unless she gives up the kicking plan and heads for the hills.   As I mentioned, we don't have any hills.

I have been working diligently to "harness train" both of the minnies for use with the Easy Access carts made by Buggy Bob, in order that Soldiers with more restrictive injuries can have an independent interaction with "travel by horse." 

So this breech of appropriate behavior can not be tolerated, hence I have been in the pasture an extra amount of time this week. I am happy to report that Donkey is a kinder, gentler, and more humble Donkey. In fact, this little animal is in actuality, very loving, and she has learned that I am her savior when she is being persecuted. She has bonded firmly with me in gratitude, and now demonstrates such a loving and gentle nature, and I can see her possibilities. When I was doing a repair job to the stall area today, she would not leave me alone so I could get it done. Instead she would gently nose me wanting to be petted as often as I would allow it. Perhaps I have misjudged Blue's behavior, and rather than bullying, she has just been acting as any good NCO would.... What do you think?