He suddenly switched from being sweet and cuddly with an occasional stubborn moment to being completely unmanageable.
He suddenly decided that he wanted nothing to do with people and I couldn't even touch him.
I got the feeling that his behavior was just a phase and not his base personality, but still, it was a problem.
I knew I had to figure out something real quick. After the feeder incident and getting knocked down a couple times, I needed to get a handle on his behavior.
Which was easier said than done. I don't have any experience working with mules and they are very different from horses.
If Rio was a horse, I would have put him in a small paddock or round pen and attempted to do join-up by chasing him around until his body language told me he was ready to seek a relationship with me.
Join-up establishes authority, teaching the horse that you are the alpha in the relationship. Horses will at first resist any attempts to exert authority over them, but join-up teaches them to find security in your leadership.
I quickly discovered that mules do not work that way.
Their idea of a relationship with a person is a partnership. They will not be dominated like horses. If they feel that you are trying to dominate them, that's it.
Of course, my relationship with my horses is a partnership too, but that's not how I initially start my relationship with them. Horses find security in authority, but mules have too much donkey in them and they need to feel at least partially in control.
So I had to figure out how to start off with Rio and make him understand that while I wouldn't dominate him, we did need to have a partnership.
Yesterday afternoon, I went out to his pasture and after locking him with two other horses in a small pen so he didn't have quite as big of an area to run around in, I started shadowing him. If he walked, I walked, if he stopped, I stopped, if he trotted, I ran alongside.
The idea was to make him think he couldn't rid of me so he might as well try to figure out what I wanted.
After about fifteen minutes, he stopped and turned his head toward me. I took that as an invitation and walked up to him slowly, my posture non-threatening.
He tensed, but didn't move. Slowly I reached out my hand and rubbed his hip. I knew he would run off again if I tried to approach his head, so I stayed by his hip, where he felt he had control because he could kick me if need be.
After a few minutes of stroking him in the same place, I began inching my way up his body. Anytime I felt him tense up, I would slow my strokes and retreat, just a little.
Once he relaxed, I would start moving forward again.
After about ten minutes of advancing and retreating this way, I was finally able to touch his face. He wasn't too thrilled about it, but didn't run away so I kept going.
Once he was thoroughly relaxed and starting to really enjoy me touching him, I stepped about five feet away and just stood there.
He had let me come to him, but for the partnership to be complete, he had to come willingly to me.
I didn’t have to wait very long. He missed his massage :)
The first time I stepped away, it didn’t take long for him to come, but he stretched his neck out as far as he could until just the tip of his nose touched my arm.
When he sought my company, I rewarded him by petting and stroking him. He quickly figured out that if he came to me, I continued giving him attention so the time it took him to come became less and less and by the time I left, he would gently push me to get my attention. I was able to touch everywhere with no issues.
So we finally had a breakthrough. I don't think he will give me too much trouble in the future.
I talked to my farrier about Rio's behavior and he too thought it was just a phase. He said that what probably happened was that after the shock of being weaned wore off, Rio took out his frustration on us, because we took him away.
Rio is going to be very big for a mule. He is already big for his age and since his daddy was a mammoth jack and his mom is a big girl too, he is going to be well over 15HH. Most mules are about 14HH. He will be able to carry a lot of weight…he is already super strong.
The farrier wanted us to keep Rio separated from his mom until spring so really complete the weaning process, especially since he still tries to nurse on the mare we have in with him. But the pasture he is in does not have adequate shelter for the middle of winter.
The farrier said we could move him back by his mom by the end of December(on the other side of the fence from her…but not actually with her) if his attitude is much improved and he lets us handle him in any situation.
So that means I will be spending a lot of time with him the next month to get him ready to be re-introduced to her.
He was a challenge to figure out and I'm sure we will both continue to learn a lot during his training process….mules are interesting animals!