The Shadow Self
Catalunya is an Ethiopian/Abyssinian donkey whose ancestors probably traveled the silk road. His body color is a very dark gray dun with a black nose, black eyeliner and belly. Most donkeys have white noses, eye rings and bellies; known as light points. His makeup is said to be without light points.
No light points indicates 2 recessive genes. It occurred to me that he was different when I watched one of the donkey sanctuary videos. The sanctuary in Cyprus shows a donkey with the color composition of Catalunya’s. They treat him as if he is special and he is left a stallion for breeding more black nosed donkeys.
When we lived in Barcelona, Alan bought a sticker that showed the symbol of Barcelona. It shows a donkey and the Catalán flag. He put it on our Vespa when we returned to Austin. He’d pick me up from work at Nordstrom, put a helmet and ski coveralls over my work clothes and we’d ride home on it pretending we were still driving past La Sagrada or Bar Ramón in San Antoni. The donkey depicted in the sticker is the Catalán donkey. They are taller, have dark brown coats and light points and are threatened with extinction. Their bloodlines are being preserved in Banyoles, Spain and the Catalán region of France.
The Wild Self Catalunya looks more like a black and gray zebra than a small shaggy horse with a white nose and a stoic personality like most donkeys one encounters. Patricia Barlow-Irick of Mustangcamp.org gentles mustangs and zebras. She says the zebra is 5 times more dangerous and aggressive than a mustang. Catalunya is much more zebra than horse. The horse closest to his personality would definitely be a mustang.
If he does something aggressive and it’s met with aggression from us, it just escalates. He is excited by the aggressive move or vibe.
We quickly realize that coercion not an option. We only have one choice; cooperation. We will have to invest the time in showing him that choosing wanted behaviors enables him to help create the environment he needs. Choosing unwanted behaviors are boring because no stimulation or improvement of his environment is achieved. He will have to go into a stall and stand for the vet and the farrier at some point. We have never even closed a gate with him inside a contained space; only with him outside and free to run inside the fenced twenty acres.
The goal is for him to 1. stand calmly and turn his head out of our space even when food is involved 2. calibrate his movements when he gets excited and remain collected when anticipating something (He rushes into your space and makes wheezing noises of excitement when he anticipates being touched or fed. The wheezing is adorable and the rushing into your space is scary.)
We begin with the 3 second rule. Ignore unwanted behaviors by standing neutral for 3 seconds. Which is usually more like 90 seconds but does yield some results. Of course, I am teaching myself to refrain from responding when he does something that scares me. Through the fence is fine. Practicing the 3 second rule with a top section of the fence removed requires forcing myself to keep my arm in a position that is vulnerable to a bite. It is as difficult for me to hold as it is for him to choose to match my calm energy rather than choosing a defensive bite.
When the student is ready the teacher will come.
Catalunya and I share many challenges.
Trust issues and irrational fears= check. Don’t know who is worse; he or I.
Catalunya: If you touch me there I will die.
Me: If I go outside the fence with you, you will attack me and I will die.
Easily frustrated when learning new things = check
Stubbornness = check. I am Taurus but I think I’ve met my match.
Likes to chart, mark, quantify, perform tasks in sequence = check. We do training at the dog fence around 9:30, gardening while he grazes just outside the garden fence around 1:00, 3:ish is practicing getting used to two gates being closed, 4 ish training through cattle fence. It took about 3 days of consistently closing the gates and opening them for him to refrain from doing a bucking lap around the perimeter and kicking the back of the barn. He finally is okay if we garden twice before cleaning the barn. As long as we don’t clean the barn before gardening.
In one of the videos of Patricia Barlow-Irick training the zebra, she does the last feed with her left hand rather than her right one day. The zebra throws a fit. She apologizes for changing it up. She trains the mustangs to target to her fingers. I try this with Catalunya. He knows how to touch a target from our clicker training sessions. Now he touches
my fingers and his fear of hands seems to diminish. His biting instinct is quieted as well.
I have instinctively known that Catalunya loves singing (rhythm) and counting (my most effective learning model as well; I cut and apply color to client’s hair in rhythm). Patricia asks people to sing to the mustangs and she counts how many seconds they hold on the target. She prepares the zebra for touching by saying “ready”, she tells them the part she will touch, “touch mane”, “touch withers”. The zebras withers ripple in anticipation. She touches them with a stick and soft ball on the end. I made my own. She counts each touch so they know when it will begin and end. Something I wish I’d known the first time I touched Catalunya. Wild animals want to anticipate the beginning and end of the action. It’s a security issue.
I tried “touch jaw”, “touch neck”, “touch mane” both yesterday and today. Today his mane twitched in anticipation of the touch. I knew he understood the word. I say”reaaaady”, “touch maaaane”, I touch his mane with the target stick. “One, two, three.” I click on three to let him know his behavior was correct, then I say “X” like Patricia does, giving him the bridge signal that food is coming. He does brilliantly and even put two hooves on his mat; another form of targeting getting him ready to stand calmly in one spot for some duration. A big scary wind blows and he leaves the session.
Loner but needs the support of others = check. So many friends have sent me great info and without this I would’ve easily made a potentially bad situation much worse. Input from others helps me along this lonely journey into facing my fears.
Avoids toxic people and things = Che….He is much better at this. Daffodils are poisonous to donkeys and we have hundreds of them of various heirloom varieties. His favorite hangout? My side garden full of daffodils. He’s eaten all of the marigold; chili pepper stalks, all of the mint, lemon thyme, all of the bark from the lilac bush there; and left the daffodils. When he accidentally pulls one up, he smushes it on a rock spinning it in a circle. I believe the purpose of the behavior is so he can smell that it is something to avoid.
Suspicious of anomalies = check. We moved two lawnmowers out of the barn and left them outside his corral. I saw both his ears on them and his head bobbed up and down. I threw a rock and hit them to let him know that I’ll protect him no matter what. He returned to eating his hay.
Patricia Barlow-Irick, puts it this way ” with equids, everything is either normal or scary. Check.
Catalunya : Daddy’s truck is loud/normal. Your blue puffy vest and fur trapper hat is in the garden and not on you/scary.
Me: Facts and experts are important for staying alive/normal. Alternative facts will keep me safe/scary.
(Donkeys do not enjoy the luxury of alternative facts)
Delusional folks: Expert, schmexpert, who does she think she is/scary
WWW.SHAMANICJOURNEY.COM says, “If a donkey plods into your life, hold on and consider what is challenging you and look for a way to progress safely. Outstanding animal and skillful master teacher. Check!
As they say in Spain, “Poc a poc.”