Friday, March 20, 2015

And when I'm not cuddling her



For those of you who don't know, 14 days ago I picked up my BLM burro for the 2015 Great Burro Turnaround.  Per the rules of the event, I have a total of 100 days to gentle her and teach her as many things as I can before she and I will (hopefully) share her skills at the event in June.  I haven't shared much yet about how things are going with Buttercup's training.  This is primarily because the majority of the time thus far has been spent, as you've perhaps seen in my earlier posts, allowing her to be cuddled settle in and get hugged become familiar with life at Critter Farm.

However, despite not being totally training focused right now, we have developed a bit of a daily routine where we work on some simple skills:

Then, every day we reinforce the skills we've worked on the day before.  One of these skills, for example, is standing quietly while allowing me to put the halter on:

She doesn't love the halter, but she has come to accept it:

Having mastered this, I thought I'd give the lead rope a try.  I was initially worried about introducing it, thinking it might be too soon. But she often surprises me with her reactions to things and, when I first held out the rope, she came right over to investigate:

I'm fairly certain this was just because she had NO idea what impact this nylon tether would have on her life moving forward:

And, yes, some days go better than others with the lead rope.
My mantra, though, is always:  be consistent, be patient, be calm.  If I can't be those things, I need to take a break.

Buttercup and I also spend time each day learning about objects that she doesn't have to be afraid of.
The things that scare her - and the things that don't - have also been a surprise to me.
Here are two things she has been quite fearful of:
1.  The jolly ball:
You'd think that green orb was about to detonate for all the suspicion and distance she gives it.

2.  Rubber feed tubs:
Funny smelling and odd looking, she just doesn't trust them at all.

So we've spent time with these items.
It's amazing the leverage I am given just by starting out with a butt scratch.  For her, it turns out not to matter what the object is, as long as it's rubbing the hind area, so that's where we started with the jolly ball (see the how the tail is sticking out a bit?  Anyone with a donkey know that this is a clear indication that she is enjoying the jolly ball attention):

From there, I just kept going, praising her the whole way.  Up the back: 

All the way to her head.  While she isn't exactly at ease here, she didn't move away.  After a couple days of this, she's not so worried about the jolly ball any more, as long as I don't bounce it on the ground. :-) 

Of course, reward is a big part of Princess Buttercup's motivation and I've never been stingy when it comes to the carrot coins:

With the rubber feed tubs, it was a very similar process.  I let her see them, I let her see me handle them, I let her smell them, I touched her gently with them.  Then I spaced them out on the ground and asked her to walk around them.

She said no.
So we spent a bit of time on the lead rope working up to figure 8s around them and, after a bit of locked legs and wild head swinging, she actually did it.  This photo is just after I took her lead rope off.
She's a smarty, this one:
We celebrated with...can you guess?

Butt scratches:


Thursday, March 19, 2015

A Lap Donkey

Today will be Buttercup's 13th day with me.

I have been in awe since the day she arrived.  Not only is she incredibly pretty, she is smart, brave, and, for the most part, eager to please.  She is also very loving and seems to need a great deal of physical affection, especially when things worry or concern her.  She will come to me almost immediately after something has startled her and position herself for either a butt scratch or a hug.

And she really does like hugs... the kind where I stand next to her and she puts her head under my armpit or I put one arm over her neck and my other arm under her neck and hug her tightly.  We sometimes stand like this for minutes at a time:

However, it's the butt scratches that bring the ultimate comfort for Buttercup.
I have a stool that I like to put in the corral at times when I want to sit and talk with her.  A few days back, we had a ferocious windstorm which unnerved all the animals, poor Buttercup in particular.  I sat on my stool to keep her company while it blew around us and then watched as she slowly backed into me for butt scratches.  Nothing new there; we'd done this many times before. The funny thing was, she didn't stop backing up once she got to my hands.  She kept on going and wound up - literally - sitting on my lap:

I had to pull the stool out from behind me in order to be able to get up.
In her mind, this was the perfect place to wait out the windstorm.

This girl simultaneously makes me laugh and melts my heart.


Sunday, March 15, 2015

Party in the Round Pen


Here it is.  Like it's always been here.  A beautiful new round pen...that I will from here out refer to as the corral because it is no where close to being round and "hexagonal pen" just doesn't roll off the tongue.

Stop me if I bore you, but it fit in this spot like a glove.  This is a big deal because we have undertaken a number of home and property projects in the last few months that have been anything but straightforward and simple, and it just felt so good to have something be so...well...simple:


And despite the corral being attached to the front of my barn, I got a nifty gate panel that still allows me easy access into the barn:

We are creatures of routine here on Critter Farm and even the smallest change to environment or schedule makes a big impact.  So the addition on Wednesday of this new corral  - in Kai llama's mind, additional square footage needing protection - was a very exciting event for everyone.

Upon entry, Kai immediately explored every inch of the new space to make sure all was in order and safe (girlfriend needs a haircut, don't you think?):

Chester, who thinks he's quite funny and is also very clever with gates, thought it would be a hoot to shut Beau in the barn.  So, with a mere swing of his head:

Bam. There stood Beau. always the butt of Chet's jokes.

After that, a lot of time was spent just going in and out.  You know, because they could.
Chester went in:

and Chester came out:

Then they all went in:

And...they all came back out.
Chester wanted to bring his friend, the hose, with him, but I said no:

This corral will be a perfect place to work with my visiting BLM burro, Buttercup, on her socialization skills.  Imagine Chester and Beau's surprise when they realized the new corral wasn't a special gift just for them:

When it was her turn to come out, Buttercup was just as thrilled with the new corral and pretty much pranced her way into the party pen:

This little girl has brought such spirit to our farm:

Every day just sparkles now:


Thursday, March 12, 2015

Today was a good day


Gah, would you just look at those faces.  That's sweet Buttercup on the left and Kai llama on the right. Today is Day 5 of having Buttercup with us and everyone seems to be settling in and, finally, settling down.

Beau had some interesting behavioral changes since Buttercup's arrival and I'd been anxiously waiting for these to pass.   My normally sweet, docile, slow-moving Beau started pawing and digging:

lunging:

and biting:

...whenever Buttercup so much as approached the gate.  Buttercup, smart girl that she is, learned quickly to position herself just out of his reach and he was never able to make contact.

Thankfully, today was much, much better.  Carrot coins are a universal symbol of peace, did you know this?:

At least they are to these critters:

Have you ever sat on the fence about something, then finally do it, only to wonder why in the world it took you so long to do it?  This has happened to me.  See this space, here in front of my giant barn door?:

After many weeks of measuring and planning and trying to talk myself out of it, yesterday, I had four 12' round pen panels delivered:

(Only four of those panels on that truck are mine, I swear!) And they are practically perfect in every way.  Portable, too, so I can easily move them when we need big barn door access.  Tomorrow I'll show you just how perfect a space this is for my critters now, too.
Why in the WORLD did I wait seven years to do this?! :-)



Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Introducing (Princess) Buttercup


It has been a very busy last few days here on Critter Farm!  On Saturday, we drove out to bring BLM Burro #5918 home:

She is definitely not as wild as I had anticipated.  This little girl haltered up and trailer loaded with very little complaint - and required only a bit of feed-bag waving by my friend Heather for momentum:

Her paperwork tells us she was born in a BLM corral in California, where she had some - but limited - contact with people.  She seems to handle new situations with cautious curiosity:

Can you imagine walking by this crowd?  Yet she handled it with the utmost grace:

Stopping briefly to introduce herself:

...before continuing on to her room stall:

It seemed fitting to remove her BLM number tag the moment she was safely home:

Her eye contact is intense, to say the least.  She seems to always have something she wants to tell me:

On Sunday, she received her new name - purely by chance.  What began as a panicky phone call to my friend, Carson at The 7MSN Ranch, to discuss herd dynamics and aggression, ended as a discussion on the difficulty I was having choosing a name for my visiting burro.
Carson, in her most matter of fact voice said to me, "Do you know what name I thought of for her when I saw that very first picture of her?"
"Tell me," I pleaded.
"Buttercup, Princess Buttercup, from the Princess Bride," Carson responded.
The moment she said it, I knew it was absolutely the right name.
And not only does the name fit her to a "t", when I played Buttercup the theme song from the movie, she was enthralled:
If that's not a sign, I don't know what is.