Preparation – it’s a wonderful thing. All winter long “I need goats!” has been my call to bring the goats back into their pens. “I need goats!” means food awaits. Come fast!
Yesterday “I need goats!” was put to a new test. We took our little herd of seven goats – Trixie and her triplets and Thanzi and her twins – into the indoor. I put Thanzi on a lead and had her follow a food-in-a-cup target stick. She boldly – or perhaps I should say greedily – led the way. Trixie held back but couldn’t resist when all the babies started surging through the outer gate of the Goat Palace. We had the side door of the arena open so it was a short walk into the arena.
I had put a bucket down with some grain in it. Thanzi made a bee line for it which helped draw all the others in.
We got everyone inside, closed the gate, turned Thanzi loose and stood back to watch the fun. At first they packed closely together. Thanzi led them on a survey of the arena. We’d set out some mats for the youngsters to climb over, but Thanzi and Trixie needed to check out the arena.
I left them alone for a bit. When they had made the full circuit of the arena and they were back by the gate, I wandered out into the center of the arena.
“I need goats!” It was Thanzi who picked up her head first. She turned and trotted straight towards me bringing a stream of goats with her.
At first Trixie was too worried to come all the way to me. I clicked and treated Thanzi then turned and walked away from the group.
“I need goats!” They streamed towards me again. Trixie was becoming braver. Thanzi was always the first one to reach me, but now Trixie was coming up to get her treat. When I turned to leave them, they followed behind me. And when I called, they all came running and clustered around me while the two does got their treats.
When I’m trying to teach a horse to be okay riding out by himself, there are times when I wish we hadn’t domesticated such a social animal, but watching as these goats came running towards me all as a group, I could definitely see the benefits of a herd species.
I could also see the benefits of a little preparation. Without the connection that had been well established, Thanzi and Trixie might have spent their time in the arena keeping their babies as far away from me as possible. Training – it’s a wonderful thing!
We saw another benefit of training when we brought the boys into the arena. We set the mats out in a line at a distance from the mounting block. The three of them would run to the mounting block, turn and race back to their mats. When we first brought the three goats into the arena together, there was a lot of sparring. Pellias and Elyan would drive Galahad away. He was interfering with their play. He was on the wrong mat – theirs, which ever one that was. And he might just get one of their treats.
Now there was no head butting. Not between Elyan and Pellias and not between the two of them and Galahad. Even when they crossed paths, they just kept going without needing to spar.
Training it’s a wonderful thing!
This past weekend I gave a clinic at Cindy Martin’s farm. We worked with her yearling mule. Rosie’s mom is a draft cross and her dad is a mammoth donkey, so Rosie is definitely not petite. What she is is wonderfully endearing. She is so very sweet. And so wonderfully well mannered. We played an early version of Panda catch with her. All the participants stood in a circle around her. Each person had a target. One by one they held the target up and invited Rosie to approach.
To keep things safe with so many people around her Rosie was on a lead. Cindy handled her at first. As the target was offered, Rosie walked confidently up to each person, ears forward, totally relaxed. This was a completely new set up for her, but she had no worries about approaching people she didn’t know. After getting her treat, Cindy asked her to back up. At first, she was sticky. Why leave? As she caught onto the pattern, it was easier to ask her to back up. Backing led to another opportunity to go to a target.
It’s a great lesson for teaching emotional balance. Yes, you want to go to the target and the treats, but backing also produces lots of goodies, so leaving the person is okay.
The next day when we repeated the lesson, Rosie was eager to play. Cindy started her, but I couldn’t resist having a play. Rosie didn’t know me, but she was very accepting of a new handler. She very quickly became super light. A touch on the lead was all that was needed to initiate backing. We’d back to the center of the circle, then Rosie would put those wonderful mule ears forward and off we’d go to the next target.
I directed people to shift their position on the circle. Through a series of small weight shifts I asked Rosie to yield her hips. That lined her up with the next person on the circle. Each one of those weight shifts was clicked and treated so for Rosie a serious lesson remained a playful game. Softening her neck and stepping under behind will let her handler interrupt her should she want to head off in a direction other than the one indicated. It also lays the ground work for lateral work.
She was such a delight to work with. Preparation! It’s a wonderful thing.
That’s what Rosie and the goats were showing us. Training usually feels as though you aren’t doing much of anything. You’re teaching your young mule foal to follow a target. You’re calling your goats in from a play session. Little things add up. It isn’t just that you now have an animal that stays with you and responds to your cues. What really stood out for me with all three of these groups – the does and their babies, Pellias, Elyan and Galahad, and now Rosie – was how solid they were emotionally. Because of the training, they were able to handle changes in their environment. The does became much more confident in the arena. Their babies switched from being worried to being playful. The boys could play without fighting, and Rosie could be a superstar learner.
Training. It’s a wonderful thing. Don’t leave home without it!