Aren’t they stubborn?
The most commonly asked question about donkeys is of course, “Aren’t they ornery and stubborn?”
The ANSWER is “No”
What would you think about a foal that doesn’t ﬂee from the long whip the ﬁrst time you tap him? How about a foal that when confronted with new objects, stands perfectly still until he/she deems the object benign? How about a foal that will remember his/her lesson despite a ‘vacation’ of a month or more? Would you be impressed with his common sense and intelligence? This is the donkey foal.
Donkeys are not horses, they are donkeys. Their inherent reactions to stimuli are very much different than the horse. They have similar physical characteristics, but their psychological make-up is quite different.
You would never make the assumption that your horse training skills will work on an elephant, would you? This assumption has let many horse people with a bad taste in their mouth. They simply dismiss the bad experience to the donkey being stupid and/or stubborn when in fact the donkey is a thinking animal.
Let’s break down some basic training differences. Donkeys have a very strong sense of self-preservation. If they are concerned about their safety they will stop and evaluate. They are also very suspicious of changes in footing. Donkeys do not have a very strong ﬂight reﬂex. If a donkey is uncertain of what is expected of them, they will freeze. If you decide to force them to perform by using a whip, they will then perceive the situation as dangerous and will become absolutely immovable. This all stems back to their basic instinct to stand fast and evaluate.
Donkey have a peculiar behavior. . . ..they will push into pressure. It is thought this comes from life on the narrow paths amongst cliffs. A boulder pushing out into the trail requires the donkey to push against the rock as he passes by. To teach a donkey to move away from your leg, you simply have to ask for the behavior as you turn his head, causing the body to swing away from the leg or stimulus, then praise. A well-trained donkey is able to perform leg yields under saddle and even side pass, just like a horse.
On the other hand, if you do something that upsets the donkeys. . .beat them for not moving, physically force them into a painful situation, or inﬂict any type pain, that donkey may never work for you again.
Donkeys develop very strong emotional bonds. The ﬁrst step to training a donkey is simply letting the donkey decide for itself that the handler is a trustworthy person!
People who have never trained, or even ridden a horse before, have trained wonderful trail donkeys! Once a donkey feels comfortable with you, it will go where ever you lead.