Abby Learns To Drive

The contents of this page for 'Abby Learns To Drive' will be under construction for a while. It is more of a training journal/blog then a webpage.

Abby is our (approx) 10 year old Large Standard Donkey. I have wanted to teach Abby to drive (pull a cart that is, not take the truck to town) for sometime. Sometime is here.

Abby is a wonderful animal and if I could find ten more just like her, I would bring them home in a heartbeat! We ride Abby bareback, with a saddle pad and or a really nice Aussie Saddle from that I just love! As far as a headset, we use either reins snapped to her halter or better yet a Bitless Bridle from Dr. Cook's Abby also does a few tricks, packs and is just a delight to have around the place.

So for years, six as of October to be exact, I have owned a cob sized pony cart. I have used it for the llamas, but now it is time for an equine to pull it again. I do not, at this point (9/11/09) own a harness for Abby. She will need a cob sized, but once we get going, we will make that investment.

A Donkey Owner/Trainer eFriend of mine, Tonya in CO, always quotes "You tell a Horse, You ask a Mule, You negotiate with a Donkey" I am not sure if it is her own saying or she heard it somewhere, but I have found it to be true.

Using the Correct Terms When Teaching An Animal To Drive

Any time a new person decides to teach an animal to drive they seem to ask questions on is why do you say "Gee and or "Haw" to teach the animal to turn right and left? Why not just use "Right" and "Left"? "Right" and "Left" are used in our every day language. "Gee" and "Haw" are not. We, who speak English, use the word "Right"often. Not only for the side or direction, but instead of the word "Correct". "Left" can be a side, direction or an item that is still behind. Using "Gee" and "Haw" also gives the appearance of professionalism when driving. Not only with equine but also with sled dogs, llamas, goats, and well the list goes on. So while you are certainly able to teach any word, using "Gee" and "Haw" are the correct way to teach and for a reason. Another example of confusion is "Gee Over", meaning for the animals to move to the Right Side of the trail. If you said "Right Over" in a conversation, like with a rider in your cart telling them a certain tree is "Right Over There", the animals could and would become confused. Or <grin and a wink> If you were telling someone in your cart that for lunch you were going to have "Left Overs", your animal might move to the left side of the road or trail. So using "Gee" and "Haw" makes it very clear to the animal what you are asking. And now you say to me that the word "Gee" is used, like with "Whiz". I will ask you, how often do you actually say the word "Gee" in conversation?

November 9, 2009
I went out and dug in the tack. I found the surcingle, a breast collar and a roll of nylon webbing. Deron and I went out with the roll or webbing, scissors, a lighter and a couple of snaps, and like good 'Red Necks' moved Abby over to the cart and the cart next to Abby and "measured it all up" and cut a set of ground driving reins at approx 18'.

Abby is such a good girl, she just stood there (as she always does when being tacked up) and let us adjust and further adjust and pull and check and work on the lines and snaps, and buckles and all. We hooked the reins to each side of her halter and off we went... Deron with her on the lead rope and I with a rein in each hand and a driving whip in my hand and it all seems so odd to me. I do not usually carry a whip. But it all went very well and Abby never missed a turn or a stop or a command. We did not go far, or work her long. We more then anything just wanted to check our "tack" and see how she would do. I think all will pass for what we need for a while and Abby will learn just fine.

November 10, 2009
One hour....with gathering items and grooming before and after, one hour. Abby is a blast. I know that after I tacked her up she knew what I wanted her to do, but just stood problem, Deron helped me with a lead rope for a short time and then took it off and walked beside her. She is doing really well on all the verbal commands too. She knows "whoa", "step up", "stand" and is working on or learning "gee" (pronounced G, rhymes with bee, means right) and "haw" (means left)...and, knowing Abby, some of the four letter words that might be coming out of my mouth, she is probably learning those too.

Today I reworked a leather English Breast Collar rather then the webbing one I used yesterday. I will probably do some cutting and stitching on it soon. Otherwise, the make do tack is working very well for training.

Abby Ground Driving

November 11, 2009
Well, at least one of us (Abby) kept their sense of humor. Our ground driving went pretty well. Deron did have to help a bit, but I did work her on my own, or tried, it did not go too badly.... I ground drove for about 20 minutes or more.

I have figured it out. The time it takes to ground drive is not really for the animal, the animals seem to get it pretty quick...the time it takes, the time on foot behind the donkey and or other animals, is really for the driver to learn to handle the reins, the whip, the verbal commands, the mannerisms of the one being trained, not forgetting to praise the animal as it does well, and all of this done at once.

And so together, I think, I am pretty sure, that we are learning this art of ground driving, that maybe, just maybe, we will one day take to cart and it will all come easily.

Boy, I did not relies that ground driving and treats in your pockets could add so much weight to a person's photo. I guess I need to start dressing up to train horses and donkeys with the camera going off and all. <grin>

November 12, 2009
After yesterdays training photos I noticed several, Abby needed her hooves trimmed badly and <said like Eeyore> she and I need to loose more then just 10 pounds.

While when training the fillies today (three of them), I fell off a trailer..the plan was for me to step up (approx 28" or more) and stand there as Tonna, a filly, was lead by. She would not only see me up there in riding area, but I would lean on her. Did I fall leaning? No. I hate to say it but somehow my boot slipped as I was stepping up and I got hurt pretty badly. While we did get the training in on Tonna and it went very well, I was/am hurt, ground training would have been painful.

My helper, also on a schedule, needed to get to other things, so it was trim or ground drive.

Abby, today, for her training session I just lead her on lead a bit with "backs" and such included. I have to say, Deron and I both were surprised that she was less then well behaved for the hoof the past she has always been very good about it. Tomorrow, Abby's front hooves and Tonna's back hooves are on the schedule.

November 16, 2009
Today my helper (husband Deron) trimmed Abby's front hooves...and after all times we have trimmed her in the past, after all the times she stood like such a good girl, as with the back hooves, she was not so good. <the brat LOL>

I worked Abby (as well as the three fillies) on lead a bit. Had her 'back', 'spin' both directions, 'step up' and such. After a good grooming, we called it a day. I am still injured and my helper's work load has not slowed down (he has limited time).

November 18, 2009
It went well today...did my wrist hurt a bit, no. <"yes", she whimpers> Did my boots hurt my poor bruised and sore healing leg? No <"Oh yes!", she whines> So out to ground work Abby I went. I am so glad I did!

I am swelling with pride at my little donkey. While we ground drove Abby, I had my helper (my loving and wonderful husband) take hold of the pony cart in his right hand while he held Abby's lead in his right hand while I ground drove her with long reins behind...she 'gees' and 'haws' and 'backs' and 'whoas' and 'step ups' and 'stands' and did not make one mistake. The cart, being drug along, did not phase her AT ALL! I know I have a long way to go before hooking up, but after today, it sure makes training more fun, more encouraging.........

November 19, 2009
Deron told me last night to go ahead and order a driving harness for Abby. He reminded me that this is not a want, but will be used to get to the mailbox (6.4 miles from our home) if the weather gets bad and we need to haul items in. Many times, toooooo many times, after a blizzard or a heavy snow, Deron has walked, hiked, or whatever you want to call trenching through snow 13 miles (there and back) to get to the highway when supplies were needed. He pulled the Otter Sled full of supplies back (and it is mostly uphill coming back) more then once...bless his heart!

I have to say after Abby's training today...I AM SO READY!! She did wonderful. I took her solo and ground drove her for about 20 minutes. This is good for both of us for exercise, I have noticed she is getting so fat, she is starting to get sway backed, not good. Then I looked in the mirror and figured we both need to lengthen our ground training sessions. As far as treats, she let me know that the "cake" (it is like a great big pellet of horse food, very common horse food here in NW SD) that she gets for meals, is not a training treat. Now the peanuts and the mint treats, she will except as treats...the brat! But you know....she is worth it. I am also starting to think about what color I will paint the pony cart.

November 20, 2009
Marna & Abby with the cart Abby Training Abby Training Abby Cart Fittiing

Great training day. I got Abby groomed and tacked up and walked, leading her, over to the pony cart and I picked up the cart with my right hand and lead Abby with my left....she was fine with it all.

Deron made a wonderful training tool today, I saw a photo of one in a Horse Equipment/Tack Catalog, it is a U shaped shaft training devise. The one he made today is a bit too big, so we will use it for the horses, later in their training, and he will make Abby a new one (I hope soon). It is called a Shaft Trainer.

We did more desensitizing with the cart and Shaft Trainer then ground training today. We had her back into the cart shafts quite a few times. Then I would pull the sides up to where they would be if she were pulling it. Then we would have her walk out whoaing/stopping her at different areas, sometimes still in the shafts, sometimes out of them. We moved her, walked/lead her, all around the cart and shaft trainer, we held the shaft trainer over Abby's head, all sorts of problems.

Indian, our three year old Paint Horse, came and watched and even got in our way while training Abby, and Indian watched and...we could barely get rid of her. LOL I guess that is good, that means she is not bothered by the items/equipment either. We would love to have a driving horse.

I am looking forward to the next session with Abby and thinking I will paint the cob sized pony cart turquoise. I am glad too, that we took some good photos today....but we are going to have to start "dressing up" to train. <grin>

November 22, 2009
Deron made Abby's Shaft Trainers today. I however, re injured my wrist, so no training today. Tomorrow (God willing), I will get the straps set up for the Shaft Trainer and hopefully "give them a spin".

Shaft Trainer Straps Shaft Trainer Straps Closeup Abby's Shaft Trainer

November 24, 2009
I have a wonderful husband, I really do. Not only did he make the Shaft Trainers for me, but today, stopped what he was doing to not only help me walk Abby in them, but to get a few photos too.

So, you can see from the photos what we put together. I got the idea from one of my more "elite" Horse Tack Catalogs. Here's what it says about the Shaft Trainers "Helps prevent injuries and damage to carts during training. Let your horse become accustomed to shafts before it ever sees a cart. Lightweight and easy to use, easily attached to surcingle or training harness. Assembly required. $5 additional shipping charge". The item costs $80 plus shipping and handling plus the "$5 additional shipping charge". Well, first of all, I do not have the $100 or more it would take to order this luxury item and second of all, we make most of all of our animal I showed Deron the photo.

Ours is cut to Abby's size (or what we wanted to use for her). It is approx. 73" x 33", made out of 2" PVC piping (you can buy at Hardware Stores) with 1" poly webbing straps approx. 27" long, on the female snap side, (before sewn); and the male snap side is approx. 46" long (before sewing). I always use a box stitch with an X using triple stitching on my animal equipment items. I did not use that however on the pole ends. The pole ends slip over the poles so that I can adjust them anywhere on the poles I would like to have them. The loops do not fit tight. I measured the webbing at 7", folded it over and stitched for the loop that slides over the poles on each of the four parts. <Deron made one that was too big for Abby so we will use it for the horses before toooooo long. These are cheap enough to make so that a trainer could have several sizes, having only one set of webbing straps to switch out if you chose to.>

Our Abby is a wonderful, patient and loving animal. When we put the Shaft Trainer on her she did not care a we walked her. Today, I only worked her a bit (yes, I am still injured) and without any of the other tack on her that I usually ground drive her with. Deron walked her on lead with me at her side with one hand lightly on the Shaft Trainer, that was just sitting on her back. I wanted to start her like that so that if there were a problem I could easily and quickly just lift slightly up and they would be off of her in a flash.

All went well. Abby walked right along (joined by a few dog and goat friends) with no problems at all. In fact, when we were finished, Abby insisted she could do more....and that's how I like to end a training session...on a good note with the animals hoping for more.

November 25, 2009
Our place is fenced but not cross fenced. For the third day in a row Abby has come to the front of the house and Heeeeee Haaaaawed for me to come out. A good sign, a very good sign.

Abby Measureing Up The Wagon

November 27, 2009
Training continues...wrist is a bit better.
I ground drove Abby today, just she and I, and it went really, really well. She is starting to respond to the verbal commands. She is doing very well at "stand". I took her, or drove her, over to the llama wagon, formally a pony wagon, to size it up (thinking how wonderful it would be to have another donkey just like Abby), backed her up to it, among other items on the ground there, and told her to "Stand". I walked over and took a couple of photos and Abby waited exactly where I left her. I should add that she backed in beautifully!

She is doing really well with the verbal commands "haw" and "whoa" (well, she does like to stop). "Back" still needs more then just a slight tug, but all of the other commands are only taking a very like halter cue. She is so smart. If I were doing as well as she is, we would hook up the cart and go to town. <jk> I might also add that the last "haw" she needed no halter cue....she turned on verbal command only....well, it was to the trailer where the session ends and the petting, and the patting and the grooming and big praises to/for her begins.

So? Looking at the photo, what do you think? Deron is thinking shafts, I am thinking a couple of miniature donkeys. <she winks>

November 29, 2009

Abby Bitless Bridle Headshot Marna & Abby ground driving

When a person is training an animal it is very important for the person to be consistency in training. Not just with how they are training, all the same cues, the same quick praise, the same equipment, and all, but also time spent. I have been told and read where a person should even train at the same time each day. I have trained animals now for over 45 years and have never really stuck to that rule, but above all else, I do try to be very consistent when it comes to time spent with the animal. We all have lives outside of training, jobs, families friends, other obligations and emergencies that come up. But we should try, when we start training and animal, to spend at least a few short minutes with the it if we can not spend the full amount of training time.

Spending at least 45 minutes daily with the animal will produce the training you are looking for faster then spending 10 minutes here, one hour there, and another 15 minutes here every couple of days or so. Many times, if not taught correctly, you will be teaching the same thing over and over and over, if you are not consistent as far as time spent daily. On the other hand, by going out and spending five hours with your animal, it will not teach it to do the task you are trying to teach it either. Animals, like people, need time to absorb the learning. Rest and remember, try again, rest and remember.

Training Journals are wonderful tools. Not only can you see how far you have come in the training of an animal, not only can you look back at your notes if you are having problems training an animal, but you can see how consistent you are or are not. You can see from my journal (here) that I have not been as consistent as I should be. Types of excuses do not matter when it comes to animal training.

Most Labrador Retrievers and Donkeys are forgiving when it comes to training. All animals will all learn more, learn faster, and preform better with everyday consistent training, but some animals will take up where you left off while some will loose all information they have been given if not worked with daily. And you can not say "Well, it is a donkey and they are smart enough to know where we left off..." Any person and or animal that is not worked on a daily basis will loose the "detail work". The little things you do not think about. How to stand just right, the verbal commands, the hand cues, the details. The trainer may also forget the cues given to this particular animal without consistent training.

When training donkeys, since they can be bored very easily, a person needs to also keep the donkey interested. One way is to change the course you are working on, add puddles, give a treat now and again and never at the same time or for the same thing, add little things each training session. Keep them wondering. If you take a donkey and have it go round and round and round and round in the same arena or round pen, it will not learn much, because it will tune you out for boredom. So you need to consistently add or change or continue to keep training interesting for the animal.

Today I used Abby's Dr. Cook's Bitless Bridle while training. It was the first time I used it in ground training. My problem was that I have the reins knotted at the snap and the knots were hitting the surcingle when we turned, I believe it was confusing Abby....and it was windy, very windy. (We had trouble with Tonna, a filly we are training, today too.) Don't you just love Abby's fuzzy winter face?!

When we finished our ground driving session and walked back to the horse trailer, I did not have to tell Abby to "swing out" (lining her up at a head on to the trailer position), she just got there and as I walked in she "swung out". I got a kick out of her doing that....and can see she is learning much during our sessions.

After she was groomed and I came back to the house, she came over to see if I "wanted to do anything else today". I love it when my animals ask (in their own language) for more.

November 30, 2009
When the weather is bad, when you are tired, when you would rather go to town for a bite to eat, or to see friends or...
A few ways to motivate yourself to continue your daily ground driving of your animals, the "you know you have to get those miles and or training on them before hooking up that cart or wagon to them, but you just don't feel like it times"
1. Think of all the fun you will have once this animal is trained and you are out driving it rather then walking behind it.
2. Think of how far you have come, how well the animal is responding to not only your commands and the equipment you are using, but how much fun the animal is having with all the attention centered on it.
3. When the weather is cold think of how fun and KOOOOL it will be to use a sleigh on the snow with this animal you are training. When the weather is hot think of the coming fall equine shows you can enter. When it is muddy think of the puddle training opportunities. When it is windy think of how much training could be done on a windy day.
4. Think of the exercise you are getting for yourself and the animal is getting to boot.
5. Keep a Journal and read it from time to time to remind yourself of the great job the animal is doing and areas you might improve your training.
6. Have someone take photos, they are great to look at for motivation of continuing on with the animal.
7. Dress up one day and as you train have a helper take a bunch of photos.
8. Think of all the money and all the time you have already invested, and you sure don't want to have to start over with the same animal.
9. Have a training carrot of your own, such as a new pair of boots when this animal is "put to cart". Or a new driving outfit when the carting is going well enough to show off at a horse show or other horse event.
10. Do something different now and again. Go for a ride rather then ground training using the same verbal commands from the saddle you have been using during ground training. Work on having the animal stand longer, just "whoa" and "stand".
11. Think of the parades and shows you will be able to enter, or to enter doing something new and fun.

Gate Training - Open Gate Training - Closed

Deron and I live in a "Gated Community"...well, not really community, unless you call the animals our community (I guess I do). There are six gates between us and our mailbox (6.4 miles away) and five of those are approx 20' barbed wire, heavy strung gates, with wire loops at the top and bottom of the "closing poles". Not easy gates to open and or to close. Our own gate is a swinging pipe gate. So gate training here and gate training for a cart rather then from horse back is going to be a different type of training.

I learned many years ago that animal training is done in little broken down baby steps and one step at a time. So today Abby's training was...

Just on a lead I took Abby up to the gate, our gate, and had her "stand". Stand while I walked all around, while I opened the gate, while I shut the gate, while I rattled the gate, while I walked around. Each time she moved I put her right back, exactly, where she had been standing. Each time I finished a "stand" command, as in went to the gate and opened it, walked around to the rear of Abby and then came to the front, she received much verbal praise, petting and of course, now and again a treat....more then I normally give, but I wanted to make the point. Abby did quite well. Once she followed me to the gate, a few times she would take a step or two, but for the most part, wonderful.

That was it, then back to the horse trailer for more verbal praise, grooming and a treat or two.....I will let her think about today's lesson and perhaps tomorrow do the same thing only tack her up and ground drive her up there.

December 1, 2009
I just can not believe that it is December 2009! It makes me realize how fast time flies and the need to continue training. That said, we went to town today. Town is 50 miles one way and a day's trip for us. We have been without a vehicle for over 8 weeks (last one died, Deron had to put a new engine in the Chevy Truck) and it felt good to be out and in our own vehicle again. I did not forget Abby and bought a couple of small snaps for the ground driving reins I have been using so that I can sew them on and perhaps the Dr. Cook's Bitless Bridle will be a bit easier to use with the surcingle....we shall see. I did also look at 4 1/2" bits.....

When we were coming home, when we turned the corner and the animals could see the truck coming, Abby came a running.....must have thought we either brought her something and or that it might be time to train. God Love That Donkey!!!

I should add that the next few days will be rough......VERY COLD and HIGH WINDS. High winds here means straight on winds at 55 MPH or more.

December 12, 2009

Abby in her new hat

It has been very cold and very windy (windchills below 0 degrees). Deron finished working on the truck and we have also been making trips to town to get restocked up on supplies (truck was down for 8 1/2 weeks, engine and other major repairs). So training has not been happening....yeah, even after my own notes about how important it is to continue....humans, ey?

But as I swept the floor today I realized how important it is to get back out there with Abby. When I told Deron to "step up" when sweeping his way to get him to move......... but like Deron said "That's nothing new. We tell each other to "gee" and "haw" and "on by" all the time. We met as sled dog racers and these are the terms used.

But as you can see from the photo Abby has had "hands on" training....yes, I am making her a new hat. It is all but finished now, pom poms are on, strap is finished, all it needs is a button and a new photo taken.

December 25, 2009

Book - Carriage Driving

In the mist of a white out blizzard (that went on for two days, over 48 hours) Deron presented me with the book "Carriage Driving" A Logical Approach Through Dressage Training by Heiki Bean and Sarah Blanchard for Christmas. I have thumbed through it and it looks like great reading, love the detailed photos, I hope to sit down with this book very soon. It is a nice addition to my library of driving training and other training books I already have collected.

It has been very cold, well below zero and we have had two blizzards already this winter. I have not been working Abby in this weather.

December 29, 2009

Sled Traces

Today was a bit warmer, 16 degrees was the high, so I was going to work Abby. I got the animals fed, Deron watered. We moved some rabbits and then took a short break. Deron fixed lunch....when we headed back out the temperature had dropped and so I decided I better get up and at it sooner tomorrow.

I went out to the trailer and got out some 1" webbing for my "big idea". I set the webbing up so that the Dog Sled can hook to it, the webbing will snap into the surcingle easily and we will give pulling it a try.

December 30, 2009


Deron & Abby Deron & Abby with the sled Deron & Abby with the sled

Deron & Abby with the sled Deron & Abby with the sled Deron & Abby with the sled

Deron & Abby with the sled Marna & Abby with the sled Marna & Abby with the sled

Marna & Abby with the sled Marna & Abby with the sled

Man, my little donkey is fun, smart, cute and just about perfect. Today we took a ride. Today Deron drove Abby for the first time. She did wonderful, he did well. Donkey commands are just a little bit different then dog sled commands, not much, just a bit. I had to remind him to add the word "stand" after the "whoa".

Abby has lost weight (and that is a good thing) so we had to make some adjustments and as you can see from the photos, nothing is as recommended....but we had a ball! Abby had fun! And we kept it safe and shorter then we would have like to.

Abby cared about the dog sled for about 15 seconds, then, as I pulled it around her as Deron drove her, she was just fine with it. When we hooked it all up, she pulled right off, no problems, no jerking, just pulled right off. Who knows? Maybe someone before we got her, drove her. She grins at me all the time when we train, so it could be. Ground driving is still a good idea for the person to learn too, so even if she had been driven before, it is good for Deron and I.

You can see from the photos the fun we had!

I must also add that Abby sure enjoys those good Apple Horse Treats that Deron bought she and the horses/llamas/goats/rabbits for Christmas. She loves all the attention and the long grooming sessions, and the praise and pats and petting, and for sure the treats she gets while "working".

Yeah, we took a lot of was a big day for us and Abby is so cute!

December 31, 2009
I ordered a harness for Abby last night, got the conformation and shipping number today. <she smiles!>

We went to town today and while I waited for Deron to fill the truck with gas and fill the water barrels with water I read my new Carriage Driving book. I am anxious to get back out and drive Abby again. (today's high 12 degrees Fahrenheit with some snow)

January 2, 2010
And I can not believe the date! Wow, time flies faster and faster. The older I get and the more I have to do, the faster it goes!

I have not been out in the weather to train, yesterday feeding was just miserable. It has been below 0 degrees here daily and just feeding, watering and caring for the animals is about all the cold I care for. (Yes, yes, when I drove sled dogs I could not wait for the cold and the snow and the winter. Here in NW SD it is different and I am older. I no longer care to be out in the winter cold and wind.)

I have been studying up on harnesses and harness fits and reading up on driving much so I am about ready to start my filly Tonna with ground driving, but I hate to start now, in this weather.

I am also on a quest for Wheel Chair Wheels.....I was told by a reliable donkey owner that bicycle wheels were not made to carry the kind of weight the way a pony/donkey cart is set up, nor were most made for adult sized people, but for kid's weight. She said she knows of someone who's cart wheels, when using bicycle wheels that could be very dangerous in so many ways! I do have pony cart wheels on my cart, they are made with many more spokes then bike tires. However, I will continue to look for those Wheel Chair Wheels for my Shetland sized cart and possibly for the Cob sized cart.

January 3, 2010
I should have known....when Deron told me it was warmer out, I thought it would be "warmer". When I asked him if I needed my scarf and he shook his head up and down and mumbled something....I should have know. When I walked out the door and my nose hairs froze before I was off the porch, I should have known. I did not sleep much last night and have not felt too well all day, I should have known. But I ignored it all and went and got Abby. By the time she was groomed (a short session today) five of my fingers were not bending and hurt. I should have stopped there, but no, I went on... I picked up the reins and off we went, headed toward the area the dog sled is in. I got about half way there and should have stopped, two of my fingers were so painful I remembered that I do not like winter anymore. Deron was in the dog yard and bless his heart, why he did not pack and leave me after the response he got after I barked at him that it is NOT warmer out and that I hate winter any more and that my &%#$ fingers were going to fall off... all he was going to do was take the reins and play, I had to bark at him that I COULD HANDLE IT! God Love Him and yes, I did apologize. He walked away, I went the other way with Abby dropping one rein with her grinning as she kept walking in a circle (no I was not pulling the other rein, it was slack) as she kept it just out of my reach in the cold snow and my non working fingers reaching for it. At that point I wanted to......... but I did not. I simply went a bit further, stopped her, on a good note, took all the tack off right there, told her she was a very good girl, gave her a pet and walked away. Sometimes it is better to just walk away. After coming in it took about 20 minutes for my fingers to thaw.....yes, it is cold here in NW SD and my husband was is NOT warmer.

(ps. My husband just read this and with pointed finger, and a grin, told me what he said, "I said it was warmer then yesterday".)

January 5, 2010
Outside Our Window
12 degrees Fahrenheit and dropping.

Yesterday we went to town, today we are getting ready for a Blizzard headed our way this afternoon and lasting through Thursday night. No training for a few day.

Last night while unloading the truck, Deron was watering the animals, I took out a (human) sugar cookie for Abby. She was just walking off from her drink and she turned to look at me when I called. She stood there, about 15' from me, as if I was going to bring it to her <the devil>, while I waited for her to come to me. After a moment I called her name again and she did come (well, the cookie and all). This too is good training, IMO, Deron and I are blessed with horses and goats and other animals that come when we call. There is little more frustrating then waiting for a riding buddy to chase their horse/animal for 45 minutes while you wait on your already saddled mount to go riding. Training your equine to come to you is a wonderful and fulfilling thing. This is especially true when you need your mount in a hurry. Ours usually come to see what we are doing any time we are outdoors and in fact follow us around...they also look in the house windows at us (especially if we are late to come out and feed). Many times they just hang around outside the windows were we are working.

This photo was taken out of our bathroom window Summer of 2009. WindWalker, our black horse is the main horse in the photo, that is Missy's rear and Arrow's ear. Note the donkey print curtains. <she grins>

January 6, 2010


It's winter in South Dakota
And the gentle breezes blow
Seventy miles an hour
At thirty-five below.

Oh, how I love South Dakota?
When the snow's up to your butt
You take a breath of winter
And your nose gets frozen shut. ?

Yes, the weather here is wonderful
So I guess I'll hang around
I could never leave South Dakota
I'm frozen to the ground!

author unknown

Deron & Venus in the drift Digging Crew Hole in the drift

January 8, 2010

My sweet husband came in today and told me he dug out the "black tub". The black tub is our Otter Sled. We plan to use it for Abby to pull. We have some friends in WI that made a really, really cute and functional "sleigh" with their Otter Sled. The added removable shafts to the sides, a seat across the top and off they went with their pony for miles and miles and miles (of course not all those miles in one day).

Deron uses the Black Tub to bring in supplies when we are stuck her in the winter snow. Usually he pulls it behind the ATV, but has indeed pulled it himself when the snow was too deep for the ATV or the ground was too muddy. God Love Him! So, yes, plan to add shafts and a seat also.

When I said Deron dug out the black tub, or Otter Sled, he had to DIG! It was over by the far end water trofts and under a tall drift of blizzard snow. He also had a bit of help from his puppy, Venus (who has her own page at ) and of course our farm dog Raya (who happens to have her own page at (not that all of our dogs have their own pages) so when we took the photo, we wanted the helping dogs shown in it too.

It looks, in the photos, as if it could have been standing up in that was down flat and was being used for watering animals. He really had to dig.

Today's high -2 below...yes, still very, very cold. We were going to go to town today and the truck would not start.

January 10, 2010

Well, the weather is a bit warmer, so Deron went and got the Dog Sled and I went and groomed Abby and tacked her up. I even walked out the door to train Abby with Bull Riding on the TV...and I love to watch it!

My, or I should say, Abby's, harness would probably have been here if it weren't for the blizzards we had here in SD, they closed the highways twice and once for over 36 hours. It should be here before tooooo long, or that is what I keep telling myself.

WHAT FUN WE HAD WITH ABBY TODAY! We did a few new things, a few fun things and Abby had a few things to try of her own....<devil>

This is the first time I have taken Abby outside the gate without horses, without riding her, and the first time through the gate her pulling. She stood pretty well at the gate going out, but coming in was another story. All in all she learned (or we sure hope she is learning) that when she is told something, she has to do that, not do what she might have in mind.

We went up and out across the prairie to the neighboring gate approx 1 1/4 mile. Deron and I took turns driving her as well as riding on the back of the sled. She even trotted for a short time, of course on the way home. At one point, and this was a blast, Deron drove and I rode in the sled as he was on the back of the sled driving.

All in all a good time. We did have a bit of trouble keeping Abby going out. Raya went with us, Raya, our farm dog, and was eager to help, but we did not let her help, at Abby's heals (this time anyway <she grins an evil grin>).

post script: Deron has not been able to start the truck or ATV. When you are in a blizzard snow is being pelted sideways into everything. The truck engine has snow sitting in it, packed in between everything. The AVT has the same type of problems. It has been so cold you can not get the snow out....we have learned to park toward the sun so that when the sun comes back out, a person can open the hood and let the sun hit the packed snow and help heat up the engine...I am also buying a heat lamp. Anyway, so it is warmer today and Deron got the ATV going and went to the mailbox (6.4 miles from the house) in it was the slip that my harness is down at the post when we get the truck running again, hopefully tomorrow, we can pick it up.

Abby Harnessed Abby Harnessed Abby Harnessed Harness Helpers

January 11, 2010

I can not express with words how very excited I am to have a Donkey with a Harness that fits her and a Cart for her to well as the sled.

Yesterday when Deron went out the the mailbox we got the slip from the post office that our harness came for this morning Deron tried the truck and it would not start so he was just going to jump on the ATV and go to the mailbox to take my orders out to the mailbox. So he called the Post Office and asked if they could bring the box with them....yes, they sure could. So he goes out and guess what?......the ATV would not start. He worked and worked and worked with it. Remember, he just went out on it yesterday, finally it started, but our mailman comes at 10 and it was like 9:40 when he got it going. With the gates closed and the snow on the ground, it takes about 25 minutes to get across the prairie on a good day, luckily, the mailman was a bit late. The package came and the Harness looks really nice. For what I paid for it, it is deluxe!

The weather is warmer and we hope more snow melts. So...the two of us went out to try the harness on Abby. We were iffy, we did some adjusting and relooking at it, and a bit more adjusting and I have to say that I think this harness is very nice and will work just right for us. We just set up the harness, and walked Abby around a bit, that is all we did today. I just want Abby to think about it all. Today, for the best of my knowledge, is the first time Abby had a bit in her mouth....although, she did open her mouth right up for it. She is either a very good girl (and she really is), she did not care about the bit in her mouth or the crupper under her butt, and the blinders next to her eyes and the breaching around her butt, or she has indeed done all this before. Quite frankly, I am not sure which. The last photo shows only some of the animals that come over to see what all the fuss was about.

January 12, 2010


Training Out On The Prairie Abby & Marna

Today we (Deron and I) took Abby out in harness just to ground train, no sled. We took the same course as the other day and went just a little bit further. The ground is part dirt, part mud (gumbo mess), part soft snow and part snow is as hard as a rock. So ground driving was a bit tiring it a "good work out". This was the first time we ground drove Abby in her bit and harness and we also switched to the "carriage/driving whip" rather then the longer ended "training/lounging whip". I think all went very well. On the way out Abby thought she would like to go home, but with encouragement, she walked on.

Abby & Deron

Ground driving takes many miles, day after day walking behind the animal for many miles, it also takes much patience and a lot of time. It is great exercise for both the human and the animal. But it is surely not for wimps. My husband has been so very encouraging to me, he has come out and trained with me and that's great because he is such a great animal trainer. I am lucky to have him....because; I might be a wimp. I might not gone as far today if he had not gone with us (for sure not). So here's a public THANK YOU to Deron, my husband, for all the help and encouragement he has given this person that has become a winter training wimp.



Deron and I collect fossils. We find them out here on the prairie. I wish I had taken my trowel today <jk> because I found some pretty KOOOOL fossils while Deron was driving Abby and I was walking with them. These fossils just pop up out of the ground. An area you searched a month ago and found nothing, will have a handful sitting on top, or almost on top of the ground as you walk by on another day. You can not see these real well in the photo, but I am quite pleased.


January 13, 2010

Deron, Venus & Abby Deron, Venus & Abby Deron putting Venus down Marna & Venus in the sled

Today we hooked Abby up to the Dog Sled while she was wearing her new harness. All went really well, we did have to stop and adjust this and adjust that, and we will have to adjust the harness a bit more, but all in all, for what we were doing, it went pretty well.

We took Abby out on the flat area on the south side of our property. With the snow melt (thank you LORD!) and the mud and the muck, at some points she really had to work, and that is just what we wanted today. We did not go as far, we did not go fast, but Abby worked up, well, almost a sweat. We want to build Abby's muscles and stamina up so that if she is called on to really work, she is ready....and of course, I want her ready to pull the cart well this coming Spring.

Deron and I used to race sled dogs. We have a Siberian Husky pup that will be eight weeks old tomorrow. She had a lot of fun running along with us, walking with Raya, our farm dog, and riding on the sled today. When I set her back down after a ride on my lap in the basket, she turned around and tried to jump back up into the basket of the sled. LOL Yep, a real "sled dog".

January 15, 2010

Gumbo Gumbo Just A Little Mud

Toooooo muddy today. I think I have said before we live on what they call here "gumbo soil" it is sticky, nasty and you can not drive on it or really even walk on it. When you do walk on it, it gathers on your boots with each step and becomes very heavy. This is not training soil.

January 16, 2010

Porch Greeters

Abby comes to get me to train. This is our front porch. Our equine do come to see what we are doing, see if they might get a "hand out", or if Deron is late to feed, come to get him. On this day, it was far too muddy to train, so treats were handed out. Note our kitty in the photo too. Around here it is normal to take photos and find "extra" in them, our animals seem to be right with us all the time, just the way we love it, the reason we moved here.

January 17, 2010


Yes, I am serious. I love donkeys and would love to have another. I would love to have another Large Standard, but if a Standard Sized came along <she grins> it would fit into the Shetland Pony sized cart real well. Then Deron and I could have "Donkey Cart Races". (If I can find my Shetland Pony sized Harness that I thought I knew where it was). If a Mammoth Sized Donkey came along I would be quite thrilled, a large riding donkey that could be trained to pull too. A Miniature would be fun too, we could train it to drive. So I am not picky about size. I do need one that gets along with all types of animals. One that is healthy and that is halter trained. So if you know of a Donkey that needs a good home, contact us please.

January 19, 2010

Abby Pole Training Dreary Winter Day

Hoarfrost Marna, Abby & Venus Hoarfrost

Today was warm enough to train, yet the ground was still pretty frozen. We, Deron and I, took Abby out with the training shaft piece. Deron adjusted and readjusted until the training device sat still and in place. Abby is so tolerant it amazes me. We just ground drove with the training device and all went very well.

The other photos are of the "hoarfrost" that has been building up here in NW SD for a few days. We snapped them while out training Abby this afternoon. The fog has been thick in the mornings and at night and the moisture in the air makes it feel pretty cold here. Isn't the word "hoarfrost" kinda like "jumbo shrimp"????

January 22, 2010

Snowbound Carts

Well, it is back to winter here. It is cold and gloomy and we are under a "winter storm watch" until Monday (this is Friday). Snow, sleet, freezing rain, wind, hard fast blowing wind is expected. My carts are outdoors because we do not have the barn up yet. I hate leaving them out. The red pony cart was kept indoors, by me, for over 20 years waiting to have animals pull it.

Can't We Ride

This is what the carts look like when not under snow. I am looking forward to that short season between winters here in NW SD. I am looking forward to driving Abby (and the goats). But for now, we are hunkered down, and ready to be here awhile, ready for the cold and the snow and the...winter.

Abby in The Bitless Bridle by Dr. Cook

January 24, 2010

It has been very "winter" here in NW SD so I have not been working Abby with her cart/ground training. But I have been reading about driving training. Last night I was rereading my "driving folder". It is a folder I have that is full of printed out posts from elists as well as printed off website information for teaching your equine to drive. One of the things I came across was how to keep the driving bridle on a ponies small ears.....I thought I would just skip that chapter. <wink> Abby does NOT have small ears that a driving bridle would come off of. In fact Deron came up with a way to put the bridle on Abby that kinda swooooops Abby's ears into the bridle while putting the bridle on that will not require folding or shoving her ears in any way.


foxtraining 2005-07-21.jpg otisready 2005-09-03.jpg racemarnalol.jpg racederonlol.jpg jokercartsheyboygan 2005-08-04.jpg

montanawood.jpg mandmrig1.jpg marnasaints.jpg Rena Pulling the Wagon foxmaxmarna2 2005-08-14.jpg

February 5, 2010

Deron and I met as Sled Dog Driver/Racers. Since then we have trained llamas and goats and many, many dogs to pull/drive. These are a few of our photos. We are looking into getting a Yak or two to train to pull, pack and perhaps even ride them. It is fun for us to be with and train animals.

Right now the weather and snow and cold will not allow me to train Abby. Well, that and the milking of goats as well as bottle feeding the babies. Somehow it seems to take all day just to care for the goats right now. But, we love it.

If you care to look we also pack with many of our animals, there are photos on the different/sister sites.

July 5, 2010

How time flies, today we finally started Abby again.

Deron's sons are here and we all took a turn working with Abby.
Abby remembered everything. Everything. She did great. She loves the attention, she loves being with us and she loves the cookies she earns for working. We slipped the cart shafts through the harness without hooking it all down. Deron had a lead rope on Abby and I in my gloves were ready for, well, what we might have thought could happen. Abby "stepped right off" and pulled up hill and down hill and over the bumps and through the dips, no problem.

Marna Driving Abby Orion Driving Abby Blake Driving Abby

July 7, 2010

We got Abby harnessed up and added a bag of horse feed to the cart, 40 pounds. We ground drove her around our property, up hill, down hill, through ditches and around and about. I know I need to keep the training slow and steady. Keep ground driving, keep it slow, but man, I want to just jump in and drive away.


Cart Driving Abby Cart Driving Abby Cart Driving Abby Cart Driving Abby Cart Driving Abby Cart Driving Abby

July 8, 2010

So this morning with rings off my hands, gloves on. With boots on my feet and a helmet on my head. With whip in my hand and a prayer on my lips...
I GOT IN THE DONKEY CART. I had Deron hold the lead rope JUST IN CASE it would start going wrong; I am not as small, quick and agile as I once was. After a debate, one in which I bought out the books for the photos, on how to hook up the cart....and Deron was correct by the way. We got it all together.
Off we went, around, what I call, the block. The area up and around where the house sits. The area is just a bit bigger then a county block, maybe 10 acres around. Abby did wonderful! Up hill, down hill, bumps, a ditch, along the fence.....
I am looking forward to getting back out there tomorrow. I sure am tickled!
If I look fat in the's the helmet.


Marna Preparing To Drive Abby Marna Driving Abby One More Time Around Marna Driving Abby Marna Bossing Deron Deron Driving Abby Orion Driving Abby Blake Driving Abby End Of Abby's Driving

July 9, 2010

I am soooo very tickled! This morning I drove Abby for the first time. She is amazing. I am not sure why more people do not own donkeys. I drove around the 10 acres near the house again, then Deron drove her, after that we let Deron's sons, Orion and Blake drive her with the lead rope attached.

Our donkeys value went up today. Not only as far as the open market, but also and mostly to us. As I have said before, we live 6.4 miles from pavement and there are many, many, too many times when we can not get out with or in/on our vehicles, including the ATV. Now with an equine that can drive, what a help and or even a life saver that might be. Plus, it is fun to drive a donkey!

And yes, I might be "bossing" Deron <grin> in the one photo before he if it would help.

Abby Lounging In Her Flymask

July 10, 2010

It is getting ready to rain here and I had already decided to give Abby the day off. Deron's sons only have a few days left and we have other things we would like to do with them before they leave. You can see from the photo that Abby enjoyed her hot summer day off. I have the information for making Fly Masks like the one Abby is wearing on our Donkey Craft Ideas page. The size Abby is wearing will also fit the average horse.

July 14, 2010

Padding Abby's Harness Abby's Improved Harness

Today is beautiful. What did I do? Well for one thing I worked on Abby's harness tweaking it to make me feel better. The straps for the loops on the cart, the ones that hold the cart back when going down hill and also the ones that make "the brake", needed a few more holes. I did that with a soldering iron to burn them in. That way, they are very visible and will not fray. Then I added a Rainbow Print Polar Fleece padding to the breast strap of the harness. Today I have a horse filly to work with so I probably will not harness Abby.

Next project is to set up the cart for Abby. The cart we use is the one that we previously used for our llamas. The shafts are a bit long for a donkey. I want to shorten them to fit Abby, put the squishy cushioned tire liners in the tires, we have a lot of cactus here and it will puncture a car's tires, not alone what it would do to bike tires. We have heavy duty truck tires on our trucks, we have to. Then I would like to paint the cart turquoise. I have an area here that is about an acre that I cleared of cactus a few years ago. I will get out there and recheck for cactus, then I will be able to set up cones and or barrel for Abby and I learn to drive around. Training continues.

Now <grin> I need to find that new Rainbow colored halter to match her padding and lead rope.

July 24, 2010

Orange Exercise Ball

Today Deron and I each drove Abby around the 10 acres we call our yard. We made a lot of turns and went all over, she did wonderful. The horses were out near the path we were taking and not one spooked from the cart or moved away, in fact, Indian followed the cart for a short time. This is wonderful because I will drive the cart while Deron rides Arrow out on the prairie one day soon.

I have decided that my "orange ball work" is working. I have this orange nobby (almost fringe or hairy) ball that is not as light weight as a child's play ball is. I lay on the bed and toss it 100 times in a row, straight up. This, I tell myself, is good front line arm exercise that is building up my arms for holding the reins correct as I drive the cart. It really is working. The way this works is like throwing something straight out from your front working muscles you don't usually use. Like really really light weight push ups.


Storm Damage Storm Damage Storm Damage Storm Damage Storm Damage Storm Damage Storm Damage

I have not been driving Abby or even working on the cart. We have had storm after storm here in NW SD and they have been severe! After the rain we have that good ole gumbo mud that you can not hardly walk in, so driving has been on hold.

These are photos from a storm that came through fast and hard on July 19, 2010. It broke out our kitchen and bathroom windows. Left the bathroom wall dented from the hail and glass was embedded in the drywall. We had glass everywhere. It also broke a window on the truck and both the truck and the house look like someone took a ball-peen hammer to them and went crazy!

Deron and I went into the bedroom on the inside side of the bed. We were not hurt. We lost one goose, who is sorely missed, and two chickens, of course they were Americona hens. We had a goose a duck and a chicken injured. We keep saying "It could have been worse"...but it has sure interrupted our normal getting ready for winter, our building of the barn and training on all equine and goats.

As I write this on 8/3/2010 it is storming outdoors and is predicted to be bad again this afternoon and all day tomorrow. Sooooo, no. I won't be out with Abby or the others for a few days.

Harness Repadding No-Mor Flats Inner Tube

August 3, 2010...AUGUST! Already??

Today I finished the padding or the pads for Abby's Harness. There are areas that you can not just sew padding to. So I cut out padding, added a strip of webbing, then put velcro straps to go around the pieces in the areas needed to attache it to the harness for extra padding for Abby.

The other day while in town we bought one of the two I need, tire insertions. They only had the one, we will get the other next time we see it for sale. These tire liners will not flatten if we hit cactus, thick in this area.


Sadly we lost Abby on 2-10-2017. This is a letter I sent to a Wonderful Christian Friend who gifted us with Abby...

You can believe me or not. God Knows It Is True.

10 years ago about now, I was reading I Samuel 25 in my daily Bible Reading Read Through. I had noticed, early on in chapters while reading, how many times the Bible talked about Donkeys. Deron had finished what he was doing that day and was ready to leave for town. I asked him to wait til I finished reading that Chapter on Abigail and her Donkey. That was when I became CONVINCED that the term "Get Off Your Ass And Do Something" was/is from this place in the Bible; as are so many 'old sayings'.

We went to town. At that time our ONLY communications were hand written letters. Our mail come to a PO Box and we did not get to get it often.

That day I got a letter from YOU. In that letter.....My Hand To God....YOU offered me a Donkey named Abby. How could we not!!!???? We picked she and Candy and Missy up that June.

Time past. I did a 3 Bible Version side by side read. More time. And at the end of 2016 I had started reading through again....this past Wednesday I read I Samuel 25.....Abby, not a young Donkey when we got her, died during the night last night. A God Thing. A VERY Hard Thing For Me. What a GREAT Animal. What fun we had. I have a whole website (two really) because of what a great animal she was and the fun we had with her. and

It is both exciting and sad to see God work. Abby will be sorely missed. Terribly missed. I will remember not only her, but how God ushered her into and out of my life.

I will write later to tell you other things. Right now. I just can't.
I just wanted to tell YOU how much YOU have meant in my life. How much JOY you have brought my way. Much of YOUR timing at a very down time for me. Thank You so much for that. Thank You for being a person used by God. Thank You for being so kind to me.

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