UC Davis undergraduate, 4th year
Major: Environmental Science and Management
Memphis having a little nap under the watch of auntie Daisy
It has officially been two weeks since the minis arrived, and their personalities have certainly shone through. Not only are they the cutest little creatures on the planet, but they each have their own personal idiosyncratic quirks and unique tendencies that make them beyond special and sweet.
First, the donkeys. Mr. Memphis is quite the character. He is the five month old baby of Mary, the quiet and gentle mama donk. Memphis loves attention, head scratches, and to be entirely unaware of his size. His favorite play tactic is to bite onto the nearest halter or fly mask and drag said mini around the pen until they play back. His second go-to move is to bite the nearest neck or mane and do a similar dragging around strategy. Both usually result in either kicks from mama Mary or auntie Daisy, or eventual play from Randy. But what Memphis has demonstrated the most, among his rowdiness, cuddles, and tiny baby teeth, is to not take things too seriously. Whether he is getting groomed by me, parented by his mama, or anything that requires structure and discipline, you can count on him to do something silly. He is so kind and patient for grooming, but when he wants to be silly or he’s had enough of standing still, he will let you know with a little baby bray, a tiny kick out with his back foot, or simply walking away and refusing to come back. While I know discipline can be learned, not all playful natures are nurtured in a way that keeps such spirit alive, especially in animals. I see it in his own mother, Mary. She is so gentle and kind yet so fearful and untrusting. I want Memphis’ inherent trust and silliness to both be fostered and kept, and compliment each other. I know eventually he’ll stand still for an entire grooming session, but I want him to know that he can be himself, as well, and continue to accommodate structure while still appreciating the silliness of life.
Mary, Memphis’ mama, has come out of her shell quite a bit. Though she takes some time to warm up, once she does, you can feel her kind soul pouring into you. She loves her baby Memphis so much, and inherently does what I hope to do with Memphis- foster boundaries while still appreciating his playfulness. She remains patient when Memphis bites her fly mask and drags her around the pen, but lets him know when she’s had enough. Mary has the most beautiful chocolatey coat, and the sweetest gray nose. Most of all, she has taught me the importance of trust in my interactions with the minis. Memphis and Daisy’s trusting nature is not to be taken for granted. Mary’s communication style does not mean she doesn’t want love or affection, she is just fearful to express her needs until she knows they can be met, as is often the case in animals who were neglected or abused. I don’t know exactly what happened to her, but I can tell she was uncared for in some way such that she is fearful of expressing needs unless there is obvious trust. Mary now walks up to me, allows me to pet her all over and groom her, and appreciates a good booty rub. People with walls up are worth earning trust, even though it may take some time.
Mary (back) and Memphis (front) meeting barn dog Beatrice
Ms. Daisy Mae is the most solid citizen of all. She is tolerant, patient, and loves to have her ears scratched. She is always willing to have some cuddle time, and will make it very known by following you around if that is something she specifically wants. I’ve seen her parent Memphis when Mary is off on her own, and also even play around with Mary, who has a playful side that I was completely unaware of without Daisy’s influence. Daisy will let you lay on her and loves a belly rub. She is the oldest of the herd, at a youthful 21 years of age, and her wisdom and calm nature definitely shine through. Daisy has consistently made those who are a bit hesitant around horses significantly more confident. Her calm and cool demeanor makes her an excellent candidate for those who are not as sure of themselves around animals, as she makes you feel like a pro. I’ve learned from her the importance of lifting up those around you, as fostering confidence creates an environment where people can overcome fears and setbacks and really shine as their authentic selves. She not only does that for the humans around her, but her family by choice in Mary and Memphis, as well.
Daisy enjoying her belly rub and cuddle time
Now, onto the minis. Randy has won over my heart, and it’s pretty easy to see why. At first, his smart and stubborn nature felt like a battle, but after some time, he showed just how funny he can be. He is the smallest of the herd, but definitely the alpha, and will dictate where everyone eats in the pen. Randy is the most dog-like out of the herd; he loves belly and chin rubs, and will scratch his tummy on the bucket when I’m mucking out the enclosure (pictured below. You’re welcome). At first, Randy did not like to be followed around or caught. The only chance of getting ahold of him would be if he came up to you. But, I quickly learned that if you kneel down and get on his level, he will come right up to you. That very action taught me so much within itself. Putting yourself in other peoples’ shoes and understanding the inherent benefit of diversity is the foundation of connecting with those different from you. Though Randy is the smallest, understanding the world from his point of view makes him comfortable to be vulnerable and authentic. His tininess is a superpower, letting people into his point of view, before letting them into his heart.
Randy scratching his belly on the muck bucket
Last but not least, we have Ms. Olivia, Randy’s sweet and sassy mama. Upon Olivia’s arrival, she experienced some pretty painful stomach problems, and general transitional anxiety a bit more severe than the other minis. We gave her a lot of time to acclimate, and she has since warmed up to us quite a bit. She is very food-driven, and will do anything for her grain or a treat. At first, it would take me a few minutes to catch her. But now, each morning she comes nickering up to me, hoping I have her daily grain or cookies. Grooming her has also been a bit different from the others. She likes to have her handler in front of her at all times, within her sight. When I take a step towards her butt, more into her blind spot, she pivots such that the handler is once again in front of her. However, her more hesitant nature has made the smallest things that I take for granted on the others significantly more rewarding. For example, the first time she let me pick out both of her hooves was huge! However, she has definitely taught me the most so far. Firstly, progress is not always linear. Some days she is more inclined to let me groom her, while other days it feels like we’re back to day one. Just like humans, we feel different about our routines each day. Some days they are good and exciting, and other days they feel more unbearable and frustrating. I’ve learned to take her as she is, one day at a time. Olivia has also shown me the importance of slowing down. At first, I thought I should rush through the grooming routine to just get it over with, but that was an experience neither one of us enjoyed. If I can get her to simply not move away from me with one small stroke of the brush, that is way more beneficial and productive than us chasing after each other, trying to get her clean. Grooming is bonding, and I want it to be an experience she enjoys in whatever way she would like to enjoy it. Lastly, although I’m not one to give up, she has reinforced the importance of not doing so. While it sometimes took up to five minutes to catch her, eventually, she would let me. Had I given up, we both would have emotionally given up on each other, and I would have never experienced the moment where she allows me to enter her space. Therefore, individuals who present new and different challenges are not worth giving up on. They may teach you lessons that you wouldn’t learn without their influence.
Olivia laying down on a warm morning
Only a couple weeks in, I am so grateful for the vulnerability and uniqueness of each of the minis. They have already taught me so much in such a short time, and greatly improved upon their skills of becoming therapy animal masters. I am so excited to keep working with them and learning from them further.
Green Care Blog
Here you can find blog posts from each Green Care Lab intern. We'll be talking about our research process, the benefits of Green Care therapy, and sharing pictures of our work. Follow along with us!