Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Abusive Sport of Donkey Basketball

I'd like you to take a good look at the photograph above. Look at it. I could find a hundred more like it if I searched on google. A person, far over the 20% weight limit of this standard donkey, being bucked off on a slick court. The donkey's body language says it all: GET THE HECK OFF. 

Donkey basketball is a so called "sport", oftentimes used to raise funds for school events like proms. The problem with this is that not only does it teach a lack of compassion towards others, but it also is a time honored tradition that many schools are unwilling to shed, despite the abusive practices. 

Above: You can see the donkey's joints in the lower legs (fetlocks and pasterns) being strongly stressed by this unbalanced, extremely heavy man.Behind him, you can see a man riding a donkey where his legs can reach the ground. 

In this article, I will take some of the most often used arguments for donkey basketball and give logical and reasoned answers as to why those arguments are, well, total trash. 

Awareness is being raised about this cruel practice, and arguments both for and against it are becoming quite heated. It all boils down to one thing: the animals' best interests are not in the hearts and minds of the participants nor the owners. It takes a bit of distancing oneself from the welfare of the mind and body of the donkey to participate or condone such a sport. 

Here's probably my favorite quote: "But Mary rode on a little donkey, so donkeys can carry that much weight! I mean, donkeys are WAY stronger than horses!"

Biblical reference aside, this information is entirely false, and a really well rehearsed Donkey Myth. Donkeys, like horses, can carry up to 20% of their body weight, including tack. An average standard donkey might be around 400-600 lbs. Let's say they are using large standards (which many times they do not) and the weight is 600 lbs. That means the rider must weigh under 120 to ride. High schoolers are unlikely to be that light, especially young men. In fact, most of the riders I have seen are far above that, with much smaller donkeys. You can see in photos, the donkey's tendons and joints being stretched far beyond where they should be. As for Mary and her donkey....REALLY? THAT is your argument for Donkey Basketball? If that is the case, let's take everything from the Bible as complete fact, and start killing people for worshipping false idols. Ugh. 

Another quote: "Well, if you think Donkey Basketball is cruel, then you must think rodeos are cruel, and wouldn't want anyone riding a horse."

Um, ok. Logically that makes no sense, but let me tackle it. Some people do think certain events in rodeo are cruel. Any sport that engages animals has to look out for their welfare, and rodeo, racing, and horse showing all have had ethical issues since...forever. That doesn't mean there aren't good rodeo events or good horse racers out there. But yes, there are quite a few people who advocate against these sports because they are very fast paced and animals very often are hurt.  Second, there is an enormous, and I mean ENORMOUS difference between riding a well trained, well proportioned (to the rider) horse, mule or donkey, who has training, skills, good conformation, and trust in their human partner, and donkey basketball. Also, the whole "snowball" argument is a red herring, and therefore meant only to distract from the real issue at hand.

Let's compare:

People who are far too large for their donkeys on slick, unsafe surfaces:

A rider and her mammoth donkey with properly fitted tack on a trail:

See the difference? I sure hope so.

Quote number three: "You are a spoilsport who just wants to ruin prom for the kids. You are just mad you don't get to play. Besides, there are homeless people you should be worrying about."

First off, trying to throw people off by saying that their cause isn't as important as other cruelty cases or homelessness, or slaughter bound donkeys, or whatever other thing you want to toss in there is just plain illogical. There is a reason why so many people are fighting these types of events. They see a major ethical issue with it. There is always something worse out there comparatively. Homelessness. Child homelessness.  Oh wait, human rights violations. Oh wait! Genocide. The list can just be ratcheted up. That does not mean that a cause like this is unworthy of attention. That's how change occurs! 

Second, no, the "mean advocates" don't want to ruin your prom, or graduation, or whatever. There are about a zillion ways to fundraise for events. Donkey basketball isn't the ONLY thing that can be done.

Am I mad I don't get to play? Nope. I ride my mammoth donkeys, whom I have a strong and caring relationship with, out on trails in the Colorado mountains. I think I'm good, thanks. 

Quote number four: "This has been going on for forever, if there was an issue with it, it would have been stopped already."

Remember, most atrocities in human history were allowed to continue based on the logic of "well, it's been happening a long time, therefore it must be ok." I can't even believe anyone with an ounce of intelligence would make that argument. By saying this I am not saying that donkey basketball is on the same level as Hilter and Slavery. What I am saying is that the argument is fundamentally flawed, and has been proven so by the entire course of human history. 

And no, many many many different ethically inhumane events have not been stopped yet. It doesn't mean we shouldn't try! 

Next quote: "But, if the donkey basketball events are cancelled, the donkeys would be without a home and go to slaughter!"

So, we shouldn't stop an abusive event because the owners who supposedly "love and cherish and treat the donkeys really well" would send them to slaughter if they couldn't make money off of them? I think this quote totally proves my point. If the only reason you own donkeys is to put them in events that harm them over time and are degrading to the animal, then obviously this sort of event must be stopped. 

But where would the donkeys go? Well, high schoolers, have an adoption event! Well, if the "super nice loving" owners will allow you to because they were going to send them to slaughter anyway.  The money raised from an adoption event could pay for your prom probably three times over. And next year, rescue some more donkeys from a local auction and adopt those out! Raise awareness in support of the animals if you enjoy them that much! Help others. That's probably a pretty good life lesson to learn....

Another quote: "But the donkeys aren't abused! They aren't kicked, whipped, spurred or hit!"

The definition of abuse is as follows: 

Noun: Abuse- The improper use of something.

Donkeys cannot take the repeated strain of weight on their backs in excess of 20% of their body weight. How much clearer can one get? 

Just because you aren't starving, whipping, spurring, beating or otherwise being cruel to an animal doesn't mean it isn't abusive to have the carry far more than they are intended to, to the detriment of their ligaments, tendons, joints, and muscles. 

Donkeys are incredibly sensitive animals. They may not seem so when put into a bad situation because they tend to freeze up, a reaction known as baulking. When I start working with a new donkey I don't have  a relationship with yet, I spend a lot of time with them, touching them all over, rubbing their ears where they like it, scratching them in itchy places. I don't mount a donkey until I know they feel safe with me, understand exactly what I am doing, are comfortable with the tack I am using, and understand all of the cues I will be giving them from the ground. This process sometimes takes several weeks to months depending on the animal and their level of training and personality.  I would never presume that I could get up on a donkey on the first day and think that they would trust me or feel comfortable about it. 

A very well trained riding donkey might allow new people to ride it, but they will not usually be as receptive of cues from a person they do not know. I have seen this in evidence many times when friends come out to ride with me and my mammoth donkeys. I make sure that they ride the donkey first in a  controlled environment where they can get to know each other slowly, before ever heading out on a trail! The people participating in donkey basketball might meet their donkey for a few minutes before the game. That's it. There's no relationship or connection. The animals are tools for the amusement of people who think they are funny because they are donkeys. 

This so called "sport" is degrading to donkeys as a whole. Those of us who advocate strongly for one of the most mistreated domestic animals on the planet know how hard it is to strip away the stereotype of donkeys as an animal simply to be laughed at. Events like this compound the stereotypes and create an atmosphere of misunderstanding between humans and donkeys.

I could probably go on and on, however I feel that these specific misunderstandings needed to be cleared up. I hope that this article serves to answer the question of why we must fight to protect the safety, the dignity, and the image of the donkey from donkey basketball events. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Paddock Management: Forget the Word CANNOT

"There are ways you can afford to make management more manageable. All it takes is a change in attitude. "

I may have a little ax to grind about this.  I have been seeing far too many people asking about how to "make things work" when one donkey/goat/cow/uncastrated donkey etc etc end up not getting along. The question is usually stated something like this: "My jack donkey keeps biting my goats. I am afraid he will hurt them. But I CANNOT make another pen for him. What can I do??"

There's your issue right there. Despite poor planning in buying goats/jack and deciding to keep them together (or whatever management issue is going on), the biggest issue is the word CANNOT. There is no such thing in paddock management. Same goes for pasture management, and folks who tell me they simply CANNOT make a sacrifice area for their donkeys (dry lot) so they won't founder. Or they CANNOT find a way to separate the donkey and the horse at meals, so the donkey is getting obese stealing the horse's high energy feed. Oh, there's a million other examples.

The word CANNOT rankles me in these situations, because as the human who brought these various and sundry animals into your life and onto your property, YOU are solely responsible for their wellbeing. If you cannot care for them properly, then I suggest not owning them. Sound harsh? It isn't. These animals depend on YOU to survive. I cannot tell you how many times my husband and I rushed out to get electric fence wire or a gate, or extra heated buckets, or nails, or posts.....because we had a slight management problem. And believe me, we are on a shoestring budget.  There are ways you can afford to make management more manageable. All it takes is a change in attitude.

Forget your human concerns for a moment. Forget that you'd like things to look a certain way, or that you want to afford that next vacation/latte/meal out. Your first responsibility is to those creatures under your care who depend on you. Forget that it is pitch black out, in a  snowstorm, and you can't feel your toes. Forget that it'll cost you extra and that you'll have to drive through hell and high water to get the parts you need.  If they need something done safely so that they can stay comfortable and healthy, you DO IT.

I would say about 99 percent of the times I see a panicked person writing about a management situation, it could have been prevented with research and proper planning. That also rankles me a bit. But I admire those who realize they have made a tactical error and decide to immediately rectify it. Those who whine that it would be too hard or cost too much need to figure out a way for it to work. There's electric wire and tape, which'll work in a  pinch. There's panels you can buy to make extra areas.

Now, there's one caveat to this: I DO understand that there's massive amounts of misinformation out there. So many people think it's ok to house donkeys with goats/cows/(whatever animal the donkey might attack). Sometimes donkeys do ok with those animals, many times NOT. Or, because they saw cute pictures of dogs and donkeys laying together in the sun that any donkey will be ok with any dog. I think it is super important to realize what we are up against in the donkey industry. A whole lot of myths that get new owners into trouble they didn't need.

However, paddock management issues are fairly common, even with experienced owners. I just adopted a little older mustang mare. She is now living with my donkeys. She kept pushing them out of their only shelter, even though there was room for all of them. So what did we do? Pulled together money to find a second shelter and put forth the effort to bring it here before the next snowstorm.  Sometimes, you have to figure out a way to tighten your belt and Git 'Er Done!

I will challenge everyone who reads this to think about what CAN be done to make their management of their animals WORK for their animals. Forget the word CANNOT.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Guardian or Not?

Above: What happens when you state your opinion on this subject!

Ok friends, here we go! The biggest debate (it seems) in the donkey world: are donkeys good livestock guardians? 

I have enough trepidation in broaching this subject that I waited a few months since conceiving the idea to write this article in order to get my thoughts wrapped around how to do so in a way that will offend the fewest.  I am not sure I will succeed. 

It seems I run up against this question all the time. Folks who  have used donkeys as livestock guards successfully absolutely swear up and down the make the BEST guards ever. People who are against it have usually seen carnage as a result of donkeys being put in that position.  This article will attempt to show both perspectives, with the thesis that we should seriously rethink our myths surrounding The Livestock Guardian Donkey. 

I have to be honest, my first donkey was given to me because he was supposed to be a livestock guard, and ended up nearly killing a full grown goat he was supposed to be guarding.  Yes, he was gelded, yes, he is sweet, no, he was not a good livestock guardian! This was my first introduction to the subject...a somewhat relieved email from the wonderful women who gave me Charlie, my first donkey, stating that he had tried to kill a goat and they would be very happy to give him to me. He had failed a livestock guard but was an excellent riding prospect, and is still with me here at Foghorn Farm. Once I got to know more about donkeys through Charlie, I realized that there are many myths and misunderstandings about donkeys that are rarely challenged. I made it my mission to learn and educate. 

Donkeys, like all equines, are prey animals. Prey animals are on alert because they are food for predators. Prey animals are rarely a match for a predator, especially a large one. Donkeys have gotten a reputation, bordering on myth. That reputation is that they will guard your smaller livestock against coyotes, bears, wild cats, dogs, you name it! There is a photo that makes the rounds often of a mule attacking a mountain lion. (I believe that mountain lion was already killed when the photo was taken...via bullet, not mule).  Donkeys, because of how they evolved, have a lot more fight (and baulk) than flight, unlike a horse.  For that reason, donkeys are more likely to chase out small animals from their paddocks. Most donkeys owners have witnessed their donkeys chasing small birds, foxes, even, in my case, small children! (Charlie donkey loves to chase kids on bicycles....he's an odd one). 

Because of the propensity of donkeys to chase intruders out of their areas, people often buy them as guardians for their cattle, sheep, llamas, goats, and chickens. Sometimes, this works out very well (for the human). The donkey cares about their flock/herd, and truly protects them and deters predators. Donkey may be extremely lonely, or not even believe it is a donkey, because it is kept alone. The really good situations involve the owner getting a pair of donkeys who get along well with their livestock. I have heard stories of owners who have donkeys who do protect their charges and really are worth their weight in gold. This is all fine and dandy in those situations, if the donkey is cared for physically. Can they be caught? Can they be trimmed on a  regular schedule? Can they get vet work done and dental? Do they eat donkey appropriate food so they don't get obese and founder?  I do know a few people who have donkeys living with their flocks or herds and who religiously care for them, train them, and keep them healthy, as well as love them deeply. That is the absolute best case scenario. 

But what happens when it all goes wrong? Will it go wrong one day? Will the donkey end up killing lambs/goats/calves suddenly (and yes, I heard stories of this almost daily)? Will the donkey stomp a hen?  Oftentimes, yes. Donkeys don't always differentiate between a predator "stranger danger" and a newborn "stranger danger".

Here are several anecdotal accounts of donkeys and smaller livestock. Many many many donkeys end up sold cheaply at auction (many times intact jacks) because they were found to attack livestock. Many of the donkey rescues I am in contact with have told me that they get daily calls from farmers wanting to relinquish herd guardians. Here are a few stories:

"A friend called 2 days ago and said the jenny he had in with his sheep was trying to kill the lambs. He said he had to get rid of her. Not liking the sound of get rid of, I agreed to buy her. "

"My neighbor had a mini-donkey. I don't know what's going on in his head, but he began to kill sheep / lambs. Some of them have survived, but I had to sew their lips because they were bitten. Very sad story."

"My goats have been attacked several times by my donkeys. One time I found one goat unconscious in the donkey pasture! One rabbit was stomped to death, a sheep has a half ear and dogs have been attacked several times."

And then, sometimes this happens:

Photo credit: Jenny Davis

This is a mini who stood no chance. Here is what Jenny wrote about this photo (and others which were much more disturbing): 

"I use this day every year to remind and educate that miniature donkeys can not be used as livestock guardians. They are small and unable to defend themselves against dogs & coyotes!
What happened to our dear Chantelle three years ago today has made us understand the importance of safe fencing. 
I can only hope that her pain and suffering through the ordeal will help save another donkeys life in the future.
The pictures below are very graphic but show her journey through the healing process. She went through numerous surgeries & endured months of treatment. Please understand your miniature donkeys must be protected just like sheep or goats!"

Sorry, folks, for the graphic photo. I despise when people try to pull at my heart strings through obscenely graphic posts. But this one is needed in this context because, interestingly, people STILL think that minis make great livestock guardians. But what about standards and mammoth donkeys, who are much larger? Surely they are better suited to fend off a mountain lion?  

Sadly, not really. Like I stated before, you MAY get lucky. But even a mammoth is absolutely no match for even one determined dog. I learned this the hard way, when a woman's dog jumped out of her car window and proceeded to attack my two mammoth donkeys who were in a round pen. They were nearly eviscerated. They were just trying to protect themselves. They had bites in their muzzles, tendons, bellies, and anuses. They fought hard, and couldn't even protect each other against one dog! I won't post photos of that attack, as they are so disturbing to me I don't want to see them again. 

SIDE NOTE: And then, there is an entirely different but related discussion to be had about mixing canines with equines, especially donkeys. Some people have donkeys who tolerate dogs they know well, some people THINK their donkeys and dogs "love to play," but in reality the donkey is chasing the dog (or vice versa), gunning for its life (I see videos like this weekly that are sent to me). Some people realize that the chances of having injured animals and vet bills just aren't worth it. It's up to you. But this is a discussion for another day....

This debate about the myth of The Livestock Guardian Donkey seems never-ending.  While there are some wonderful owners who truly care for their livestock donkeys, keep them safe, and, in return, their donkeys enjoy watching out for their herd, I have found the opposite to be true in many more cases. Oftentimes the donkey is on alert constantly because they are faced with dealing with predators on their own, something a prey animal fears. Putting a donkey in the position where they must be the sole lookout is not fair to the donkey. Putting a donkey in the position a Livestock Guardian Dog could fill much more effectively isn't fair to the donkey. Putting a donkey in a position where they don't know they are a donkey because they were raised with different livestock is definitely not fair to the donkey. Donkeys are extremely social and tend to form strong bonds with other donkey, often for life! Many rescues and breeders will not sell/adopt out donkeys if they are not in pairs for this very reason. 

And then there are the vet bills. I cannot tell you how many times I have gotten messages/emails from people who are confused because their donkey has been guarding their herd of goats for X years and suddenly they started hurting/killing goats (or insert whatever livestock you can imagine here)! There are vet bills when your donkey gets mauled by a dog, a pack of coyotes, a mountain lion, a bear. There is pain. Why risk it, I wonder? 

Because we have perpetuated the myth of the Livestock Guardian Donkey. 

Perhaps the best advice I can give is this: If you have a wonderful Guardian Donkey, that is AWESOME! Glad it is working out. Please do not suggest donkeys as Livestock Guards for others, unless you are referring to specific donkey you know will guard well. Not many donkeys are well suited for the job, and the risks simply outweigh the benefits.  

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

No, that is not "normal" in donkeys!

There are many ailments that donkeys can get, but there are a few that are almost exclusively man-made. The man-made ailments are horrifically commonplace, and very easy to prevent with proper management and care. If you have done any rescue of donkeys, you will have probably dealt with rehabbing donkeys with these issues. I am writing this short article because it needs to be commonplace knowledge that these issues are not "normal" and should never be normalized as "just a  donkey thing."

Photo used with permission of Tara Pilonero...a rescue donkey who had foundered (see chopped feet at start of trimming process) and was obese, with broken crest.

1. Obesity: Donkeys can get fat on air. Yes, there are exceptions, that hard keeper that keeps you on your toes, but in general, donkeys, especially standards and minis, are extraordinarily easy keepers. Owners often fight obesity, even with the most careful care.  Most donkeys will start to show signs of obesity with a cresty/fatty neck, and fat pads alongside their backs. Over time, the crest will "break" and fall over to one side. Fat donkeys go hand in hand with other health concerns, most notably laminitis (called founder when it continues). Laminitis can be deadly to equines and is extremely painful for the donkey. The laminae, which are finger like projections that zipper together to hold the hoof wall to the inner parts of the hoof and the coffin bone (aptly named because if it sinks during laminitis, it can kill the animal). When they become inflamed by changes in the blood chemistry brought on by a highly sugary diet (there are other ways to founder as well, but I won't go into that here), the laminae start to unzip, causing the bone inside to start rotating down towards the ground.  There's a lot more to it than that scientifically, but thats the general gist to keep this succinct. Imagine walking on your nails as they are being ripped off. It's painful!  The good news is, donkeys are a bit more  hardy than horses when it comes to founder, and many times can be successfully rehabbed if they don't have other complicating issues and if there aren't other health concerns (and if the owners manage the donkey correctly).  Having a GOOD donkey farrier who specializes in laminitis, along with radiographs from a vet who can show the farrier and you the condition of the inside of the hooves is vital, so that proper management and hoof care can take place. The broken crest will never return to normal, even with proper dieting. It may reduce, as will the fat pads. It is important to follow your vet's instructions on how to feed an obese donkey, because reducing food intake abruptly can cause sickness and death.

Photo curtesy of Joanne Rummel, rescue donkey "Twinkle Toes" before first rehab trim.

2. Long hooves:  There is a difference between foundered hooves (which often are long and misshapen, with big growth rings) and simple long feet. Sometimes it is hard to tell which is which for the layperson. Donkeys tend to grow very long hooves if uncared for, and because they are so tough, they do not break very easily unless on rough terrain. Unless your donkey properly self trims on rocky ground, having a donkey knowledgeable farrier out every 4-8 weeks (depending on your terrain and your donkey) is vital.  Donkeys don't have the same hoof angles as a horse, and a farrier who doesn't know donkey feet will not trim them correctly and can cause major issues down the road. However, keeping those feet trimmed is super important for your donkey's health and comfort. I would say most rescue donkeys have long hooves. It is pretty common to see people who really don't care or know enough to get their donkeys trimmed regularly. Many cases (see first photo) need the hooves to be cut off by a hacksaw just to get close enough to normal to even start the regular trimming process.

Photo curtesy of Sarah Webb. Ten year old rescue jack, first dental exam.

3. Dental issues:  Donkeys, like horses, need regular dental exams. Their teeth grow continuously throughout their lives until why are very old, and as they grind with them they often cause issues.  Depending on the age, condition, and previous dental history of your donkey, the exams may be every year or once every few years. A veterinarian certified in dental work can perform a "float" of your donkey's teeth. The donkey generally (but not always) is sedated, and the teeth are ground down gently to preserve balance and prevent points, waves, and other distortions of the teeth/mouth. In the photo above, this jack has multiple issues but the glaring one is a severely long, pointed tooth that has been growing for a long time unchecked.You can see under that tooth in the lower jaw where scar tissue has built up around where it is entering the lower jaw. Issues like this cause extreme pain, difficulty chewing properly (and therefore digesting properly), sometimes choke, and also behavioral issues. Donkeys can also get abscessed teeth. If an upper or lower tooth is missing, the opposing tooth may grow long like the photograph because there is nothing to grind against. This is totally preventable.

While this is not a complete list, these are the three most common things I have seen in donkeys that are not cared for properly. These three things are preventable with proper care and management. There are a few diseases that cause laminitis and obesity that are not caused by the care received, but most cases are completely avoidable.  So the next time someone says "oh, that's just how donkey's feet are".....we can all answer "NO! That's not normal!"

Friday, December 23, 2016

Donkey Math

From left to right- Raymond, Charlie, ME, Darlin, and Lass. All residents of Foghorn Farm.

Since it is the Holiday Season, and the end of the year, it is a time to start reflecting on the past and hoping for the future. For this article, I want to talk about Donkey Math, because it pertains greatly to this past year for us...and actually, it pertains to the entire time we have had donkeys. 

"Donkey Math"

Chicken aficionados talk about "chicken math"....they ability to simply add more chickens and think nothing of it, talking about having nine when actually owning seventeen. Or twenty when you actually have forty. They are a bit like an addictive habit. Donkeys are very much the same. The adage "donkeys are like chips, you can't have just one" seems very true. 

Charlie: Guess what? Chicken butt!

In our case, our smaller property restricts the number of donkeys we can safely care for on our property, as well as the fact that we also have other jobs, so time is a rare resource. We always want enough funds, time, and energy to care exceedingly well for our residents, whether they are permanent or rescues in training.  Four or five seem to be our limit here, and right now we are down to four, but at the height of the summer we had seven equines, one off property at a boarding facility, and six on our property. We knew that two, potentially three, would be leaving for new homes either after a certain level of training, or after their quarantine period (having come from a questionable situation health wise). In the end, we re-homed all of the equines we took in, and are back down to four, which is manageable for winter. 

It seems, however, that collecting donkeys is quite easy. I mean, how can one refuse a donkey in distress?
A donkey "in distress". Actually, Darlin begging for treats, but so cute nonetheless.

No, I am not referring to hoarding, which is a terrible disease/situation for the animals. But many donkey lovers I know can't resist a donkey needing a soft place to land, if only to foster, although many become "foster failures" and keep these donkeys if they have enough room and resources. Our first rescue was Tilly, an incredibly aged, toothless, blind, deaf, foundered donkey with cancer, and because rescuing and rehabbing her was such a wonderful experience for us, we now take in donkeys when we have room, and rehab them physically, train them, and rehome them. We do this with our personal funds, we are not a nonprofit nor a rescue. However, we love doing it, and feel strongly that donkeys in need should have a chance.

I can't tell you how many people I have talked with who started with one donkey, then researched and realized donkeys truly need another donkey for a companion. Well, once they had two, they realized how fun it was to have more...and there's a donkey at auction that is at risk. Well, now they have three. And so on and so forth. It's very common. If you are a part of the "Donkey Math" club, you are in good company. Well, something similar happened to us, and that led to a full out obsession and then the training business.

Perhaps in looking at the year ahead, we should all take a look at where we were, and where we are now, and where we would like to be next year. For those with one or two donkeys, beware, you may also fall victim to "Donkey Math" like the rest of us. While you are at it, better start looking at a bigger property for next year. Maybe some extra panels to make a makeshift pen if you should suddenly need it. And maybe an extra side job to buy a bit more hay.  Donkeys can be a grand passion, if you truly love them.  

For all of our fellow donkey lovers out there, blessings for the Holidays! For those extra special people who rescue and rehome-my deepest love to you and your animals. May you find wonderful forever homes for your charges, and may you all stay healthy in the New Year!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Littlest Steps

Photo: Mr Wilson, a client donkey in training.

I had an experience today that reminded me that the littlest steps are, in actuality, the biggest progress one can make in training long ears. I touched a young, frightened mule. This may not seem like much. But it's been weeks, and after a seemingly small setback, I haven't been able to get up close to this mule without food to tempt him. And today, although I REALLY wanted to get a halter on him, I did get to touch him.  I rubbed under his thick winter fur on his head and neck, and although he was snorty, he didn't leave. And I was reminded that small steps are vital.

I work with donkeys (the mule is an exception to the rule) in all stages of training. My youngest client donkey is about a month old, and the oldest I have worked with would have had to be carbon-dated, she had no teeth!  Each is or was in a different state of training, regardless of age and life experience.  Sometimes, as trainers, it is easy to forget that we are not necessarily working towards goals, but rather shaping an animal's experience and worldview into one that is open to new things, soft and supple in their mindset and body, and trusting of new people and experiences. In fact, we are not only teaching concrete concepts to our animals, but we are developing their thought process, or re-developing it into a more positive thought process. 

When we, as people, think ahead to the next step, the next goal, we are really not thinking in a way that benefits our animals. We are thinking like humans. We can't help it. It's who we are, it's a part of our evolution, and how we survived and thrived. But even when we have a goal and break it down into little steps, each step needs to be a conversation, a fluid process. We must allow ourselves to be in the moment and with our donkey. There's nothing wrong with having expectations, but trust should never be sacrificed to what we want. 

So yes, I want to get this mule haltered, then handled, then packing. But there's no way to do that without a foundation of trust. Sometimes, a touch is all you get.  Don't let that stop you. 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Big Blanket Debate

To blanket or not to blanket, that is the question.  And oh boy do people have some serious debate over it! It can get overwhelming for new donkey owners.

Do you know what the simple answer is? It depends on your animal and your situation!

Older donkeys, donkeys with fine coats, donkeys who are thin or ill, donkeys who are suddenly thrust into harsh weather after a spell of warm weather, donkeys who do not have adequate shelter, or who refuse to use their shelter during storms....all of these may require a well fitted blanket. 

Donkeys, unlike horses, do not have two layers of fur. Therefore, water simply soaks into their coat after a while and end up on the skin. They do not slick off water well. The worst days I have found in CO are the 40 degree slush/snow mix days.  Donkeys are not built for wet weather, they are desert animals. 

If you live in Florida, you likely would only need a blanket in case of illness or very wet weather. If you live in Canada, you likely will want one just for the extreme cold and snow.

Don't think that any old winter horse or pony or mini blanket will fit a donkey. Donkeys have different proportions than horses and the neck area especially tends to be problematic.  Horse blankets are made with very sloping shoulders, and often end up sliding back on a donkey and getting stuck behind the winter area, causing extreme pain and rubbing over time on the shoulders and back.  I have found Weatherbeetas especially good for my mammoths, but there are  other companies that make smaller, very adjustable blankets that work well for other sizes of donkeys. Donkeys usually need blankets with very little "fill", they need it more for the waterproofing quality of the blanket. But an older, thin, or ill donkey may need a warmer blanket of course.

Another way to help keep your donkey warm is to make sure they can eat many small meals throughout the day and night, the stemmier the hay the better. The digestive process, especially digesting stemmier forage, creates heat in the gut and therefore warms the donkey. Chewing straw on cold nights can help as well. We go out and feed on nasty nights at around 2 am in addition to regular meals. 

Be sure that you have a water tank heater that works when it is very cold out, as drinking water is super important in the cold, and donkeys tend to get discouraged about drinking icy water easily, which can lead to colic. 

Even if you don't believe in blanketing donkeys, having a well fitted blanket  for each animal on hand is really important. You never know when you might need one. We almost never blanket, but today we did as it was 80 yesterday and today it is freezing and snowing sideways. Even though our donkeys have winter coats, that is quite a sharp change in weather! It is simply kind to help them out. I am glad we had our blankets on hand and ready! 

So the moral to this story is: Decide on your own. Be ready and have one. If you feel like they should be blanketed, blanket them. If you think they are doing fine on their own, then don't.  Everyone has different situations and may have different needs.