The opinions expressed in previous entries may or may not express the current opinion of the author.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Donkeys Are Not Like Other People

My experience with donkeys has been limited - but significant.

The first equid I ever rode was Josephine the Donkey, who lived at a nearby riding school. She possessed a wicker basket chair, which was strapped sidesaddle onto her back, and upon this splendid perch I was taken for weekly leadline rides.

There came a day when, on arrival at the stables, I was told that the wicker chair had "broken" and therefore it was time for me to graduate to riding ponies .... astride. I believe now - with the cynical wisdom of years - that the damaged chair was a fiction designed to push me ahead in my riding career. I was never one to be pushed ahead, having clearly demonstrated this by being the last child in Kindergarten to give up using Cuisenaire rods for sums.

My memory goes blank at this point and resumes at about age 7 on the fateful day of another forced "graduation." I was told that I could no longer go round and round the yard on (if I recall correctly) William, as William was "lame" today. Instead I had to go out on the road on another pony. The mare, whose rider was holding said pony's leadline, was rather mare-ish that day and as we were heading down the open road, turned and kicked my pony broadside. He promptly took off at a gallop down the road, and I - who had never gone faster than a walk - went sailing through the air.

I am sure that Josephine, kick or no kick, would never have behaved in such an irresponsible fashion.

The next donkey was Edward. Edward and I both worked at a pony stud farm - I, for a short time, as a "girl groom" and Edward as nanny to the three pony studs, who took turns being out in the pasture with him. Edward brooked no nonsense from the stallions, kicking them into submission if they ever became stroppy or disobedient. A very wise donkey, was Edward.

A donkey whom I never met, but whose reputation brings honor to the donkey species, belonged to a friend of mine. My friend thought that it would be a good idea to practice John Lyons techniques with her donkey and decided to do round-pen work. The donkey quickly realized that the woman's aim was to move her feet. Naturally, the thing for any self-respecting donkey to do under such circumstances is to go to the middle of the pen, lie down on her back, and stick all four legs straight up in the air. My friend admitted defeat and let the donkey go live somewhere else with some other donkeys, which she'd wanted all along.

The next Very Important Donkey is, of course, Skeeter. Skeeter lives in Louisiana with Bubba Earl and the other critters. I have linked to him before, and suffice it to say that his intelligence, good looks, moral values, charisma, and political aspirations are legendary. If you wish, you may check out his Facebook page.

So, naturally I was very excited when I was called out to a new hoof trimming client who has four ponies and a donkey.

The owner called me because her former farrier was of the old-fashioned persuasion which holds that unruly ponies and donkeys should be smacked and have their ears pinched. Apparently the whole household used to work themselves into a state of emotional distress every time the farrier was expected. In anticipation of my arrival on the designated day, the owner put halters on everyone and brought out the mini hoof jack. So of course the herd was all, like, "Oh no! It's happening again!"

Once the ponies realized I wasn't going to bite them, they were pretty nice about letting me do their front feet. However, the former farrier must've done something weird with their hind legs, because they all over-reacted in the same way when I went to pick up their hind feet: they raised their feet way high in the air, shoved them to the side, waved them, and - in three cases (one of whom was the donkey) - kicked like banshees. (Do  banshees kick? If they do, I bet they kick like that.) However, by dint of refusing-to-give-up and refusing-to-get-mad, we managed to finish the ponies' hinds as well.

Not the donkey. She said, "I don't know who on earth you are. You seem like a reasonably polite person, so you may do my front feet, but there is no @#*!% way I'm letting you have my hind legs." I believe she did in fact use the word @#*!%.

I finally said to the owner that we should quit. After all, the idea was to reassure the ponies and donkey that they were now under a new regime. If we were well-behaved this time, hopefully the donkey would remember and next time might be more cooperative. So I lowered my expectations and achieved the goal of having Donkey let me pick up each hind foot for a moment and set it down gently.

They say donkeys can be stubborn. All I have to say about that is that when I tried to move this donkey, it was rather like trying to move a tree.

The owner apologized for her, but really, you had to respect her determination and her refusal to be oppressed. I managed to flatter/cajole/dominate the ponies. But the donkey was immune to all that. I think she was waiting to judge me on the basis of whether or not my behavior was appropriate. I hope I passed the test.

I've posted it before, and I'm posting it again. Here is Skeeter:

Photo by P. Foster


  1. Have you ever read "Don't shoot the dog" by Karen Pryor? It's about positive reinforcement and clicker training and she recommends that everyone should train a species with whom coercion absolutely doesn't work and she suggests a chicken. Coercion doesn't work with cats either, but both chickens and cats are clicker trainable. Just wondering if perhaps donkeys come into the same category...

    1. You know I read that book years ago when we first had children, as it was recommended for child-rearing purposes! I recall that I liked it. The donkey's owner and I actually did talk about clicker training - she'd heard of it but never tried it. I think it might work well on a donkey. We're sort of thinking of maybe adopting one ourselves. Maybe.