What can you do with a donkey? What can't you do with a donkey!

ArticleHow to - General Equine AdviceMonday 19 September 2011

(Especially if you join the Donkey Breed Society and link up with like-minded enthusiasts!)

Some people imagine that because we concentrate on in-hand showing, we never do anything else.

Some people assume that as our stallions stand at stud, they do nothing else all year – how wrong can they be? Some drive, some go and lead Palm Sunday parades or carry assorted 'Marys' down the aisle for Nativities and Carol Services, they go for drives up the pub and carry the picnic if we go for a walk. When driven, they may compete, do fun classes, training days, displays (including at Burghley Horse Trials!), take part in the London Harness Horse and New Year’s Day London Parades and also deliver fruit and veg. offerings for the Pearly Kings & Queens’ Harvest Festival celebrations in London.

Our mares get out and about too – Palm Sundays, our local school and church fetes (‘Guess the name of the foal’) – plus showing too of course.

The youngsters don’t get left out – as new yearlings (on 1st January) one or two may take part in the New Year’s Day London Parade as part of a procession of perhaps 8,000 people watched by 100,000 lining the streets and several million worldwide. They also go to shows and might go to a school for a ‘patting session’. We’ve even done the odd thing for TV.

We firmly believe that we get out what we put in – and that the more you do with a donk, the more fun you have – and the more of an all-rounder the donkey becomes and the more it becomes capable of doing.

One of the most important (and obvious!) things to know is that a donkey is not a pony!

A donkey has different needs, has a different physiology and has a different way of viewing life. If you try and keep a donkey as you would a pony, you are asking for trouble. If a vet tries to treat a donkey as a pony this can have serious – if not fatal – consequences. If you try and train a donkey as you would a pony you will end up with one very ‘stubborn’, bored donkey who will refuse to co-operate. If the farrier trims its feet in the same way, this will not best suit the foot – and if you buy tack, harness or rugs for a pony it will almost certainly not fit.

Companions for a donkey

Donkeys need company as, unless in exceptional circumstances, a donkey will be very lonely and upset if it lives alone. The ideal companion is another donkey, preferably one of a similar age as youngsters need someone to play with, and older ones can get annoyed by the constant antics of the young brigade. Mixed age groups are usually fine, but try and make sure there is at least someone of a similar outlook for each donkey to pair up with. If you do not have another donkey as a companion, donkeys live very well with a horse or pony – or even a goat – but it’s a bit like one of us having to live with a chimpanzee and no human contact. The species are close but it’s not quite the same is it?

Donkeys make very strong links with their companions and splitting up ‘friends’ which have really bonded can be extremely stressful for a donkey – so much so that they can become ill with a stress-related disease hyperlipaemia (liver failure). This is often fatal.

Donkeys & Other Animals

Most geldings and mares are fine with most other animals, however colts and stallions can be very territorial and may attack (and possible kill) other animals such as lambs – so don’t just assume turning your donkeys out with a flock of sheep will be OK. It might not.

The one animal that many donkeys will not tolerate (unless brought up with them or trained to accept) is dogs. Donkeys have a natural instinct to attack ‘wolf’ predators – and will chase dogs, stamping their front feet in an endeavour to trample them. If the donkey caught a dog, they may seriously injure or kill it. Once a donkey is happy with a dog, then they will be fine, but I always caution people to be very careful when introducing donkeys to dogs – including ‘strange’ new dogs if the donkey is already happy with the family pet pooch. Mares with foals will also be very protective and might turn on a dog that they have previously been very happy with. Be careful!

This defensive action against predators is used in some parts of the world where a single donkey is run with a flock of sheep. The donkey bonds with the sheep (it must be just one donkey else it will bond with another donkey and ignore the flock) and protects them to the point of chasing / killing predators such as coyotes etc.

Editorial credit -  www.trinitas-donkeys.co.uk

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