Monday, October 10, 2016

Why Donkeys?

Every week it seems, I get asked if I own horses. Well, I do dress like a cowgirl. I work with horses as a part of my living as a riding instructor. My answer is always a lot longer than the usual, coupled with photos on my phone, as people look at me sideways, imagining me on the typical tiny burro. I answer, "No, mammoths!" and search through my photos to find one that illustrates their true size. People are amazed. They had no idea. Then comes the other inevitable question: Why Donkeys?

Well, there's a complex answer to that. Part of the reason I personally got into donkeys exclusively instead of horses has to do with a horse breaking my heart and the donkeys healing it. However, the long and the short of it is that donkeys are AMAZING. Here's why:

1. They are far more intelligent than horses. I'm not saying that to hurt horse people. I adore horses. However, donkeys are true thinkers. I have rarely met a horse that is truly as deep a thinker as a donkey is. They exist, but are rare. Are horses easier to handle and ride? Usually. Are they speedier? Absolutely. However, they tend to use the thinking side of their brain a bit less, and take more repetition in training to learn something that a  donkey can learn very quickly. The problem is, that donkeys can learn "bad" things just as easily as "good" things, and might not always have the same goals as you. Unless you can align their goals to your goals, you will not accomplish much, and the typical negative reinforcement can only take you so far.  Hence why horse trainers often refuse to take on donkeys or mules. Donkeys can also learn from watching a human perform tasks much easier than a horse. For instance, they can watch how you unclip a gate, and then do it the same way. They can watch you perform training on another donkey, and then do it without being taught. They can also take into their own hooves your training...for instance, learning to happily lead a horse around by the lead rope. Donkeys have a much stronger sense of self preservation as well, so if I am riding and the donkey ends up in a bad situation, he or she is more likely to keep us both safe, rather than struggle and get hurt or run off. I have had donkeys get themselves into predicaments  (when no one was around) that a horse would have killed itself over, and those donkeys just waited for help and snoozed, because struggling and harming themselves would have been unwise and honestly too much work. Saved me heartache for sure!

2. Donkeys are LOVING. I'm not saying horses aren't, but if you are a horse person and have never felt the true love and trust from a donkey....well....then you wouldn't understand (and definitely need some donkeys in your life!). All donkey owners will tell you that they love their horses...but there's something about those donkeys that just fills their heart! Donkeys, if they have bonded with you (they bond to you more like a dog than a horse) are so affectionate! Mine will even stop eating to come over and get snuggled. Donkeys even do what is called "head resting" or a "donkey hug" where they place their head over your shoulder or on your chest, as far up as they can, and pull you in. They do this to assert that you are THEIRS. It is an indescribable feeling to be hugged by a  donkey. They will stay there a long time, close their eyes, and just BE with you. See photo above.

3. For me, having mammoth riding donkeys is a blessing, because I have bad knees and hips. Donkeys are built narrow (if they aren't obese) and have very little side to side movement. So they do not hurt my hip or knees on trail rides. They are generally smooth to ride, and you can even find gaited donkeys.

4. Donkeys eat less than a horse. I can feed at least two mammoth riding donkeys on what one large horse eats a day. So, you know, I can have more donkeys!! Hurray for me! Donkeys are like chips, you truly can't have just one....or two....or three....

5. Those EARS. Donkeys have such amazingly expressive, soft, and wonderful ears. Ours all love the insides rubbed, deep. In the winter, I call them my Rocky Mountain Hand Warmers. I can fit almost half my arm, including my hand in there! The donkeys lower their heads, roll their eyes, twitch their eyebrows, and drop their lower lip, sometimes drooling. Oftentimes they walk up to me and tilt their head to invite me for an ear rub. Who wouldn't love that?!

6. Their noises. Not everyone loves a big donkey bray....and I admit there are times early in the morning when I would like to tell them to take a hike. However, donkeys make some of the coolest noises of any animal. Did you know that the dragon roar from the Lord of The Rings movies was a distorted mammoth jack bray? Donkeys also wuffle, snort, groan, sigh (LOUDLY), sometimes make a purring noise, squeak, huff and blow. They are so expressive in their nosies, both quiet and loud alike, that they are fascinating to listen to. Although my favorite thing a donkey does would probably be when they wind up for a big long bray, and as they bray, they fart with every explosion of air. That makes me laugh...way too much for a grown woman!

7. Their immensely soulful eyes. I love horse eyes, they are beautiful. But there's something truly wise about the way a donkey's deep-set eyes perceive the world.  The deeper the eyes, and the bigger the brow, the more intellectual they seem. Their expressions always start in the eyes, and there is something so intelligent and ancient about them, that I get caught up. You can be quiet with them, and just spend time. You donkey owners know what I mean!

8. Donkeys make you take things slower. The thing about donkeys is that they operate on their own timetable. And they make you do that as well. In our fast-paced world, slowing down is a wonderful thing. Donkeys are slow, deliberate, and take their time making decisions that are right for them. We could all learn a lot from donkeys.

9. Because of all of the reasons listed above, donkeys make for fantASStic therapists. They humble you when you need to be humbled, they raise you up when you are down, and they slow you down when you are out of control in this breakneck world.

There are probably a million more reasons why we choose to have donkeys in our lives. Share yours with us! We would love to hear.

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