I think it is safe to say we are all in love with Shiloh.  Seriously, who can resist this face?

I have always been a sucker for long horse manes and tails, thick goat buck beards, and long donkey ears. 

I haven’t had nearly the time to work with her that I had hoped, but I know I’ll get there.  Nonetheless, since we got her, I have managed to improve her manners a bit, improve her leading, improve her issues going through gates, and even get some riding time.  Mostly, the kids ride and I lead.  One day, she was being a bit of a pistol though, so I hopped on and rode.  I can imagine the site, me, bareback on a donkey, with my feet hanging about 2 feet off the ground.  I didn’t go far, but I wanted to work on her willingness to listen to the rider.  The kids just aren’t able to do that.  She did pitch a bit of a fit at first.  Donkeys have no withers, so everytime she put her head down to fight me, I feared I would slide right down her neck, and get hooked by those foot-long ears!  Finally, she gave in and began to cooperate.  We went for a leisurely ride around the woods and her pen, and ended on a good note.   I even managed to spend a couple afternoons working on her feet.  I got her picking them up pretty consistently, and was finally able to trim and file off some of the excess growth that the rescue hadn’t gotten to.

After a good week of handling, grooming, leading, etc., she was doing really well.  Horses and donkeys are, indeed, quite different.  One of the differences is in how they generally react to something “spooky.”  Rather than being very flighty, and bucking/running off like a horse might, the donkey tends to freeze up and evaluate the situation before reacting.  This is one of the reasons they have a reputation for being stubborn.  If they aren’t confident in moving forward, they won’t.  For that reason, however, they are known to make excellent, realtively safe, mounts for kids.  I have noticed that Shiloh, in her green-ness, will frequently stop any time one of the kids starts leaning or losing their seat while riding her.  I like that!   That being said, I had been pleased with her reactions to new things, so I decided to take M for a trail ride one day.  Just a little Mommy/daughter date, which was long overdue.  Of course, we still don’t have a saddle or bridle, so I was just going to lead her on the halter, and M would ride bareback, as we had been doing all week. 

Then I made my first mistake.  Will, our dog, has always been my trail riding buddy.  I called him to go with us…completely forgetting two things.  First off, Shiloh has never met Will since the lazy bum always stays in the house.   Secondly, one reason we got Shiloh was because she doesn’t like dogs and will protect her goats/people/turf from them.  COMPLETE and total blond moment on my part, and unfortunately, at M’s expense.  We made it as far as the dirt road that borders our property before Will caught up.  Shiloh got one ear twitch in his direction before she jumped to the side to have a go at him.  That, of course, resulted in M sliding right off and onto the gravel.  Yes, she was wearing a helmet (just ignore the opposite in the photo below.  She got on just for a quick picture.), and thankfully it isn’t a long fall.  But a first fall for a 5 year old is still scary. 

After we sent Will back home, and dealing with a bit of crying and my demanding that she get back on (that is the rule when you fall off, after all!), she reluctantly got back on.  Shiloh recovered quickly once the dog was out of the picture, so I felt safe going on.  She rode for a good mile and a half with no further issues.  I did learn about how deprived Shiloh has been, though (likely spending the majority of her life in a paddock).  At one point, we encountered a steep hill, and Shiloh took half a leap forward, in an attempt to try to run up it.  M, surprisingly, balanced, and stayed on.  She was very proud, and Shiloh figured out how to walk the hills after a while.  Then, just as we were about to head back home, something spooked her.  I don’t know what it was, but it resulted in her jumping about 2 feet sideways, which, of course, flung M right off again.  You can imagine how terrible I felt.  Now, however, we were over 2 miles from home, on a trail in the woods. 

I allowed M to just walk for a while, then she asked to get back on (to my heart’s delight), under the condition that I hold on to her.  I got a good hold of her waistband, urged Shiloh forward, and we headed home.  There were no more problems, and Shiloh did very well.  I decided not to push M at all, to see how she would handle it.  To my relief, a couple days later, when we were giving rides around the yard to friends, M wanted to ride too.  I think she is going to be OK, and possibly even takes a little pride in the fact that she has fallen off twice, and JR has never fallen off. 

In the mean time, though, I will not be pushing the kids to ride until I can find a saddle.  I will ride a bit just to get her accustomed to it.  I have to take advantage of the time I have now, as once her foal gets bigger (assuming she is pregnant), I won’t be able to ride since I am a lot heavier than the kids.  Hopefully, I will be able to get a saddle in the next month or two.  At least they will have something to hold on to if the green donkey jumps while wearing a saddle.

If any of you are considering donkey ownership, here are a few things I have learned in the last couple weeks (mind you, my lessons so far have been learned from 1 individual donkey)…

  • Donkeys aren’t stubborn so much as they take more time to think about things, and they hesitate to move forward if they are unsure about something–anything.
  • Donkeys take a lot more patience and slow going in training.  If you are used to the the quick, “flighty” response of a horse when training, donkeys are very different.  You have to take it slow or you risk them “shutting down”….they literally get offended, lock their feet up, and don’t want to move until you make them feel better about the situation.
  • Donkeys get their feelings hurt VERY easily, and actually pout!  It is the funniest thing.  First time Shiloh hit the electric wire in her pen, she hee-hawed for a solid 10 seconds, moved to the center of the pen, dropped her head to the ground, and just stood there pouting for a minute or two.  It wasn’t until I walked over and loved on her that she came around.
  • Donkeys generally do just freeze when they are unsure, but they will occasionally leap sideways or forward first, then freeze.  Just an fyi in case you plan to take your 5 year old on a bareback trailride.
  • Donkeys have an incredible memory.  Unlike a horse, who generally seems to forgive and forget pretty easily, the donkey remembers where the not-so-fun training session happened and has no desire to return to that area.  She also remembers if a not-so-fun experience happened after you haltered her the day before, and may well try to refuse being haltered, led through her gate, and/or led anywhere near where the remembered experience took place.  Now, in my mind, nothing bad has happened, so I am definintely having to learn to see things from her perspective.  What might be fun for me, may be not-so-fun for her and set us up for a battle of the wills next day.  Lesson learned:  make sure you ALWAYS end on a really good note, doing something the donkey is good at and doesn’t mind doing (not always easy when the donkey has NO training whatsoever, therefore is not really good at doing anything, and you have to teach everything from the beginning!).
  • Donkeys are far more treat motivated than a horse.  I have used treats for a number of her lessons, in an attempt to keep the lesson more enjoyable for her.
  • Donkeys are much faster learners than horses.  If she is rewarded after just one try, she tends to do that almost immediately the next time–even if the next time is a day or two later. 
  • Donkeys are very playful!  I have never had a mature mare (female horse) that has a desire to play with toys much).  They take a life a little too serious sometimes.  The donkey, on the other hand, will play at least once with almost anything I give her.  She has managed to rip her feed bucket off the tree it was tied to, she loves to dump any bucket in her pen, she picks up and tosses the jolly ball, and I have to assume she also kicks the ball around based on how its location in the pen changes regularly, and she likes to try to frolick with the goats (although, the girls are still a bit intimidated by her, so they usually just run away). 
  • Donkeys have the potential to bond closely with another–be it a donkey, a group of goats, or a person.  We aren’t there yet, but I am seeing the potential of having a friend for life. 
  • Donkeys are very easy maintenance!  Her diet consists of free-choice kelp and hay.  That’s it.  No grain (except the occasional handful for a treat), no extra alfalfa, no supplements (except for kelp).  She also isn’t as picky, so she does a really good job cleaning up hay off the ground (hers or Stallions), which reduces our waste significantly.  I think the most difficult part of her feeding will be keeping her from getting too fat–especially when on pasture.
  • Donkeys are just plain fun!