I had my knowledge tested last weekend by an old friend. I’ve always helped her with her two ponies, but recently she’s acquired a young donkey.

I don’t know much about donkeys except that they are stubborn and a lot of horses are frightened of them.

So these were her problems and the solutions we came up with.

1. Whenever my friend lead her donkey he would stop and plant his feet, seeming to grow roots as she could not get him to shift.

I suggested that instead of getting into a tug of war situation my friend enlisted the help of one of her teenage sons to walk behind with a plastic bag attached to a lunge whip. When the donkey stopped and dug his heels in my friend should ask him to walk on while her son waved the plastic bag behind him. When the donkey walked forwards, the bag monster could drop back and the reward was the disappearance of the monster, but it was ready to assist when the brakes went on. 

My friend trialled this the next day with success, so will continue this routine. She had been leading the three equids together so that she didn’t get stuck with a stubborn donkey. Now she can lead the donkey in separately and work on him without the ponies being present.

2. The donkey has no idea about personal space, and continuously pushes against his handler, wedges himself between the handler and ponies, and barges into people.

My friend needs to start putting the donkey firmly back in his box. When he gets too close she needs to calmly clarify her personal space, this may be by throwing her arms wide and discouraging him from coming any closer, pushing him back when he edged closer, and telling him off verbally. It’s important to be consistent though as donkeys are quick to fall back into rude habits. I think handling him separately to the ponies will allow her to focus more on his stable manners and he doesn’t have the ponies to distract him. She can reward him with a pat, grooming session as he loves that, or the odd ginger nut that he adores. Hopefully spending extra time with him will remind him of his manners and get him into a good routine and good habits.

3. When the three are turned out the donkey barges against the ponies, pushing them out the way and biting their necks. Even the grumpy chestnut mare walks away, letting the donkey walk all over her.

This donkey is only two years old and the two ponies are in their early twenties, so it could be that the donkey wants to play. Not having grown up in a donkey herd he won’t have developed vital herd social skills so throws his weight around and thinks he’s the boss. Handling him separately, and quietly and consistently confirming her authority over him, my friend will stop the donkey being top dog. She could try to stimulate the donkey in the field. She uses paradise paddocks but I suggested maybe putting an old football in the field for the donkey to play with, or putting large branches or logs around the field for him to explore and chew on – I believe donkeys are like goats in that way. Then I also suggested doing a bit more work with the donkey. Yes, he’s too young to lunge or physically work hard, but taking him for walks will mentally stimulate him and possibly doing ground work with poles and cones will give him something to think about. My final suggestion if all else fails was to send him to a donkey herd for the summer so he learnt some donkey manners, and then my friend can take over in the autumn and re-establish her expectations of him.

So far the donkey is learning to stay out of my friends personal space, and she is doing more on the ground with him to build onto longer walks and play sessions. But if anyone has any other donkey related tips we’d be more than grateful!

2 thoughts on “Donkeys 

  1. firnhyde Jun 26, 2015 / 7:16 am

    I don’t train donkeys on the basis that I don’t want to teach anything that’s smarter than I am!
    We do have an 18-year-old donkey, though, which keeps horses in the individual paddock company and generally hangs around eating. He is usually a completely friendly and problem-free little fellow, right up until we have to trim his feet. I pick up and clean his feet every evening without a peep of protest, but no matter what we do, trimming them is just something he refuses to accept. Perhaps his old joints don’t like standing on three legs for so long, or perhaps he’s just a donkey. So time after time we have to rope his legs and lie him down like you do for a colt to be gelded; then he is really quite peaceful and happily lies there while I sit on his neck and the farrier quickly does his feet.

  2. Donkey Driver Jul 5, 2015 / 2:49 am

    I don’t think donkeys are stubborn, just different than horses. I have several and I’ve noticed that around the age of three they start maturing mentally and do a lot better in their manners.

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