A chilled yet peaceful silence lay over the Sanctuary this morning, with not a single donkey in sight nor a braying to be heard anywhere. It was one of those mornings that looks deceptively warm - until you step into the icy coldness of the outdoors. Muffled with scarves and gloves, Phil and I made our way to Shelter 3 and the blind/partially-sighted donkeys. There they were in the barn-warm cosiness, chomping contentedly on their winter-feed. Gradually, one by one the donks shuffled through the deep straw to enjoy a nice brushing and a few cuddles, before heading back to the feed trough and more munching. We were pleased to meet new donkey - Baby, who was very affectionate and seems to have settled in well with the others.
By the time we left Shelter 3, the atmosphere outside had changed to one of boisterous action! Now most of the donkeys spend the beginning of their day eating in the warmth of their shelters, then weather dependent, they either go out for a leg-stretch in the yards or they can run out into the paddocks for an hour or so. They don't spend a lot of time outside at the moment - but when they do, the various exercise regimes kick in!
First sporting event of the day was taking place in Shelter 2, where a couple of Muffin's gang were playing a furious game of Tug 'O War with someone's discarded collar, while the others were cantering around them braying - presumably the donk method of, "cheering on". Paul Muffin the mule stood a little apart, possibly playing the role of referee, but more likely plotting how he could nick the collar for himself!
After watching the mad-cap Muffin gang for a while, Phil and I went to Shelter 6 to see what the six little donkeys were up to. Ashley greeted us at the gate with great enthusiasm, followed by Mr Khan and Zena, then Mars, Rav and Skippy - all of whom were equally keen to get in on the donkey-cuddle action!
Once we'd extracted ourselves from the warm and fluffy hug-in, Phil and I were amazed to see that the little donkeys' yard had been transformed into what could only be described as a large play-pen - complete with two play balls, three pink snack-balls, a small traffic cone - which by now was dangling from Ashley's mouth, and the obligatory wellie boots! Zena spent nearly ten minutes scraping at the bark play area with her hoof trying, it seemed, to bury one of the balls. Just as she was about to roll it into the hollow she'd created, Mars trotted over and skilfully dribbled the ball away! After grooming the little donkeys and watching them play a while more, it was time for them to go out into the paddock for an energetic and rather chaotic game of chase!
Having elected not to join in with Ashley's chase game, Phil and I headed up to the foster donkeys at Garmston Barn for some gentle grooming. But it was not to be! Instead of finding a yard of grown-up donkeys munching quietly on feed, they too had caught the exercise bug and were braying and racing around the far end of the field. Nutty, who would normally rush over to Phil for some affection, utterly ignored him and continued with her very noisy and excitable game with the likes of Thistle, Tommy and Rupert the mule. We were clearly not going to entice this group from their fun and frolics, so back to New Barn and our lovely group of elderly donks from the summer-time Meet and Greet Team!
Our New Barn donkeys tend to spend the winter in the yards - and that's where we found them. Being more dignified, these donkeys much prefer a quiet stroll around the sanctuary grounds, stopping only to give close inspection to potential hedgerow-nibbles, or to pause and pose for photographs for the few visitors who are hardy enough to visit during the winter months. So, looking forward to some quiet walking with these donkeys, Phil and I collected a couple of head-collars and went to find the first two donkeys. Hugo and Tuppence were a joy to walk, but once back in the yard they kept re-joining the queue to try and get a second walk - they're quite a comical duo! As we led out Jack and Holly, then Chico and Susie, Hugo's head and the tip of Tuppence's muzzle (she's very short!) would poke over the stable door and both would bray a loud farewell. Two by two we led the donkeys out for a walk until Phil and I could walk no more, except...
...there were two more donkeys who had been patiently waiting their turn all afternoon - Billy and Jubilee. Last walk of the day would be easy - a real wind-down with two old friends! So off we set, Phil in front with Jubilee, and me with Billy. As we reached the grassy track that headed towards Shelter 6, Jubilee did the unimaginable - he broke into a vigorous trot, forcing Phil to run to keep up! Feeling glad I was with Billy I chuckled as Phil and Jubilee raced off into the distance. Of course - I thought I knew Billy...but oh no! Off went Billy in pursuit of Jubilee - his ears forward and I swear a mischievous grin on his face, and me hanging on to the rope as I raced beside him. As we swept past Ashley's field, he and his friends joined in - all charging excitedly alongside the fence. On the other side I glimpsed Muffin and his gang as they witnessed the bizarre sight of two geriatric donkeys travelling at some speed exercising two, by now exhausted QTVs!
Eventually Billy and Jubilee slowed to a walk and the four of us made it back to the yard in one piece. The two donkeys rushed back into the barn together, eager to check out feeding-times, while Phil and I headed home for a hot bath and a restful evening!