“What do you want for Christmas?” I asked Daisy, Jenny and Larry Potter. They looked up from munching, reflecting on the question. Looking at them, I thought how content they looked and a new grooming brush, a few carrots or even a new food bowl wouldn't make much difference to their lives. But the one thing I could do that would make a difference was to make sure that at over the Christmas and New Year period, I spent some quality time with them so they had a sociable festive season too. An extra special groom with some donkey massage, maybe a walk out together – we like a Christmas walk – or even playing with some agility type obstacles in our manège, are all ideas that would amuse all four of us. And this got me thinking, the great gift we can give our animals costs nothing at all and means the world to them – our company and our time.
For me it is easy enough, the holidays revolve around our animals and we don't go away or even have lots of visitors. So we have plenty of time to spend with them and enjoy their company, relaxing in that calmness that donkeys and ponies have in a frenetic world. With phones not ringing and no pressure to go anywhere or do anything we can enjoy a leisurely few days in each other's company that isn't always so possible in a busy routine especially when the days are so short at this time of the year. So we all make the most of this time before a busy New Year starts.
But if you are a donkey owner and are having relatives and friends visit, please do try and remember it is the donkeys' Christmas too. In fact the donkey was an integral part of the Christmas story. Just be aware your donkeys might feel overwhelmed by people they don't know and if they are not used to seeing children, they might be a bit unsure. So take the opportunity to educate people about donkeys, and get them to approach them quietly. It's not necessary or usually even desirable, to feed lots of titbits, a kind word, a scratch, maybe a bit of a groom, will all help make the donkeys' Christmas special.
If you are leaving the donkeys, then try to spend some time with them when you are at home and of course you will have made provision for someone to check them, feed them and top up their water at the very least. It's a good idea to leave not only your contact number but also the vet's number and to maybe warn the vet you are away and they might get a phone call from someone caring for the donkeys (let's hope not but you never know). I'm always over anxious and leave lots of notes but having said that, on the rare occasions we have left the animals with carers, they have been fine so I think more notes rather than less is probably better. Always introduce your donkey carers to the donkeys beforehand and go through the daily routine practically as well as in theory. Do emphasise the importance of watching behaviour. Donkeys are notoriously bad at showing pain or discomfort so carers need to be aware of subtle changes in behaviour and not hesitate to call the vet if worried. Download them a copy of the Donkey Handbook for some bedtime reading.
- Do spend time with your donkey over the festive season.
- Don't alter the routine of the donkeys if possible.
- Do educate friends and relatives in approaching and handling them.
- Don't allow lots of tit bits and above all don't feed human food such as mince pies or cake.
- Do arrange reliable care with plenty of contact numbers.
- Don't leave them shut in with extra feed and no one to check them.
...and remember, what your donkey really wants for Christmas is YOU.