A call from a Donkey Week supporter alerted me to a donkey derby in my area and a quick trawl of the Internet revealed this was an annual event. Time for me to go along and check it out.
Donkey derbies were a favourite in the sixties when I was a child and often consisted of small donkeys being ridden by heavy men in the afternoon after a session in the beer tent. As the suggested weight limit is eight stone this is not acceptable. Fortunately the Riding Establishments Acts of 1964 and amendments in 1970 did regulate the riding of equines and they will be licensed by the Local Authority in the counties or district they are kept. In addition, increased attention to health and safety has also helped to remove random donkey derbies and those that remain today are normally well insured and adhere to safety rules. But, as with anything, we still come across the occasional donkey derby which doesn't meet modern requirements and as a Welfare Adviser it is my role to ensure that any use of donkeys is conducted with regard to good welfare.
The donkey derby was the central point of a village fête on a traditional village green on one of the hottest days of the year. A quick check revealed the donkeys were standing under a big shady tree and had plenty of water on offer for the afternoon. The operator was licensed and specialised in running donkey derbies. Although local riders participated, the donkey handlers led the children in the races. In addition there was donkey racing with a lightweight cart sometimes known as a sulky, for lighter weight adults.
The donkeys attracted a big crowd of people around them and were quite large, fit looking donkeys which as they took to their races, proved to be an accurate assessment. I'm not entirely sure I would have wanted to be behind a couple of them in the lightweight cart as the donkeys certainly took being in front very seriously, storming down the short course back to the shady tree. The donkey handlers did well to keep hold of them!
Donkey derbies are not everyone’s idea of entertainment but as long as they are well run and the welfare of the donkeys is strictly adhered to, they do bring a glimpse of the amazing versatility of the donkey and its ability to adapt to working situations. After a few hours of work, these donkeys would be getting into their airy lorry and going home. For many donkeys worldwide, a much longer and hotter day would just be starting.
We also have a Code of Practice for working donkeys which also covers beach donkeys.
Take steps to help donkeys in Santorini
Donkeys and mules are used as tourist taxis on the island of Santorini, Greece, carrying passengers or luggage. Sign our petition to help us stop the cruelty.