Let me set the scene... 21 hours travelling after only a few hours sleep due to 4½ month old son, feeling poorly and waking up repeatedly, due to a bug he also seems to have given to me too. A two year old boy on the flight spent 11 hours kicking me as he understandably fidgeted and squirmed at 35,000ft, without a single toy, imprisoned between me and his mum who was busy watching videos. Oh and a really important week with a chance to make a difference. Do I feel a little bit stressed? Oh yes!
We know that the chemicals released in horses transported over long distances can remain in their bodies for up to three days. One of the challenges we have with new donkey owners is getting them to understand how long it takes to settle down and relax in a new environment. We forget our own experience of similar events and expect the stoic donkey to arrive settle in and be fine within 24 hours.
The donkeys at this week’s clinic at the Donkey Welfare Symposium have had a long journey from Texas and we really need to lower our expectations of them. So often because equids just don’t show the signs of stress, we completely forget they need a lot of time to settle and adjust.
We tell new owners not to do too much too soon, which I think people take this to mean don’t take them to the village fete in the first week, although you would be surprised! Actually, we mean don’t do anything for the first week just be with them - no catching, walking, feet picking up or grooming. May be in week or two we might, depending on the animals, start some of these tasks.
Here is the problem this week... strange place, strange people, donkeys stressed from travel. People will want to catch, lead and pick out the feet on these donkeys. It leads me to a thought of how did I get into this ethical challenge?
And for us humans we need to listen to ourselves more. I have been ignoring the signs of stress for far too long. Those of you who know me will, at that point, be saying “err well yes”. We all do it. Rushed, busy and never enough time, stress has become the norm. We seem to think we are super human. We can carry on until, of course, we can’t. Once our bodies decide enough is enough, it’s too late. At best, long recovery. At worse, trip to the cemetery. I decide to listen more and take more notice of the warnings of stress and change who I am. Start looking after myself better so I might be able to keep helping others. After all, the message to the Symposium this week will be the donkeys and mules are not the problem - we are. Our beliefs and our behaviour affect how we understand our donkeys. Perhaps changing ourselves is the biggest challenge we face, but for such a great cause it is worth it.
At three o’clock in the morning, I come up with the solution to my stress and it is... have more fun. Simple as that. All this pressure to perform and achieve is not good for anyone, so if I take the pressure off, remove the expectations and listen to the donkeys. We will navigate the problem as best we can. And by focusing on listening, rather than doing, I hope that I explain once the donkeys are in their new homes, that owners have 6-12 months of enjoyable work to build the relationship.