Sometimes when you look back you realise just how far you’ve come. Two years ago I received a call from a very distressed owner, Phil. He felt he needed to send his much-loved donkeys in to us as he had some health issues and was experiencing difficulties in maintaining a regular farrier. He was devastated. I asked him not to be too hasty and we had a long discussion about what the issues were and how we might be able to at least try to find an alternative solution.
Phil’s lovely family of five donkeys consisted of mum, dad, and three of their offspring, dad had been gelded after donkey number three. All the group had overgrown hooves, they were all very overweight and apart from hugs they weren’t receiving consistent handling. The lack of handling was making them extremely stressed and, as they only had a field shelter, the farrier had to stand outside to trim their hooves and added to this he was expected to catch the donkeys too. Perhaps it was not surprising then that the owner was struggling to secure a regular farrier. I explained to the owner that he needed to work out a better system where the donkeys could be housed under cover for the farrier and I would start to work on their behaviour.
We walked around the rambling hall and into the courtyard which was full of discarded items. We walked through into an enormous shed which was also full of stuff. I turned to the owner and asked “how much do you want to keep your donkeys, because I have a plan?” The owner organised for someone to pick up most of the usable items and he then disposed of the rest over time. He erected gates on all the openings in the courtyard and the large shed would become the evening quarters for the donkeys and they would have an enormous run out yard, perfect, we just needed to catch them all…
Considering the donkeys had many acres to graze, catching the first three was relatively easy, catching mum and her son proved a little more challenging but we got there. I left instructions with Phil to practise catching, putting on headcollars and just letting them go, and returned in a few days.
On my return the donkeys were much easier to catch but I then had to start the long process of shaping their behaviour towards being handled. We made a start but knew we’d need a farrier visit very soon. So I arranged for a farrier who had been before and who I knew was superb with donkeys, I assured him things would be different than they used to be so he agreed to come. We also arranged for a vet to sedate the two geldings as they were the most easily stressed towards hoof handling. I attended each farrier visit for some time as the owner was unable to hold the donkeys as he was still in considerable pain.
To cut a very long story short, all the donkeys are now able to be trimmed without sedation, they are relaxed and easy for the farrier to trim and my visits are no longer a necessity but I do go periodically to offer advice if requested.
Phil keeps in touch regularly by email or text and he recently asked me if I would come and see what he’d done and how different his donkeys were. On arrival I was overwhelmed with how superb his donkeys looked and how much more relaxed they were. Phil had listened to all my advice and acted on all of it, the sight was just awesome. The courtyard was full of Ash branches, food balls and toys for the donkeys to interact with. They had a big shed full of a deep bed of straw. The owner had worked really hard and sectioned up the donkeys’ fields so they had more limited access to grazing and now the donkeys were almost perfect weight. Phil said “if it wasn’t for you these donkeys would be gone.” No Phil, it is all down to your hard work, your determination, your willingness to accept advice, and your deep love for your donkeys. I was just a guiding hand.
Here are some pics of the “gang” waiting for the farrier to arrive, I think they look pretty happy!