There are divided opinions on whether donkeys should be working in any capacity in this country and certainly working donkeys overseas often do not enjoy the best of lives. The Donkey Sanctuary works very hard to educate owners in many countries around the world on good donkey husbandry.
But should they be allowed to work in the UK giving rides or driving? Donkeys, contrary to popular belief, are not stubborn and stupid. Their biggest problem is their willingness to work for man until they drop, often with very little food or care. Hardly a stubborn attitude.
Donkeys love stimulation and make poor paddock ornaments due to their efficient systems and ability to put on weight rapidly. Toys, donkey agility, walks and indeed any sort of interaction with people is usually enjoyed by the majority of donkeys and distracts them from eating!
Many people see donkeys giving rides on our beaches or at fêtes and fairs and there is actually a Donkey Charter which gives guidelines on working conditions, weight limits (8 stone), rest periods, etc. It does, however, depend on the owner of the donkeys complying and providing good care, both when out working and at their base.
All working donkeys in this country have to be licensed by their local authority under the Riding Establishment Act and a vet inspection is done at the same time. So if you see a donkey that you are unhappy about or you feel they are not getting rest breaks, water and forage or are carrying children who are too big or even worse, adults, then informing the event organiser or the local council would be the best way forward.
Our Donkey Welfare Advisers visit beach donkeys on a regular basis and in many cases have an excellent relationship with the operator.
The Donkey Sanctuary uses donkeys for donkey assisted therapy and it has been found that the effects on people with challenging additional needs are little short of amazing. I have seen first hand how the donkeys empathise and understand that some people are different and these incredible animals respond accordingly.
We encourage foster owners to do things with their donkeys and driving is becoming increasingly popular as donkeys lend themselves to this so well. Donkeys are curious about things and take a great deal of interest in their surroundings when out and about, enjoying the different scenery rather than the four fences of their paddock. Whips are used solely for guidance when driving and play an integral part in keeping the sport safe. Obviously there will always be those that abuse but these are certainly in the minority – most donkey owners who drive care very much about the well being of their donkeys.
Donkeys love to be doing and are intelligent creatures. We keep them in the artificial environs of small paddocks and surely owe it to them to make their lives more interesting.
Well cared for working donkeys give much pleasure and love doing it and all donkeys enjoy a good game as you can see from the attached clip of two of my own very special donkeys, Charlie and Aaron!