Two empty sacks, a bundle of hay or straw and a length of string are all it takes to make a simple pack saddle enabling a donkey to carry a reasonable load without suffering wounds or sores.
The only tools needed are a needle, a knife, and a stick, and it takes just a few hours to learn the technique; a keen saddle-maker can then turn out several in a day. The cost per saddle is around 20 birr, equivalent to about £1.20, and a well-looked-after saddle can last several weeks or even several months.
Thanks to The Donkey Sanctuary, hundreds of these saddles are now being made and distributed in various locations around Ethiopia. In six villages around our base at Debre Zeit near the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa we have created a demand for the saddles and trained local residents, including a group of women who needed employment, to make them. These villages were chosen because they all hold regular markets, attracting many donkey owners from the surrounding area, who would buy the saddles. Some of the saddle-makers are now educating their communities about the importance of good harness, and one man is travelling far and wide to find new areas where he can promote and sell his pack saddles.
In other regions we are training local saddlers to produce the pack saddles, as well as sending our own harness-makers out with our mobile units to teach the technique to donkey owners or help them adapt their own pack saddles. Whenever donkeys with harness wounds and sores are brought to our mobile units, our vets and education officers take the chance to talk to owners about the importance of good harness instead of just treating the wounds. Many donkey owners then ask for training so that they can make the pack saddles for themselves.
The new saddles are proving popular among donkey owners, with clear benefits to the donkeys – our teams have seen a marked decrease in back sores in areas where the saddles are being fitted and used correctly. So, in the areas we are able to get to, the production and distribution of these simple saddles is making a real difference to donkeys’ quality of life, in a way which can be sustained by the communities themselves.