We sit down with groom Gemma Lane, who shares stories from her days working at Paccombe Farm – home to more than 350 donkeys.
As groom Gemma Lane heads towards the barn gates, the sound of her approach is drowned out by the noise of hooves hitting straw and brays of anticipation.
The jam sandwiches she holds contain tablets and medication and are already spoken for by a small group of donkeys inside. The others are just as excited and ready to start a new, enjoyable day.
This is how Gemma starts her day at The Donkey Sanctuary’s Paccombe Farm in Sidmouth, home to 375 donkeys, and has done for the last nine years.
At 28-years-old, Gemma has experience beyond her years. As a child, she was introduced to horses and now owns eight herself.
And it’s this that makes working with donkeys so easy, Emma says. Donkeys are less flighty than horses and very expressive. If a donkey is having a good or bad day, you know about it!
Gemma first joined The Donkey Sanctuary as an apprentice in 2012. Two years before joining the charity, she split her time between studying animal care and horticulture at Bicton College and working in a fish and chip shop.
The world of donkeys was a foreign one, but one she threw herself in with gusto. Despite being the youngest on her team, she loved the job from the offset – and still does.
“I really enjoyed being the youngest!” she says. “I was fresh out of college into the big wide working world, and I was around dozens of donkeys!”
Throughout her time at Paccombe, Gemma has struck up firm friendships with all sorts of furry characters, including one distinctive donkey called Swaidin.
Distinctive how you ask? Well, if you were to study him, you would find that he has an unusually hairless tail!
With so many memories yet to be made in her work, Gemma remembers one of her fondest – a working trip to our Italian sanctuary, Il Rifugio degli Asinelli.
After putting her name in a hat to make the trip, Gemma was picked and packed her bags alongside Emma Legg from our Axnoller Farm before jetting to Italy for two weeks.
It was an experience to remember. Many of the grooms at Il Rifugio degli Asinelli could not speak fluent English, so they relied on Google Translate to give directions and advice to Gemma.
Mucking out the barns is done by hand, unlike at Paccombe, who use a tractor. It was challenging work but rewarding – and the team in Italy could not have been more accommodating.
Gemma would be the first to say that her job is not really a job but a lifestyle. Each day, there are jam sandwiches to make, donkeys to medicate, stables to muck out, and health checks to conduct – to name a few responsibilities!
But as she approaches her decade year here at The Donkey Sanctuary, she has no plans to stop.
Here’s to many more years!
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