I hope you’re doing well and enjoying this mild weather. I know the herd is. What a sight to see them all romping in the warm breeze, tossing hay, kicking up mud. This is such a good reminder for us all: Farm life is a lot of fun.
I grew up in an apartment building in New Rochelle, dreaming of meeting animals beyond the dogs my neighbors walked along our busy road. I was lucky, though. My parents saved enough money to send me to summer camp in the Adirondacks. It was there that I learned to trail ride, and I fell so deeply in love with horses that I dreamed of having one my whole life. When that dream came true twenty years ago, and in the subsequent years of boarding my horse at several barns, I got to spend time with a variety of intriguing farm residents: dogs, cats, chickens, a goose, even a crow. However, I had no idea what I was missing. Until I became a volunteer at 13 Hands, I’d never known a donkey. Folks, donkey love is real.
There’s a huge range of donkey experiences you might have at 13 Hands. Here are just a few:
Possibility #1. You come for a visit, looking for a connection. On your tour, you hang your elbows on a fence hoping to catch the attention of a flashy horse who’s caught your eye. While that horse is distracted by other horses in the field, three or four or maybe six donkeys come to the fence quietly and tentatively. They stop short of the fence by about five feet. They study you and for a moment make you feel like you’re an alien visiting from a far away planet. Then, without warning, one takes a few steps toward you, nose in the air to catch your scent. You put your hand out, that brave soul sniffs it, and suddenly you find yourself giving a good scratch. The donkey relaxes. You feel yourself bonding. The other donkeys look on, talking to one another silently. I imagine they’re saying things like, “Hey, we should be brave too,” and “You go first.” It only takes a minute until another donkey pushes in. Before you know it, you’ve made several lifelong friends.
Possibility #2. You pull up to a field just before the herd’s hay delivery. Everyone is on high alert. The horses dot the paddock in small clusters, waiting eagerly for the sound of the tractor. Their necks are stretched, their heads are high, hoping to catch sight of it. The mules are a little more chill. They know the horses will let them know when the buffet arrives. And the donkeys are buddied up, their giant ears pitched forward in the direction the hay will come. One donkey, though, spots you from across the field and believes you deserve a greeting. From deep in that donkey’s soul comes a sound you will never be able to describe as long as you live. Part out-of-tune trombone, part murderous scream, part wheeze—the donkey shouts what might be the most memorable “Hello” you’ll ever get. When the hay arrives, that donkey gets busy eating. It doesn’t matter. Your life is never the same.
Possibility #3. You have an opportunity to connect—really connect—with a donkey. This means you come back for multiple visits. The donkey remembers you. (A donkey’s memory is excellent.) Each time you visit, you earn a little more of that donkey’s trust. Whatever trauma, whatever neglect that donkey suffered—it melts away every time you put out your calm, kind hand, every time you offer a good scratch. Each time you visit, that donkey’s confidence grows. Each time you visit, it feels magical, for the donkey and for you.
I can’t end this post without a shoutout to baby donkey Basil, who is under a year old. I’ve watched him grow and develop his confidence, and I believe with all my heart that he understands the kindness of humans. His mom, traumatized by her past, would rather not be approached. But to her credit, she hasn’t held her baby back, and Basil’s curiosity and bravery are flourishing.
Come meet him, folks. Come meet them all. Come fall in Donkey Love.
Until next time,