Donkeys seem to be forgotten in the equestrian world, despite their lovable, sad looking faces, comical braying and gentle natures, Donkeys are still seen as the short, less impressive and disproportionate versions of our great steeds. Humans acquired the best possible four-legged ally around 6,000 years ago- the wild horse. The domestication of horses during 3000 B.C gave us the means to grow crops, plough fields, travel and earn money, but Donkeys were also domesticated around this time, ancestors of the African wild Ass, Donkey were used for travel and labour. Donkeys have helped humankind just as much as horses and here are 5 lesser known reasons why they make great four-legged friends.
Donkeys are hardy creatures– have you ever heard the phrase “the straw that broke the camel’s back”? Camels were domesticated in northern Africa and the Middle East around 2,000 years ago, but before this, Donkeys were the staple working animal in this part of the world and the original phrase was; “the straw that broke the Donkeys back”- which alludes to their great physical strength and stamina. Donkeys are capable of carrying up to 20% of their body weight, as they have wider backs and sturdier stocky legs than the average horse. In the ancient Egyptian cultures, Donkeys were considered the “beasts of burden” which essentially means creatures who are capable of carrying great loads and their smaller size is great for tackling rough and uneven terrain whilst carrying weight.
They are very intelligent- unfortunately donkeys are stereotyped, often described as stubborn, but what most of us don’t realise is that they are actually more intelligent than horses! They are much more inclined to act independently if training isn’t implemented efficiently, and they have the psychological capability to pause and actually think things through. If a donkey comes to the conclusion that the human command isn’t necessary, then it won’t happen. This trait is a form of instinctual self-preservation, harking back to their desert roots. Horses are much more prone to the “flight” reaction, living among open plains they would run at the first sight of danger. Donkeys lived in a harsher environment, unconducive to simply running from predators. This has made them able to analyse individual situations, so they react more rationally and safely when carrying cargo or a rider.
Great beginner rides for kids- the average donkey is a bit too small to accommodate an adult due to its height, but they are absolutely perfect mounts for kids. They are naturally steady, plodding creatures originally desert animals they are able to enjoy a slow, comfortable stroll, more than a rollicking gallop across the countryside. Donkeys are incredibly gentle, and less prone to spooking than horses or ponies, their temperaments are also less erratic. Unlike mares, female donkeys or “jennys” are equally as gentle and passive as the typical gelding and both sexes are typically very level-headed, perfect for young children!
Cheaper to keep- Donkeys are initially much cheaper to buy, and the upkeep of these lovely creatures is quite low. Donkeys have much sturdier hooves so don’t have to be shod, which we all know can definitely save some pennies. However, they do need to have their feet trimmed every 6-8 weeks like horses, as their hooves will grow quickly if only worked on soft ground. You can also save some money on bedding, Donkeys are perfectly comfortable on a smaller bed in comparison to horses and ponies, but they must have some form of shelter as their coats are lacking the grease present in horse hair that repels rain.
They are adorable, let’s face it- Donkeys are like sad-looking, long eared teddy bears. Like Horses and ponies, they are herd animals, more comfortable hanging out with other animals than being alone. Donkeys form strong, life long bonds called “pair bonds” with those they share pasture with and will become depressed if they are separated from friends or kept alone. Donkeys are also used as “livestock guardians” in certain parts of the world, keeping smaller animals like sheep or goats safe from harm. They are hugely protective and will alert the farmer to any form of threat like a fox or wolf.
All in all, I think the positives concerning Donkeys should be spread, their little quirks deserve to be appreciated! I’d love to hear what you guys think on this topic- have you ever owned a Donkey? If so, has your experience been positive or negative?