Donkey owners--need opinions, please - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 5 Old 01-23-2012, 03:31 PM Thread Starter
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Donkey owners--need opinions, please

DH (yet unpublished) has written close to 40 American 19th century history novels, and he wants a character to go west from MO to the CO goldfields during the 1850's, leading a pack donkey. We've never owned them, so my input is...sparse. Let me know your opinions about the following:
1) at what age is a donkey mature?
2) how do you train one to carry a pack?
3) how much weight can they carry? (We're retired CW reenactors, so we know what the character would pack and the weights for such, but you can comment on that, too.)
Donkeys (and mules) have a legendary reputation for being stubburn. Is this true? I've read that they take longer to train, but retain their training longer--whatever THAT means!!!=b Is this true, and why?...false? ...anybody switch from horses to mules/donkeys? Why?
DH is considering having his character lead a jenny and her foal. Good idea?...bad idea? why?
ANY input about your donkeys will be appreciated!! Love-fests over your donkey(s) welcome on this thread.
Thanks, in advance bc MY next equine will be an Arab!!
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post #2 of 5 Old 01-23-2012, 03:57 PM
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I don't have any experience with donkeys in general, but I do have fairly extensive experience with mules as driven animals. They mature at about the same rate as horses, though back in those days, people didn't concern themselves much with when the animal was actually mature. When they looked grown, they were treated as mature animals and were generally expected to work on the same level as the adult. That generally happened around the age of 2-3.

The amount of dead weight that a donkey can carry is more than that of a horse, though, of course, it depends on the weight of the donkey. Supposedly, they can carry 30-35% of their weight in dead weight (though I've never packed with an animal so this is hearsay).

As for the stubborn streak of donkeys...LOL. It's not that they are stubborn, they are just exponentially smarter than a horse and they have to be trained differently. You cannot man-handle them the way you can a horse without ruining their attitude. You have to give them a good reason to do what you ask and "because I said so" is not good enough for them. I have always preferred horses because I don't understand how mules/donkeys think and they frustrate me easily LOL. However, once you get them broke and they trust you, they are incredibly willing and trustworthy. They don't panic and react immediately the way horses do, they think things through first.

Their training, if done correctly, doesn't take any longer than it does with a horse (though sometimes it is much faster). They also retain it very well. My Dad broke a team of driven mules when they were about 2 years old. After they were sent back to the owner, he sold them to someone who didn't know how to handle mules and he ended up having some very serious issues with them running off and generally being unsafe to drive. He ended up sending him back to my Dad and it took only part of one session for them to remember and revert back to the training that they had originally received.

There is a good reason that a good saddle mule is worth anywhere from 50-100% more than a horse with comparable training/temperament .
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post #3 of 5 Old 01-23-2012, 04:11 PM
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Not an expert by any means, but I know why they are called stubborn. Donkeys don't think like horses whatsoever... or any other livestock for that matter. Their sense of self preservation is very strong and they think things through carefully.
Most donkeys have their own ideas about what is worthwhile and what is not. They generally don't think our human ideas are good ideas, and unlike a horse they are not easily convinced otherwise.

Being told "Because I told you to do it, thats why" doen't work like it does with most horses and doesn't make sense because they don't desire to please their humans. Donkeys also need to know that you care about them first and foremost and want to be their friend. They are sceptics through and through and once they understand that you can be trusted member of the family, then you can "train" a donkey by getting it to think it (whatever you want it to do) is his/her idea.
Some are food motivated, like my Rosie who is a regular donkey, and some are smart enough to see through the ruse, like my Chico who is a BLM burro. I have different approaches for each one.
So far I haven't had to train them to do anything. They were older when I got them and already trained, but I do have to reasure them that I am their trusted family member and friend, especially Chico. He was not treated well as a young burro by his first owner. It has been over 10 years since that owner, but he remembers well and I'm getting the cold shoulder treatment because of the farrier visit (who is very gentle with him) from over a week ago.

Sorry I can't be of more help with your other questions. Hopefully other donkey owners will chime in.
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post #4 of 5 Old 01-23-2012, 04:28 PM
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I looked through some of my bookmarks and found that I have some that talk about donkeys, mules, training them and how they think. These might be helpful so if you are interested PM me and I'll send them to you.
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post #5 of 5 Old 01-27-2012, 01:27 PM Thread Starter
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Anybody else? I'd still like opinions, pictures, comments... =D
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