these pages were created by vicki/ladywife as a tool for those new to donkey training
who have an immediate task at hand: to train their donkey for
riding and/or driving --  using methods that vicki has applied in many years of
horse and donkey training on her farm - a skill handed down to her by
her father (who, once in a while, still lends her a much appreciated helping hand);
skills that she refined and used in her work with her late husband
who was a successful horse trainer and breeder.

these pages combine the posts vicki has written for her email list

they were written by vicki/ladywife in part as preparation for a book about
DONKEY TRAINING, to be completed in late 2001.



      this page:   introduction to donkeys and people ----  communication

        part 1a --  groundwork (1a)                                   part 1a --  groundwork (1b)

        part 2a --  first touch (2a)                                       part 2b --   first touch (2b)

        part 3 --    hand leading

        part 4 --   training attitude                                     part 5 --   leading

        part 6 --   step by step training checklist          part 7 --   lunging

Introduction to Donkeys and People: 


It is my experience and observation that most horse training methods have only a marginal success training donkeys. Donkeys are not like horses; mentally, physically, and most of all, emotionally.

Horses are grazers. They have a high metabolic rate and will graze 18 to 20 hours a day to maintain their body weight. Donkeys are browsers. They nibble for a while on whatever is available, then nap, conserving their energy.
Horses are herd animals and prefer to be in a large group.

beezpump1.JPG - 3793 BytesDonkeys are buddy animals. They usually pair off in twos.
Nature provided horses with a strong flight instinct and long legs so they could run to escape predators. Horses easily startle.

beez1.JPG - 35376 BytesDonkeys are not easily startled. They have a keen sense of curiosity. They may run a short distance but then they stop and turn to face whatever scared them before they MAKE A DECISION whether to stand still or continue fleeing.

Most horse training methods rely on a horse's reaction to a pecking order in the herd. The horse trainer becomes the Boss Horse of the herd to teach a horse to react to a cue for a particular action.

Donkeys are more independent in their thinking. If you attempt to dominate the donkey, he will just avoid you. Donkeys do think. They do reason. They do make decisions. They can learn what it is we would like for them to do if we take the time to explain it to them.

Donkeysare better at reading our body language than we are at reading theirs. If you are nervous and anxious, they will be nervous and anxious too. Calm, slow movements assure the donkey there is nothing to fear. They can also learn what a particular sound means. Notice I did not say word. It is the vowel and consonant sounds and tone of your voice that they understand. Because of the long "O" sound, if you chase after a donkey and yell Whoa! He may think you are shouting for him to Go! He did not see the tiger creeping in the grass but you must have seen it because you are excited and are running, so he will too. He is relying on his new buddy, You to warn him of danger. If you are also dragging a lead rope behind you while you chase after him, I imagine he is grateful you sacrificed yourself to the snake just so he could get away. A snake is what a lead rope would look like to a donkey.

To communicate with a donkey we have to stop seeing the world as we see it and look at it from a donkey's perspective. The saddle we want to put on him would trigger a natural fear of a predator jumping on his back. The cart we want to hitch him to could be a falling timber that he has to outrun so it does not roll over him and break his leg. The shallow creek could be quicksand or it could be concealing a lurking alligator. The horse trailer we want him to climb in could look like a cave. A bear cave. It is dark and narrow and he can not see an exit on the other end. He would be trapped if the bear came home.

A donkey's strongest instinct is survival. Training a donkey relies on showing him by words and actions that he can trust you to protect him from harm.

Stick a hunk of metal in his mouth and yank on it and he is going to feel pain. It does not take long for him to associate that pain with you. You caused him pain. You failed to protect him. Slap him with a whip to make him move at the same time you are yanking this way or that way on the reins and you are compounding your offense by now causing him pain at both ends of his body. In his mind You are NOT his friend.

Communicate your requests to him without pain or fear and you will have a willing, happy donkey buddy.

The first step to training a donkey is training yourself to observe his body language. Learn to recognize what he is saying to you.

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Pumpkin is lowering his head, tucking his tail and moving away. He is saying, "No. Leave me alone."

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Snow Dragon Hank is standing with his neck up, his ears perked, and his body weight shifted forward in a pre-flight stance. He sees, hears, or smells something that could be a threat.

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Katie is afraid. Her head is up and her tail is clamped against her body.

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Jasper is in a welcoming stance inviting human contact.

Donkeys love to play. They love a challenge. If the training is fun for him he will learn faster.

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A donkey is stronger than a horse of the same size. You can not muscle a donkey. You can not force him. He has to understand what it is you are asking him to do.

To learn what your donkey is saying watch his ears, his tail, and the way he shifts his body weight. Is he looking straight at you? Or is he avoiding eye contact? Does his body language and facial expression remind you of: A bratty child? An angry child? A disappointed child? A frightened child? A bright-eyed eager, curious child?

There are actually many similarities between a donkey and a child. They both will place their trust in you. Both must be handled with patience and understanding. Both will love you unconditionally, warts and mistakes and all. Both can fill your life with love and joy. Both can be your very best buddy.

When you begin to train your donkey remember back to when you were a child and you were trying to learn how to ride a bicycle. You knew you could do it but those first few attempts without the training wheels were frustrating because you could not pedal and steer at the same time. That is the same emotion your donkey must feel when he is trying his best to do what you want him to do but you keep correcting him for every little thing he does wrong. Do not expect him to do it 100% the first time or even the second time. You have to allow him to build his own confidence in his ability before you can begin refining his actions. If he takes one step in the direction you want him to go, praise him. This is all new and different to him but he is willing to try to please you.

pumpkin1.JPG - 8858 BytesHis mother communicated with him by nudges and grunts. A short tug and release is similar to his mother's nudge. That is something he already understands. Notice how Pumpkin's reins are slack while he is turning. His cue was a short tug and release repeated until he began the requested movement and then the tug and release stopped rewarding him for making an effort to comply with the request for a turn.

back to home page                                                                                                                     next: groundwork (1a)

 © 2001 Vicki Abbott

web design and editing: sabine calkins