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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Donkey: Cure for Separation Anxiety


We have an 1800-lb Belgian horse suffering from separation anxiety. I don’t think she is mourning, because she is still searching for her missing sister. She thinks Ashley might come back some day.
We’ve been worried about how Misty might react to this loss – would she jump a fence and run through the fields to the neighbouring horse farm? Would she get depressed and stop eating? Neither of these things has happened, thanks in large part, I believe, to Donkey.
Donkey, who spent his first two years on the Fisher Farm being a royal pain in the a**, chasing sheep and biting them until they played dead or crashed through a fence, has calmed significantly since the arrival of the horses. He is no longer bored. Following the two blondes from Belgian around gives him something to do all day and as a result he stays out of trouble.
The first week after the sudden loss of Ashley we watched Misty trotting up and down the field looking for her sister, stopping to listen to the wild turkeys in the forest, ear cocked at the sound. Then she would toss her mane and whinny as if to say “that Ashley sure is good at Hide and Seek. I can’t find her anywhere…”
Each night she would return to the barnyard exhausted, sweaty and muddied from running through the wet fields.
Over the last few days, however, we have noticed that Misty seems to have given up her search, for the most part. And she has become quite attached to Donkey. He is the first creature she looks for the in the morning upon her release from the stable. If he isn’t in sight, she stands in the middle of the barnyard and whinnies for him. Often he answers and she will run in the direction of his bray.
This morning we decided it was time to put our cattle in the front field, behind the electric fence. When the snow is gone and the animals begin wandering farther afield, trouble can happen. Ginger uses her portly girth to smash cedar fences and let her friends off the property. She is the ring leader. More than once we have had to collect the cows from the neighbours’ property, where they were found nibbling tree buds and leaving large plops as calling cards on the lawn.
Always the first to dart through an open gate, Donkey joined the cattle in the front field this morning. When Misty came out, she couldn’t find him anywhere. She stood on the mountainous manure pile and whinnied. She stomped up and down the field calling him. This time he wasn’t answering. He was happily exploring the front field.
I couldn’t get the lead over his head to bring him back to the front of the barn – he kept deke-ing out of my reach. Finally I took a cup of sweetfeed from the lambing room and that did the trick. He followed me right through the barn, lips curling at the sweet treat like an elephant’s trunk.
Misty was very happy to see him. She hurried over and they actually bumped noses in greeting. Then Donkey gave the horse a few nips to show who was boss. Misty didn’t seem to mind.
“I hate to say this but it looks like that damn Donkey is actually good for something,” the Farmer grumbled.
I think Donkey is good for lots of things, but the Farmer has caught him biting sheep, sneaking out of the barnyard and ripping feed bags open so many times now that he has developed a love/hate relationship with the animal.
We watched as Donkey headed down the path that he had beaten down the field. Misty followed close behind, a look of contentment on her face (if that is possible on a horse), and a happy spring in her step.

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