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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Donkey, your grey is showing

“I wonder how old Donkey is?” the Farmer mused one morning. He bought Donkey in 2007, just before we were married and I came to live at the farm. We don’t really have any idea of the animal’s true age. He is starting to look a little greyer, if that is possible. And he has some white whiskers around the nose.
The Farmer first got Donkey after a round of coyote attacks took a number of his sheep. After Donkey arrived and began creating strategically placed piles of manure around the property, the coyotes stayed away. For the next couple of years we had very few coyote kills. Then, in 2009, the Farmer bought me two Belgian horses for Valentines Day. Donkey thought it was The Arrival of the Supermodels. Tall and blonde, with attitude to spare, they led Donkey around the pasture by the nose. Suddenly distracted by and preoccupied with the horses, Donkey wasn’t hanging around the sheep any longer. The coyotes started attacking again. We decided to put the horses in with the sheep, so that Donkey could at least be in the appropriate location for doing his job. That resulted in Donkey teaching the horses a new game, called “chase and bite sheep until they make a funny noise”. This earned Donkey a weighted halter so that he couldn’t run after the sheep. The sheep-terrorizing ended.
In March 2009, we lost Ashley. It was a very traumatic experience for all of us. We let Misty sniff Ashley’s body so that she would know she was gone, but still for days afterward the big blonde horse would thunder up and down the pasture, tossing her mane and whinnying for her sister. Ashley had been the older sister, and the leader of the two horses. She went into the stable first, and answered her master’s call first. Misty was always the follower. And now she had lost her leader. About a week after Ashley’s death, Misty looked around and there he was: Donkey. Just like that, she made the little mischief-making ragamuffin her leader.
When Donkey went to the barn, Misty went to the barn. When Donkey went out to the pasture, Misty followed. When Donkey broke through the gate to eat my flowers and visit the neighbours in the front yard, Misty followed. She wouldn’t enter the stable without Donkey entering first. Donkey accepted his newfound celebrity with some bewilderment. The first few times I fed him hay in the stable, I had to convince him he was allowed to eat it. As the horse’s companion, he earned a heightened status on the farm. I could hear Donkey from Shrek: “she thinks I’m a noble steed...”
Together they have spent the past year and a half eating, sleeping, wandering the fields and rolling in the dirt, together. I watch them communicate telepathically. I don’t know what Misty would do without Donkey. There is nothing sadder than a lonely horse.
“I think Donkey is getting old. I don’t know if he could fight a coyote if he came across one,” the Farmer said. The other day Donkey was just lying in the middle of the field, asleep. That’s not like him. He usually stands to sleep.
I went out and called Donkey over to the fence. I waved a big red apple over my head and eagle eye saw it. But he didn’t come running, or trotting, and he definitely didn’t kick his feet up behind him as he would have a year ago. He wandered over, veeeerrry slowly. I fed him the apple and then surprised him with a plum. I gave him a good scratch between his huge velvet ears. I told him he was a good, good boy. Misty walked up to see what we were up to. She isn’t a fan of apples but took a bite anyway, just to share.
The next day, I heard thunder and whinnying. Misty was running up and down the field. When I called her, she stopped and stared down the pasture. I immediately thought of Donkey. Had he been bitten by a coyote? Was he just lying out there somewhere, all alone? I pulled on my pink rubber boots and started trotting down the field, huge horse on my tail. A couple of times she ran past me, too close for comfort. “Jeez Misty, watch it!” I yelled. Then I realized she was trying to herd me in. Suddenly she turned and kicked up her heels—twice—as she ran toward the barn. I guess she had heard something.
Upon entering the barn, I realized with relief that Donkey was not hurt. He was just being his mischievous self. He had broken the board that bars him from entering the sheep room. As Misty and I walked in, he snorted at us from his privileged position, chewing on hay that he had stolen from the storage.
I called him over, smacked him on the butt, and replaced the board with a hammer and two seriously bent nails. Misty whinnied and gave Donkey a little nip on the shoulder.
I’m glad the old boy is ok. And I think Misty is too.

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