The blog / The journey

Dual parenting and donkey bites

I had to stop my mum referring to herself as Chico’s grandmother when she came round with treats from her allotment, and got him all excited by running around the field with him – he is not a child, he is a donkey. I am aiming to be his buddy, not his mother. And yet it’s not so easy to dismiss the new parent status. There was a kind of single-parent fear back in the field-days, when I could ask advice of all the people I want, but the buck for his welfare stopped with me (hence the obsession with things that could kill him). It was lonely, but the highs and lows were all mine.

Chico’s sea view

I didn’t think I could handle departure alone, and my feller Rhys who is filming this adventure was planning to be nearby to record the first days anyway, so he’s been along for the ride so far. It would have been pretty much impossible without another pair of hands in these early days – to slow traffic, calm Chico while putting the pack saddle on, to get the corral made while he was too fizzed up with the newness of it all to be tied to anything. Going into a shop, making a phonecall, checking the map – all would have been tricky tasks for a person with an energetic donkey’s lead rope in the other hand.

Then there are the times that wouldn’t have been impossible alone, but would have been very annoying. I’m sure I’d have turned back instead of going into the field of cows, but Rhys was confident that being a dairy herd they’d be relaxed and so would he, and they all were. Alone I wouldn’t have stuck out (much less enjoyed) the hour-and-a-half spent trying to cajole/bribe/push/rally Chico across a six-inch stream on the high side of a bare mountain. I would have panicked about the friendly but spirited dogs that made him bray a warning heehaw today, and I wouldn’t have risked that yesterday’s footpath would have an alternative to the stile right at the end.

And then there are all of the decisions. Is the electric fence up well enough to keep him in? Should we feed him more or less, or something different? Has he got enough grass for the night? Is that a new rubbed patch from the pack saddle today? Are the straps too tight or too loose? Is 10 miles too much? Is that path too steep? Is he tired or sore, excited or annoyed, high spirited or frightened?My nerves would be much more frayed by the chickens, clouds, umbrellas, distant horses, slippy tarmac, plastic bags, wind, the sea, manhole covers, etc that make him jump, not to mention the non-donkey-related things that crinkle and scuffle and cough in the distance and keep an out-of-practice solo camper awake and listening hard from inside the tent.

A sweet family scene, moments after he bit me

As we teamed up to get the pack saddle onto him yesterday morning (one of us reassuring and holding him still, the other gently sneaking it onto him and doing it up with a minimum of jangles or flapping straps, both of us frowning with concentration and issuing soft instructions and ‘good boy, Chico’, ‘good boy, Chico’, ‘good boy, Chico‘, back and forth), someone likened us to new parents figuring out a nappy.

There clearly is a lot to be said for dual parenting. A responsibility shared is a giant relief. Rhys is leaving us before very long, and Chico, I suspect, will be miffed. You know how toddlers sometimes cry when their mum goes out of the room? My dad once said, famous in family lore, “No one cries when I go for a piss,” and I have a new sympathy for him, the left-out parent. Yesterday afternoon, striding up an unreasonably steep forestry track, Rhys and Chico left me behind. I was carrying a big backpack to keep from putting all the weight on Chico too soon, and the map case strap was rubbing my neck, I was too hot but couldn’t stop to take my coat off, and most of all I felt left out – they were clearly both having a great time together. Rhys stopped to take pictures of us all at the top, put an arm around me and one around Chico’s neck, and Chico leaned in and bit me on the belly. This bromance is getting out of hand.

Chico looking at the day-before-yesterday’s walk along the south bank of the estuary

And what is the point? Well, it certainly is a resoundingly, searingly, wildly beautiful country. Every hour the light is different, sometimes the arresting view is a majestic symphony of colours on a hillside, sometimes it’s an achingly idyllic little country scene – a fat lamb by an abandoned hill farm’s moss-covered stable door, surrounded by bluebells. Wales is wonderful. Camping is great – especially in a beer garden – and I’m already blissfully scruffy and patchily burned, and enjoying minimal kit and long days outside. Walking feels good – my favourite pace from which to take in the world. It’s the animal which is outside my comfort zone.Today, a blissful rest day sitting outside the tent in the hot sunshine on the north side of the Dyfi estuary. I have taken on motherly tasks: sewing fleece girth strap sleeves to lessen the rubbing, applying nappy rash cream to his sore bits every so often. Apart from feeling jealous, all is well. Five days of walking, five night stops with wonderful, kind, interested people. Especially the ones on the wet nights, welcoming us in, hanging up our wettest things and feeding us hot food. Already we’ve stayed in a feather bed, a 1965 camper van, a beer garden and an allotment. We have been given well over three kilos of carrots and apples. A steady flow of sweet, sweet messages via Facebook, Twitter and the website comments have meant an awful lot, when all three of us had rain falling on our heads for the second day running and wondered what the point of this silly idea was.



As I finished this blog late at night in the tiny tent and began scrabbling about to get settled, Rhys stirred and said in his sleep, “Oh, I thought you’d brought him in here…” I take a little pleasure in this small evidence of his donkey anxiety…


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  1. Di Slaney says:

    Hannah – you’re doing a wonderful thing. Even those of us who have been donkey parents for a couple of years can have trouble with all the basic things you’re going through as a new donkey mum – and we aren’t even brave enough to take our donkeys for a walk on the lane outside our field, for fear of what might go wrong! Hats off to you – and despite the occasional fed up look on his face, little Chico will be having a brilliant time and enjoying all the attention. Btw, a belly nip can be a sign of affection … Or annoyance, hunger, or cry for attention … :-)

  2. Your blog is a sweet reminder of the beauty around us and in humanity. Thanks for the lovely words and reflections.

  3. Nancy in Iowa says:

    I’m reminded of camping with the British friend so many years ago…especially a night in Wales. I needed to find the bathroom, which was quite elegant, but on the way I bumped into sheep. A very new experience for this city girl/American! I hope the bite wasn’t too bad, and I’m eager to hear more of your adventure. You rock!

  4. You’ll be spending more quality time with Chico in a week than most donkey moms get to spend with theirs in a year. His confidence will grow with yours, and one day soon you’ll be laughing about these scary first days. I hope the sun shines on all of you today.

  5. janejane says:

    I learned of your adventure from Carson at the 7MSN. Best wishes and happy trails.

  6. Peter Simpson says:

    According to R L Stevenson his donkey, Modestine, was a nightmare until a local gent gave him a stick with which to chastise the animal!

  7. We hosted a young lady riding her horse across the US several years ago. In a week you’ll be surprised how different things will be for all of you :-).

  8. Hi Hannah!
    Good to hear from you and that all is well!:) Your mom is too much! LOL! She sounds like a lot of fun! You and Chico are going to be so close at the end of this walk with all of this bonding time! Just think of all you are going to learn! I was relieved to know that Rhys was along with you two…I was a little concerned about you and Chico out there alone.

    Looking forward to hearing of more of your and Chico’s adventures and the people you meet along the way!

  9. Tom Newman says:

    I approve of you and will send you an email confirming this.

  10. Oh my, what an ambitious adventure you’ve set out on. Your dad’s infamous remark made me laugh out loud. You’re all a little green right now. Things will settle into a routine and you and Chico will be best buddies before long. Perhaps that was a love nip he gave you on the belly, a little “Hey, where have you been?” between friends.

    Carolynn (from Canada)

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