Dave & Margaret told us the tale of Gnasher the evil donkey while we had a cup of coffee in their kitchen to celebrate a successful sale (shortly after picking up a borrowed trailer, driving across the middle of Wales, and leading Chico effortlessly into it). While Chico stamped about a bit, and huffed through his nose, we ranged across donkey topics, with the joy of two parties happy with a transaction.
Gnasher, though – I wonder if they save that story for all brand-new donkey owners? He was a mean donkey who had become famous amongst dealers, as he changed hands from one to another. One day Dave came home from an auction and said to Margaret, “Oh dear – I think I’ve just bought that bad donkey.” He was good as gold for three weeks, their grandkids rode around on him in the yard, and then one day he picked Dave up by the shoulder, clamped in his teeth, right off the ground, and shook him. They are good at aiming a kick too, said Margaret – a donkey can kill, if it wants to. And they’re fight animals, not flight ones, like horses. So Dave called the Donkey Sanctuary and offered to hand him over, or have him put down. The Sanctuary took him, and soon named him Gnasher; Dave and Margaret still get news from the Sanctuary office women of who Gnasher’s attacked this week – the vet, the feed man, etc etc…
Armed with a healthy respect for donkeys, and a handwritten invoice that says, ‘Can be returned in same condition’ at the bottom, we set off. Papa Engelkamp was captain of the van and trailer, and after ten minutes of driving gingerly he pulled over to check that Chico was still alive. “He looked at me as if to say, ‘What’s the matter? Why are we stopping?'” Dad reported. So we pressed onwards, at 35mph, across the April-sun-soaked landscape, acutely aware of the road surface and bend angle of every inch. Dad murmured, “Sorry Chico,” every time we miscalculated.
We stopped at a forge where two skinny teenage apprentices with swarthy arms and leathery hands measured his hooves. They’ll make him two sets of shoes, and their boss, the farrier, will come by Chico’s field on Thursday to fit them. They didn’t get the walk idea, but liked Chico. One suggested having to dope him for the shoeing, but he let them measure his hooves with no fuss, so hopefully he won’t need it.
Blood! We’ve damaged him already…
Chico had a little cut above one eye. Surely the second design requirement for a donkey trailer, after a strong floor (someone put the image of what happens if the floor gives way while on the road in my mind and that will never leave me), is ‘no exposed sharp bits at eye height’? Poor Chico! The farrier boys recommended we stop in the agricultural shop in town and pick up some purple antibacterial spray, but advised that the stuff for sheep is just the same – they just relabel it for sentimental horsey people and charge twice the price. Sure enough, the super-cheery woman in the shop said the same.
I put both palms on the counter and owned up. “I hope you can help me, I don’t know what I need.”
“You’ll have to give me a bit more than that!” she trilled, leaping over the counter ready to steer me to the right place.
“I have a donkey. He has a cut.”
I explained I’d been a donkey-owner for less than two hours. She showed me to the posh equine shelf, all nice packaging and ingredients lists full of calendula, tea tree, aloe vera etc. Then she showed me the sheep-and-cattle shelf – cheap tubs and aerosols with very bright yellow and purple chemicals and no-frills design. I ummed and ahhed a bit, decided I didn’t really want to own a massive tub of yellow goop with a list of grim-sounding sheep afflictions on the side, and bought nothing. I’ve got tea tree at home, and mum’s just given her aloe plant a vigorous repotting, resulting in lots of usable goop. I shall mix something up, posh as the equine shelf, less disco than the livestock shelf, and save myself £9. I told the sparky woman this web address and said she could see the adventure unfold and say, “I met her when she’d only been a donkey-owner for two hours!”
“Yes! ‘That was that woman who was abusing her donkey,’ I’ll say!” She joked. I hope.
Welcome to your field, Chico
Onwards, to Chico’s field. We stopped in the layby at the bottom, with a fast road between us and the field. Dad lead him out of the box while I was opening the gate and I missed filming the big moment. “Daaa-aaad!” Dad said sorry, and lead Chico right back in again. Amazingly, after many hours in there, he went straight back in. “He’s a GOOD DONKEY!” shouted Dad from inside, and lead him back out again, this time documented.
Chico was happy. He wasn’t bothered by the cars, was very pleased about the lush grass that has just sprung up for him in the last few days, and made a dent in a bank of little yellow flowers. Hazel Fairplay – wonderfully named lender of the heavenly field that has reeds to eat, a stream to drink, a gorse bush to hide in, and views all the way to Cader Idris in the distance – came out to meet him, and Mum and her fellow Harry arrived to welcome him too. We lead him into the field, and I removed the lead rope. Would I ever catch him again? Welcome, Chico!
He made no effort to leave us. In fact, between chomping grass, he came over to see us. I’ve been preparing myself for a cross, disorientated, tricky young donkey and days spent trying to calm him and get him used to me. I’m heading over in a minute to see how his night was, so we’ll see if he’s still as amiable, but so far, in my donkey-husbandry career, so good. No Gnasher…