It’s a beautiful day in Aberystwyth-sur-la-mer, and little Chico is about to leave his field and head out into the world. I think he suspects, what with all the pack-saddle action of the last few days, me taking the tents down yesterday, the new thank-you-snacks, and my super-excited body language. And he’s up for it. He’s begun stopping randomly around his field, looking longingly over his gate, and has mostly enjoyed being the centre of attention during the fourth and fifth ‘final’ saddle-fittings.
In serious eleventh-hour fashion, we have become friends. This is largely down to a visit from the ever calming, compassionate Tamlin, who came to help me get confident at picking up his feet. As well as all of the donkey-training methods, she also showed me three life-changing things:
One: a pair of ordinary riding gloves with a grippy palm means that I can rub him reassuringly far more vigorously than hand alone will survive. £2.20 from the country store – I bought two pairs.
Two: rubbing his withers, where back and neck meet, actually lowers a donkey’s heart rate. It’s a chill-out-and-quickly-please button, and I really needed one of those.
And three: he likes having the inside of his ears rubbed. He really likes it. I’ve not used this info yet – those great caverns look a bit warm and waxy, and my gloves are brand new, albeit cheap. Maybe after today he’ll really warrant an inner ear scratching…
My increased confidence gives him more confidence, and we’re all happy in a virtuous circle of rubbing and scratching and high-fibre nuts. Yesterday he didn’t even have his customary fear-poo during the pack saddle (really, really final) fitting. And what luck, as today we’re off. A pre-startline, unladen walk from his field to Aberystwyth, ready for tomorrow’s 1pm (or so – we’re on donkey time) departure from the prom. It’s raining tomorrow, but if you are in the Aber area come along and feed him a cheerio carrot, near PD’s Diner so you can have a hot chocolate.