Updated: Nov 27, 2020
Guest Post by Leeta-Rose Ballester of Flying Plum Farm
A good, lasting bond between friends isn’t always instant or easy—but you can count on learning a great deal as the relationship grows. And sometimes that friend is 600 pounds with long, scruffy ears and a bray that will knock your socks off.
Thankfully I’ve also befriended Megan Hensley of Holistic Hooves to help us with our growing pains so that I can become the companion that Ben the Donkey deserves.
Before we considered adding a donkey to our farm, I did a great deal of research. Beyond basic care, I looked to understand their behavior so that I could put my best foot forward. I wanted to know how they’ve earned reputations of being stubborn, ornery, or mean.
Information was limited and led me in many directions. Some suggest they need to be “broken.” Other articles said that they are too smart and it’s a lost cause.
However, I came across some information about working within the context of their body language to respectfully communicate what you are asking of them. That felt right, but how would I do it without anyone to show me? I read and read.
We brought Ben home from a horse rescue in Northern California one year ago this month. He was nervous and so was I. Suddenly, my research seemed useless. I needed to see it in practice.
I quickly discovered that finding a local “trainer” or a farrier was next to impossible. Apparently the words “rescue donkey” mean too much of a challenge for many.
For months I did my best to try to stay hands on with Ben as I continued my search for someone to guide me but I seriously doubted my abilities to ever be a good enough donkey owner.
The Right Foot and Fit
We took many steps backward in our relationship and just a few forward. I felt I was failing him—until one fateful day I came across an ad for Holistic Hooves! Looking through Megan’s page, I got really excited. There she was on video… practicing that gentle, yet firm, communication with her equine friends.
I may have cried as I poured my heart out to her via messenger. I confessed that I was very worried about the condition of his feet, that I didn’t know how he would do with a farrier, and that I felt I had no clue what I was doing.
She assured me that she could come out and we would see what Ben had to teach us both.
The moment she stepped into our paddock with Ben, many of my worries washed away. She played with him and brought out his curiosity. Moving in a determined but non-threatening way, she was able to get him haltered faster than I ever had. He seemed to feed off her gentle ways.
At his pace but firm, I watched in awe as Megan got him to relax enough to lift his front feet and allowed her to touch his back feet with a lead. I learned a lot about the body language needed to make a donkey feel comfortable while establishing boundaries and respecting his.
Each movement was explained to me—and Ben.
We definitely got so much more than a foot trim from that first session. Megan answered my many questions about how I could continue to practice making him more comfortable while boosting my own confidence around him.
She left me with some homework that I promised to keep up with.
Ben and I practiced with the halter every day after Megan left and I kept up on watching different videos and information she shared. I walked into the corral each day, feeling just a little more empowered that this crazy donkey idea was going to work out.
By her second visit, Ben was ready to lift his back feet but not without a little show. He danced a bit but Megan kept at it, talking to him and letting him know that she is there to help him. Slowly but surely he eased into the process.
My eyes welled up yet again but this time it was because my heart was so full.
Megan takes the time to give donkeys the utmost respect and love, whereas others wouldn’t even consider coming to meet Ben. Her genuine concern for the best life for donkeys shines through with each word and movement.
He is big, and sometimes sassy, but she's showing me how to put my anxiety aside and to trust the bond we've worked toward building for the past 12 months. Now I am always looking for what Ben is trying to teach me.
We've had him one year but I feel like we've only just begun to unlock the tools we need to support his spirit since we've met Megan Hensley. I can’t wait to see what the future holds.
Leeta-Rose Ballester, owner of Flying Plum Farm, is a former Bay Area print reporter who has found her heart chasing after chickens, goats, Ben and silly dreams of running a farm goodie business in the Yuba foothills.