Jane Plays Donkey Chess, and Plans a Donkey Abduction

Daisy and I are checking out a facility for a friend who rides endurance, to see if it’s worth her making the trip to visit the place. It’s an Endurance barn with a capital T.

As we get out of the car, we see a trailer being loaded nearby, and hear this:

“Yep. Going to the Tevis again this year, how bout you?”

Reply: “Oh yeah, we’re in. Gotta go – loading  up for a quickie 50, see you later…”

While the facility is relatively close to where we live, it’s way off the beaten track, in the middle of country that looks like this:

FYI, those are thirty to forty foot tall trees, not bushes.

The barn itself is homey and funky, a gigantic old livestock barn brought back to new life. It’s repurposed and well organized, with soaring ceiling and shafts of light. It smells like saddle soap, hay, leather cleaner and warm wood.  There are only a few horses in stalls. There is a lean and muscular horse bucking, trotting and squealing in the round pen.

The owner introduces herself, and follows our gaze. “We have to turn him out in a small area first.” The gelding breaks into an easy canter. “He’s 35, and we don’t want him to immediately gallop off.  He might slip.  So we take the edge off first.”

Thirty Five? He’s sound, muscled, and looks in his teens. Daisy figures out from the barn owner that it’s a horse she knew from 25 years ago. This is his retirement home.

The owner slides back a big interior barn door, and we see a room the size of a gymnasium, full of comfy sofas, oriental rugs, bookcases, trophy shelves, and the kind of coffee table  you can put your muddy boots on.  “This is available to all our boarders year round, but we have a Yoga for Equestrians Instructor here on Monday and Wednesday nights.” I mentally check the mileage. Could I make Monday and Wednesdays?

The owner tells us about summer pasture, winter pasture, and the criteria they look at when deciding it’s time to move them for the season. She says: “Let’s go take a look”.

Daisy and I prepare to walk.

Laughing, the owner dangles keys to an industrial looking vehicle. Imagine a Monster Golf Cart, with a truck bed, roll bar, and 4 wheel drive. I get in back. Daisy is better at reporting the details our friend will want to know. I’ll go on for hours about trees and rocks.

The diesel engine roars to life.

Within seconds, it’s apparent why we are not walking.

I wedge myself firmly in a forward corner of the truck bed and hang tightly onto the roll bar, as we grind our way up an incline that would put California Street to shame. (That’s the street in San Francisco on which cable cars are most frequently photographed.)

“All boarders have use of the truck, we leave the keys in it.”

The facility is so big, it would be impractical to walk to your destination 99% of the time. It’s designed for you to be able to ride your horse to any destination, 99% of the time. I have to keep reminding myself: too far away for me.

We’re climbing between valleys. I can see one of their lakes off to the left, and another in a valley to the right. We pull over at a large flat area, a natural depression in the hill side. They’ve built a pasture here specifically for old horses or hard keepers. The ground is level. Further out it descends the hill in a series of terraces: an older horse can wander easily without having to constantly stand on an incline. The barn is deep, three sided, and angled to shelter from wind. They’ve hand built a giant slow feeder, so the horses can eat all day long. I notice there is no manure. They clean a space this big?

Most of the horses are close to 30, and I would have put them at a good ten years younger.  Impressive.

Next, we’re winding under a canopy of live oak trees, still climbing. Finally we level off, stopping on the summit of a very large hill.

There’s a 360 degree view of all the hills and valleys around us, which is mostly their land. Up here, I immediately grasp what makes it an endurance rider’s dream facility. The place is ENORMOUS. Terrain of all kinds. And all of it is open to riding.

The owners breed Morgans. We’ve stopped at the summer quarters of the 8 or so adolescents. They’re all plump, muscular, shiny and curious. As I get out, we see a small donkey wander across the road. She has to tilt her head up to get a good sniff of the truck bed. Oh yeah. It’s probably the dinner truck.

The owner explains that the donkey is their pet, but she’s also protector for the young herd.  Donkeys, mules and Llamas will take on coyotes, feral dogs, bobcats, occasionally even mountain lions, so I’m not surprised.

What I am is…IN LOVE.

Instant Donkey Love.

I’m no longer listening to the human conversation. I’m on Donkey Frequency. She comes over and checks me out. I rub the tendons behind her ears.

She looks at me appraisingly. You know what you’re doing.

I try to focus, but all I want to do is hug the donkey, pet the donkey, talk to the donkey, smuggle the donkey home under my jacket. When she wanders off, I’m heartbroken. A few seconds later I feel a bump on the back of my thigh. The donkey has come up behind me, and gently put the flat of her forehead against my leg.


Her back doesn’t even come up to my hip. She’s so little and cute! While pretending to earnestly listen to the conversation, I reach back and stroke her poll.

Suddenly, I’m off balance, arms splayed, hopping on my left foot, with my right leg at hip height, perpendicular to the ground. She bumped the inside of my knee to make it buckle, then walked between my legs and stopped.

The owner and Daisy turn to stare at me.

“Uh, she just did this?”, I say, blushing, scrambling to explain, “I’m not trying to ride your donkey, really…”. I’m hopping frantically on one leg, to keep from putting any weight on her back.

The owner bursts out laughing.

“That’s her trick. Back of the knee, right? She must like you.” she smiles at me.  I’m relieved, but still hopping on one leg.

“You are a bad bad girl!”, the owner scolds, in a tone that tells the donkey she is the best thing on earth.

How smart is it that Miss Donkey knew how to make a human knee give? I wiggle back and shove her butt forward, trying to get her out from under me. I get one backward glare before she wanders off.

We’re going to walk down to the gate to get a panoramic view of the riding terrain. I take a stride, and the donkey is back.  This time, she’s wrapped her head and neck around the leg I just picked up to step forward. She pushes it sideways.

Holy cow, the donkey is herding me! I can’t help it. It’s so unexpectedly dog like, (and ridiculously cute) that I humor her as if she were a five year old human. I let her bully me toward her tea party.

Focus Jane! You’re being so rude.  I  force myself  to walk toward the gate.

Miss Donkey trots after me, and takes off the gloves. She blocks me, and nips the side of my leg, to herd me toward The Important Direction. The one in which she would like me to travel. She has no problem implementing the incisors.


Jane? This is why we do not let horses push us around on the ground. Helllloooo…Mr. Chips? Little equines know they are NOT actually little equines. They are little Napoleons, and can push you around  like a draft horse.

Crap. What is the etiquette for correcting someone else’s donkey, when you just encouraged her to do the same behavior you now want to stop?

I settle on immobility. I won’t have to flick her on the nose, and standing still will buy me time of not giving in, while she determines her next move. Donkey Chess.

Luckily, the owner looks back. “It’s okay to tell her no”, she says, smiling broadly. “She knows you won’t feel like you can correct her.  She’s a little devil.”

I crack up.

And Miss Donkey buckles my knee again, and winds through my legs like a cat, rubbing an itchy shoulder on my airborne leg.

The report: we’re giving our friend the thumbs up. Perfect place for an endurance horse to stay fit on all those hills while not riding, and fantastic for when you are.

And…there is Miss Donkey.

32 thoughts on “Jane Plays Donkey Chess, and Plans a Donkey Abduction

  1. Oh, I too have been exposed to this kind of Mini-Donk love and there is JUST nothing better. I went with a friend to pick up her two Mini-Donks (aptly named Pickles and JellyBean) and we were given a full tour, which included walking out into a huge field to be greeted by at least 50 mini-donks who ran up to us to be petted and scratched behind the ears. I was up to my ankles in mud and in Mini-Donk heaven. It was all I could do not to take one home myself. (The cats would share their bed, right?) There is nothing like getting showered with affection from a mini-donkey! I love the image of you getting caught “riding” her, by the way. HILARIOUS!

  2. Jane, I took a photo yesterday and put it in today’s blog entry especially for you. It’s in the middle, just scroll down, you’ll know it when you see it.

    I’ll know when you see it, because I know I’ll hear you “squeeee” all the way to the Swamplands.

  3. *sigh* I just tried to use the logic you and Aarene came up with about donkeys smelling like chocolate on my husband as a reason we should have one. Sadly he said, “Unfortunately the brown you associate with donkeys is NOT, in fact, chocolate”. *sigh, yet again* I have been trying for nearly 3 years now to get him to agree. He caved and let me have a rooster a couple years ago, when we lived in Oregon. He caved recently and let me rescue and abandoned, broken down old mare just days after he bought me a new filly. “I wasn’t prepared to go from owning 2 horses to 4 in less than a week”, said he. But, he’s been good about it all. Now, I just have to strategize how to gain a long-eared love for my place…

    I have to say I thought of So. Cal with the pictures you showed. It reminds me of what the eastern side of I-15 looks like down by San Diego. For a moment, I missed the area around Camp Pendleton (lived there 16 years ago).

    And what a facility! Maybe I should pack up, leave Atlanta and move in! I think my husband’s company has an office in the Bay area…

  4. There are frequently donkeys listed on the Camelot auction site in NJ. They are always way cute. I think Freedom might need a donkey. He hates to be left alone and it could be his friend . . . . can you tell I’ve been scheming for a reason to get a donkey?

  5. Wow, that sounds like an amazing place. I hope your friend loves it there and has as much fun riding and playing Donkey Chess with that cute little devil. It’s just unbelievable how smart they are. I wish I had room for a little cutie like that.

  6. so I’m looking at my acerage and the barn-that’s-yet-to-be-built and the grass with the-fences-not yet-in and think, ‘a donkey’. I need a donkey.What would be more perfect then a donkey?’

    1. You nailed it perfectly. Donkey. Love. It’s like Shetland pony love, it exists outside of reason and logic. Of course a getting a donkey is the first thing you should do! Who’s going to test your fence building skills? Approve of the barn? Hand you the hammer?

      1. lol I expect a donkey will find their way to me. I’ve started the campaign with my SO using the ‘they will chase off the coyotes’ angle……..

        By the way I was nominated for the One Lovely Blog award and part of it is to pay it forward and list other blogs of note. I added yours to mine:

    1. It’s in N. CA, uh, Daisy drove? I saw a lot of rocks and trees? I can’t find places even if I’ve been there a dozen times. Maybe Petaluma? Maybe Two Rock? Let’s temporarily call it two hours north of San Francisco, between the Pacific Ocean and Hwy 101. Looks like a fantastic retirement home.
      I’ll ask Daisy where we were! I’ll email you the name and number. 😉

  7. donkey = fine, whatever.


    Sigh. It isn’t raining here. Yet. Tomorrow, probably. And then it will be the Plague of Mud until June. I can have my bags (and my trailer) packed by 3pm….

    1. Tomorrow is good? Or the next day? How about next week? You know you want to! 😉 Not that I have any, um, investment in you, uh, moving here. (YES) They have a few spots open. I wish I’d brought my camera so I could show you guys. But if it works out for my friend, I”ll be going again, and this time, WITH camera. I didn’t know we were going on a Lewis and Clark expedition, so left my cell in the car.

      Another plus? They’ve planted vineyards, and have a state of the art arena under construction for the few DQ’s. Because they breed and train endurance horses, they also have a permanent sacking out arena. Flags, balloons, tarps, shiny fluttery stuff, plywood, traffic cones, logs. You name it, they’ll put it in the arena so you can ride your horse through it. How smart is that, if you have room?

      1. The rain started this afternoon. I’ve got to work tomorrow, I’m off at 6pm, I can be on the road with the horse by 7:30. California sounds like just the thing I need. Didn’t we already have winter this year?

        MORE PICTURES. Also, the donkey. Somebody told me that baby donkeys smell like chocolate. That might be dangerous, but, could you check for me? Please?

  8. Laughing laughing laughing. We have two miniature donkeys and they are exactly as you described. Well, one of them is. The other is sweet and polite but they will both nudge you for scratches and what ever else they feel is necessary to get attention.

  9. I will help you smuggle Cute Donkey! Yeah I too have a soft spot for them long eared fuzzy imps. We really need one at the barn. Please, please, please!

    Looks like a beautiful place.

      1. Brilliant idea. We could pull the old “we found him…he needs a home…can we keep him?…can we keep him?….please oh please” betcha it would work. Let’s work on it.

  10. Love the post 🙂 I am not a endurance rider and I live in Memphis, but what beautiful country. My husband also wants a donkey to love on, maybe someday….

  11. Irresistible long ears have always been my coping mechanism for dressage world drama- they provide a certain balance. You comment on our donkey boys from time to time, so I know you have a soft spot. But donkeys have minds of their own and choose who they like. Your post says more about you than Miss Donkey. Congrats, not everyone passes the test.

    1. Really? Was she trying for the donkey equivalent of smuggling me away under her coat? That’s it, I’m head over heels. I want to go live with Miss Donkey. Luckily, my friend is seriously considering this barn. I may get to go Zen out with Miss Donkey legally!

      Yup. Total soft spot for smart, opinionated, bossy (or not) long ears. Dressage drama: lately been wading through copious amounts, grateful I am not currently interested in showing, don’t care what most DQ’s say about my riding (always perk up and listen to the DQ’s who impress me), and going my own way. It’s unfortunate that trainers don’t have that luxury. But I’m glad you have your long ears!

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