By Meredith Hodges
Many have inquired as to the suitability of mules and donkeys for children. As with any equine, choosing the right individual for your child is of primary importance. However, as a general rule, we find that donkeys make excellent mounts for beginning riders because of their patient, quiet nature and good common sense. They can be the best possible babysitter. There are things to consider when choosing a donkey for your child:
The first rule to observe is never get a donkey jack for your child! Though he may be sweet and docile by nature, he is still governed by strong natural instincts so his character is not consistent. He is a stud and must be treated as such.
Donkey jennets are good prospects for children provided they are not in heat or in foal. When a jennet is in heat she may become cross and if she is in foal, or has one at her side, she is also governed by instinct for the protection and welfare of her offspring.
The best possible mount for a child is a donkey gelding. He possesses all the positive traits of the donkey without being subject to primitive instincts. Since most donkeys are small in size and possess an affectionate attitude, they make excellent companions as well as mounts for children.
Since a donkey can became quite stubborn when treated badly, it is important that you take the time to help your child and donkey get started properly. Even an untried donkey with proper help can be a wonderful mount for a child. In the first few weeks, the child and donkey should simply spend time getting to know one another. Teach your child the correct way to handle and groom the donkey. The personal bond between them will develop on its own.
When your child and donkey have developed confidence in each other, you can begin to teach them the fundamentals of riding. Tack up the donkey in a small saddle and snaffle bridle and take him into a small pen on the lunge line. Allow your child to sit astride the donkey as he walks around you. Explain to your child the basics of turning and stopping with a direct rein, commonly called plow reining. Be sure to instruct the child not to pull hard or jerk the reins. Donkeys have very sensitive mouths and do not respond correctly when they are in pain.
Teach your child to use verbal commands in conjunction with the reins and leg cues. When he wants to go forward for instance, tell your child to ask the donkey to walk. Tell the child to squeeze with his legs – don’t just kick. He should get the desired response. If the child wishes to turn, tell him to ask the donkey to “Haw” (left) or “Gee” (right). Instruct the child to pull gently on the direct rein and push the donkey into the turn with the opposite leg. When stopping, tell the child to first say “Whoa,” and then pull gently on the reins and sit deeper in the saddle to initiate the stop. When the donkey complies with the commands given, do not be afraid to reward him. He will be more than willing to perform the next time you ask him.
Love and caresses are an excellent reward and a reward of crimped oats certainly does no harm. Donkeys are very appreciative animals. If the child and donkey are supervised correctly, it can greatly enhance the entire riding experience. The donkey will protect your child with his excellent judgment and the child will learn to be a patient and understanding person through interaction with his donkey. The reason is simple; donkeys will not respond unless treated fairly. Many an equestrian in Great Britain has spent his early years astride a donkey and have become better riders because of it! So if your child expresses an interest in riding, consider starting with a donkey gelding, or maybe even a jennet. Besides being patient with children, his size is more suitable, he has ample strength to carry them and is an easy keeper so feed and vet bills can usually be kept at a minimum.
What of the suitability of a mule for child? As the mule is half donkey, he possesses many of the fine characteristics that make him suitable for children. But at this point I must caution you that he is also part horse and will generally get his disposition from the mare. So if you wish to get a mule for your child, be sure he is an individual with a quiet disposition. Then you can consider such things as size, color and other traits. The right mule can be just as good a babysitter as the right donkey, and usually more reliable than any horse!
Children and donkeys or mules, have not been seen together much in this country in the more recent past. Perhaps it is because we have not given children a chance to show their Longears publicly. Realizing this need, as in horse shows, youth classes have been included in the Longears shows of today to encourage our youth to take an active interest in the promotion of Longears. The jobs these “kids” are doing with their mules and donkeys are marvelous and their contributions are extensive. The values learned by children when dealing with donkeys and mules will stand them in good stead throughout their lives, not to mention the joy they will discover in having such a companion. So during this season of giving, consider making Longears a part of your life and give a homeless donkey, burro or mule a chance. Your child will welcome this affectionate and sensible companion. If you adhere to the guidelines I have given to you, you should not be disappointed.
To learn more about Meredith Hodges and her comprehensive all-breed equine training program, visit LuckyThreeRanch.com or call 1-800-816-7566. Check out her children’s website at JasperTheMule.com. Also, find Meredith on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
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