I have a 5 year old donkey named Rusty that I bought for $75 on Craigslist when he was an unhandled 2 year old. He was supposed to be for my daughter, and I hoped he would be a gateway drug into horses. No such luck. My daughter is into cooking and art and not horses at all, and I am responsible for the donkey.
A few months ago, the kids that ride with me asked if they could try and saddle break the donkey. I told them to go for it. I’m too big to ride him, but they’re still small and lightweight enough to get on him without hurting him.
Rusty has always been pretty easy to train (although his stubbornness is legendary and he only cooperates when he feels like it). The kids got him going under saddle in one afternoon. He is still rough around the edges, but he allows himself to be ridden and we put all the little homeschool kids on him and lead them around.
For their next challenge, the two girls that ride with me wanted to try bringing Rusty along on a trail ride and ponying him off the other horses. I told them they were welcome to give it a try, but I wouldn’t be able to help very much because I would be riding King, and King is still rough around the edges as well. He hasn’t been ridden much, if at all, and while he is improving with each ride, his steering isn’t perfect and we don’t have much in the way of brakes. It would be hard for me to try and wrangle Rusty when I can’t depend on King to be responsive.
As I expected, ponying Rusty was a fiasco at first. Luckily, we were riding in the woods and no one was around, so the kids could drop his lead rope if needed and let him follow along. At one point, Rusty took off galloping down the trail, and one of the girls took off on her horse galloping after him. When you’re 13 years old, that is great fun! She caught up to him, got ahold of him again, and we all continued.
Rusty quickly got the idea that he was supposed to stay with us. We were even able to go into a quiet residential neighborhood and navigate safely around some curves in the road and a few passing cars. Some of the time Rusty was on the lead rope being ponied, and some of the time he was loose with his rope draped across his back.
Being able to take Rusty with us on trail rides is a game changer, because he is a little overweight and desperately needs the exercise. Donkeys are known for having obesity related issues like laminitis and cushings, because people feed them like little horses when they are in fact far easier keepers than horses and stay fat on very little food. My donkey lives with horses and expects to be fed when the horses are fed. He gets a tiny handful of grain twice a day, and he is fat. Having him come along on trail rides will provide him with much needed exercise, as well as mental stimulation!
The girls get to practice their horsemanship skills, and Rusty gets a workout. It’s a win/win!