My dog went over to my friend's place early today so that he could deal with a pigeon infestation (you've heard of using Border Collies for goose patrol? Well, Tanner also excels at pigeon control and it gladdens his Border Collie soul to deal with such riff-raff). This left me without my hiking companion and since the idea of hiking in the woods without my dog left me completely adrift, I had to enlist some help.
It surprises me that more people don't recognize the pleasure of hiking with a donkey. Those old-time prospectors knew what they were doing when they headed off into the hills with just a donkey and a few provisions. I knew that Emma is very intelligent, but this afternoon she gave me a real demonstration. Not only did she walk off into the woods with me with no histrionics or balking (in spite of the painted ponies using it as a good excuse to set their brains aside for a bit) she also demonstrated just how much she thinks about her surroundings.
At one point, Emma and I accidentally wound up on opposite sides of a tree and were both brought up short. After that, every time we approached a tree, she ducked in behind me. I know people who don't figure things out that quickly. When the trail widened out, she moved up to my side. When trees got thick, she followed close.
She carefully watched her footing with every step and if she didn't like what she saw, she would pause until I made a path and then very carefully follow in my footsteps. At one point we stumbled into a patch of deep snow (which Emma hates, sensible creature that she is). She took a couple of steps through the stuff on her own, found she didn't like it, and ever so delicately, hopped into my footprints and carefully followed them out. That kind of thing takes reasoning and thought.
We were out for about an hour, and Emma never showed any signs of nervousness or anxiety to return to the barn. When confronted with potentially scary objects, she stopped, observed, assessed, processed and moved on. I can see why donkeys would make very good riding partners, she would be much safer to ride then a horse. I could never take an 18 month old horse hiking in the woods without spending a lot of time and energy in prior training. And, being out alone like this makes even older, well trained horses nervous. If you are looking for a good companion to go on long walks with you, who will look out for herself and be good company at the same time, then what you need is a good donkey.