Tuesday, April 29, 2014


The relationships between the donkeys and the other animals on the farm are fascinating and endlessly interesting to watch.  The relationship between them and Tessa is generally one of friendship.  Tessa LOVES her donkeys, but is sometimes befuddled by them.  She acts both motherly and slightly possessive and she occasionally tries to gently boss them around.  They accept her mothering, are disdainful of her possessiveness and they just flow away from her bossiness like water, completely ignoring it.  They welcome her company and attentions, but don't mind going off on their own either.  Their independence is a foreign concept to a horse and generally confounds her, leaving her figuratively scratching her head.

Tanner and the donkeys have a wary respect for one another.  They get along fine as long as each party respects the firmly established treaty line, otherwise known as the fence.  If a donkey puts a nose under the fence, Tanner will snap at it.  If he crosses into their territory, they push him out.  Both snapping and pushing are done with no actual violence but a great deal of intent.  Border Collies and donkeys have a great deal in common.  They will never be friends, but they are not enemies.

And then there is the relationship between them and the cat, Moss.  This is perhaps, the most complicated relationship.  Donkeys have a reputation for chasing and stomping cats and I can see that.  I do not think it is an inherent dislike of cats, but rather an extension of their territorial and protective natures.  I also think it is a manifestation of how they perceive things.

Donkeys and horses have very different eye site then we humans do and it isn't just because their vision is primarily monocular.  While their vision is acute, especially their distance vision, their ability to focus between near and far is very slow and is more a factor of where their head is rather than changes in the eye itself, as it is for us.   A horse who is trying to focus on something will often raise and lower its head very quickly, trying to find the right height that will bring the object into focus.  Their close-up vision is poorer and it is more difficult to bring small, close objects into focus, especially if their head is up and the object is on the ground.  This seems to be even more of an issue for donkeys and they rely far more on scent and sound than on vision to recognize things close up.

If you take all of that into account and think about cats and dogs from a donkey's point of view....is it any wonder that they so often object to having small carnivores darting about under their feet?  However, donkeys are also highly adaptable, sociable creatures.  Given time and familiarity, even cats can become friends.

There is also Moss herself to consider.  She has been here for 3-4 years now, but she came out of a situation of real neglect and poor care.  She was once run over by a truck and at another time, stepped on by a draft horse.  She does seem to have some genuine neurological issues and she was quite feral when she first came here.  Her neurological issues have improved some with good care and plentiful food, but she is....uhmmm, odd, to say the least.  She craves company, but is afraid of it.  I can pick her up and pet her now for short periods, but she doesn't know quite how to deal with it.  Regardless, she has formed a genuine attachment to the donkeys.  She always likes to sleep near them and, whenever Ramsey is laying down, she rubs up against his nose and tries to cuddles with him - something he tolerates with amazing gentleness.  Emma does not like her doing this to herself, but will often pet her as you saw in the video.

That doesn't mean that there aren't frequent misunderstandings between cat and donkeys, they do not speak each others language.  She once tried to use Emma's leg as a scratching post, a memorable occasion which resulted in ME getting a fractured nose.  There are also times when the donkeys will chase her out of their space.  This used to puzzle me because I couldn't figure out why they would go from being the best of friends one day to the cat being enemy-number-one the next.  I finally noticed that this always occurs whenever a stray cat (always un-neutered toms of course) stops by for a visit.  Moss hangs out with the strays and then donkeys don't recognize her because she smells different.  Once the toms move on and moss smells like herself again, they accept her back into the fold.

I find it all endlessly fascinating and I never cease to marvel at how much all of these animals have to teach us.


  1. all wonderful characters in their own way.

  2. Moss is a beautiful girl, and it saddens me to know she was so mistreated in the past... I'm glad she has a good home now. You know I like to observe species interaction, too!

  3. Interesting observations. Who knew?

  4. I have a mule that will not tolerate any non equine animal in her pasture. She has torn apart raccoon on more than one occasion.
    Outside of her pasture, she'll tolerate my dog walking around her.
    Other mules have accepted my dog very well, as long as he is scented with me.
    On the other hand, I have to keep him clutched to me when around the donkeys.
    Non of my herd generally even pay attention to the neighbor's cats. Wonder if they are frequent night visitors and therefore used to each other.

  5. I could have written this post about our gang too. The dogs and mules are fine as long as they both stay on their own side of the fence or I'm there to referee.... The mules are very fond of Diesel 'their' cat but occasionally when she steps out of line The Mini will chase her. Any other animals - strange dogs, cats, foxes etc.. are fair game and chased out of the paddock or even worse if a dog steps out of line when I'm riding Dragon she will happily chase and try to stomp, I am a mere passenger while she satisfies this urge - eek! Excepting little Roller horses find the mules perplexing, I LOVE your description of the donkeys flowing away from the bossiness like water, this is SO true, Dragon does much the same thing when horses try to boss her, she obviously gets this from the donkey!

  6. Now maybe you have given me some insight on my donkey Charley (a victim of Recurrent Uveitis) She has little trouble going to and moving around in the pasture but she cannot see things up close. She finds the water tub by swinging her head back and forth until she bumps it with her nose. A flake of hay, the salt block and such, by smell. Sometimes she misses the open barn doorway and bumps into the side of the barn! I always thought if you can't see up close, you couldn't see far away. But like you say maybe her distance vision is a little better.

    1. It may be, it's always hard to tell how much they see. It could be that she is better able to follow scent trails out in the pasture. The trails would get confused near the barn because of too much traffic. Donkeys, like a lot of other animals, have scent markers in their hooves. They mark their paths so that they know where safe ground is even when they can't see them. You could probably figure out if she still has some vision by blindfolding her and watching to see if it made any difference in her navigation - as long as it doesn't scare her anyways. It would be interesting, but we don't want to traumatize the poor girl!:)

  7. I love reading things like this from people who GET IT! Animals are SO much more thank at humans give them credit for and are 10 times more interesting than many people. Nothing fake about the animal world.

  8. Love your insight and observations!!!