While this winter’s weather has not been kind to skiers and farmers, it has been pleasant for us at Equine Spirit Sanctuary in Taos.

Typically winter finds us trudging through snow and mud from melting snow, trying to keep up with the cleaning and horse care. This winter we have had more time to do fun things with our herd.

While we keep hoping for much-needed snowfall, we are taking advantage of the dry conditions to do additional training and activities.

Volunteer Bruce Lee is teaching our standard-sized donkeys, Grace and Joy, to lead nicely and to carry packs. It was something I’d never really thought about: what kind of “job” could we find for these two nice donkeys that would be helpful and that they would enjoy? Bruce suggested packing.

Many hikers enjoy taking a donkey on the trail. Donkeys make great companions, enabling hikers to go farther and stay out longer as they can carry much more on their backs than a hiker can in a backpack. They can easily pack 15-25 percent of their body weight, carrying all the necessities for an enjoyable day in the mountains.

Imagine having a donkey carry your lunch, water, a good book to read while taking a break, camera, painting or drawing materials, musical instruments, a journal, first aid kit, sunscreen, snacks for both you and your donkey, even camping gear for an overnighter.

One hiker that takes his burros out on long hikes also appreciates that he can take his kids along. When they get tired, he just puts them up on the donkeys.

Compared to trail riding on a horse, donkeys are a great alternative. Donkeys are much more economical to feed and maintain properly. They do best on a diet of plain grass hay. They do not require fancy shoes. It doesn’t take as much space to keep a small donkey. They’re pretty agreeable to whatever you ask them to do.

People often think of donkeys as being stubborn. Really, they are not. If a donkey is asked to do something they do not understand or that frightens them, their response is to not do anything, hence the misconception.

Ask them to do the same thing in a way that they understand, and you’ll find that donkeys are very cooperative. While horses tend to be more reactive, donkeys are thinkers. They walk at about the same pace as a person, another benefit of hiking with a donkey.

As long as this mild winter weather continues, we’ll be working with our donkeys. One of these days soon you may see us out on the trails taking a hike.

And when Grace and Joy have mastered their new skills, they will be available for adoption. Interested? Check it out at Equine Spirit Sanctuary. We are open for visitors and volunteers Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m. For more information, call Ruth at Equine Spirit Sanctuary (575-758-1212), or go to equinespiritsanctuary.org or facebook.com/equinespiritsanctuary.

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