Donkeys are amazing magical creatures. No matter how tired you are, donkeys find a way to make you laugh. Donkeys soothe and energize and if you listen with your heart you can hear them talking to you and to each other. Donkeys are chatterboxes, full of questions. Donkeys are not stubborn, they are cautious. Once you explain to donkeys what you want them to do and why donkeys need to do it, donkeys are very cooperative and try to please you.
Because of donkeys intelligence and willing temperaments donkeys were the companions of humans (4500 B.C.) in Egypt and Mesopotamia for 2000 years before the domestication of the horse (2250 B.C.). Donkeys carried royalty and were given places of honor within the households and served a unique place in early societies as status symbols of wealth and wisdom. The palfrey of the Middle Ages was often a donkey, and it is possible donkeys were the dragons and unicorns of poems and lore. The donkey is also the only animal given speech in the King James bible (Numbers 22:28).
By 3400 BC selective breeding was creating larger or smaller donkeys for specific purposes. The large donkeys were used for pulling heavy loads such as barges along the waterways, the mid-size donkeys were favored as pack and riding donkeys, and the small donkeys were used in dense vegetation where their short height allowed them to walk under overhanging limbs carrying packs of produce over steep mountain trails. Because of donkeys temperament, dependability, versatility, and longevity donkeys are still the most common work animals worldwide.
North American Donkeys
The Eohippus skeleton found in 1931 in the Big Horn Basin, northeastern Wyoming proves Equus were native to North America and then vanished. There are many theories why donkeys disappeared from North America and continued to evolve in northern Africa.
Donkeys were reintroduced to North America by the Spanish explorers in the 1500s and brought to the Spanish colonies in the 1600s. These early donkeys became the rootstock of large donkeys spreading throughout the colonies and by the late 1700s there was a demand for large donkeys for the production of mules. Thousands of large donkeys were imported during the 1800s and through the early 1900s. The large standard and mammoth donkeys in North America today developed from blending the later imported stock with the descendents of the early Spanish donkeys.
During the westward expansion in the early 1800s into the middle ground of the Northwest Territory, fur trappers and freighters used the medium-sized donkeys to pack goods through the wilderness east of the Mississippi River. They could put donkeys on flat boats at Fort Pitt, which is now Pittsburgh, float them down the Ohio River to Fort Washington, which is now Cincinnati, load their packs and travel the narrow trails to the early settlements such as Fort Dearborn, Fort Wayne, Fort Knox, and Fort Mackinaw. In the mid-1800s when the settlers moved even further westward across the Mississippi River into the plains, donkeys went with them to carry supplies where wagons could not go. Once the westward expansion reached the Pacific Ocean the donkeys' work was still not done. Large teams of donkeys pulled ore wagons across the southwest desert and donkey pack trains were often the only means of getting supplies to rugged mountain settlements. The need for the medium-sized donkey waned with the completion of the railroads and many were released in the west and established feral herds. Their descendents are today's Bureau of Land Management donkeys.
In the late 1700s, small donkeys were being used to pull carts of produce in the cities, turn the gristmills and water wheels and pulling ore carts in mines. When steam and petroleum-fueled engines were introduced to do the harder tasks, some of the small donkeys were also released in the west and southwest, but many were still needed and new brood stock continued to be imported well into the late 1920s. In the 1940s and 1950s the small donkeys grew in popularity as novelties and in the mid-1950s the term "miniature" was used in advertising and a registry based on size was created in 1958 to record the lineage.
Conformation for a donkey is a skeletal structure with the appropriately proportioned bone lengths to create strong, supporting, and shock absorbing joints. A donkeys skeleton supports and protects his internal organs. Structure governs the mechanics of their motion determining the amount of energy that must be expended to move their body. A well-structured donkey has a mechanically efficient structure that expends less energy in moving and is better able to support their own bodyweight or that of an additional burden such as a rider or pregnancy.
Conformation has nothing to do with color, size, or pedigree. To have "conformation" requires a proportional structure with four mechanically sound legs. Conformation is not compromised by size or by age. Donkeys are born with the structure they inherit from their parents. When both parents carry the genetics of good structure, the offspring inherit the genetics of good structure. One mechanically sound parent and one mechanically weak parent will produce an offspring that may appear mechanically sound, but it will be carrying the genetics for mechanical weakness.
Not all structural weaknesses are obvious and often can be missed when disguised by layers of body fat, but conformation is the skeletal structure, and no amount of body fat can change a poor skeletal structure into a strong, healthy structure.
Copyright 2005 Vicki Knotts Abbott
The Legend of "The Donkey's Cross"
"Bring me the colt of a donkey," was the Master's request.
A young donkey was brought to Jesus to carry Him into Jerusalem.
A week later Jesus was ordered crucified.
The little donkey so loved the Lord that he wanted to help Him carry the cross.
But alas, he was pushed away.
The sad little donkey waited to say goodbye until nearly all had left.
As he turned to leave, the shadow of the cross fell upon his back and shoulders.
And there it has remained, a tribute to the loyalty and love of the humblest of God's creatures.