DRIVING & CARTING
Boy, now here is a fun sport!! Donkeys can and do pull carts, wagons, sleds, sleighs, people wearing skis and even travious. Donkeys must however be trained as they are not born knowing how to pull or the commands, both verbal or the touch you will need for driving. I am not sure why some folks think that donkeys can just be hooked up to a cart, with or without a harness and away they go on a safe and fun little ride, but this is very unsafe to assume. Further, you need to know how to drive the cart before attempting this sport.
First you will need a proper fitting harness in good repair. Good repair? Yes, always check and make sure your donkeys harness is in safe working condition and all the joints are solid, not wearing through. Make sure all the parts are present for the harness. Check all buckles and snaps to see that they are functioning correctly. Make sure, if leather, that the leather is pliable...that means you can bend it and it does not crack or is not too stiff.
There are several different types of harnesses. Make sure you understand how the one you will be using is to go on the donkey and is adjusted to fit properly when on the donkey. Make sure you understand the functionality of the harness too.
If you will be buying a new harness for your donkey, read the description or talk to the salesperson about your donkeys size. Be sure to measure your donkey.
There is a difference between a leather harness and a nylon harness, leather will (or should) brake away in a wreck, nylon however is a choice for some folks because it will not stretch. There are several differences between the two and there are people who love both types. Talk to people that use harnesses before investing in yours.
When borrowing or buying a used harness just be sure, as you would with any other harness, that it is in good repair, fits the donkey correctly and all the parts are with it. If the harness is older and the leather or even the nylon are worn or torn, pass and wait for a safer harness to use for cart training. You could however use the older, used up harness for training the donkey to wear the parts of the harness and to move around wearing it, but not for any pulling the donkey may do.
The cart itself also needs to be the correct size. A Shetland Pony Cart may well be too large for a Miniature Donkey and too small for most Standards sized Donkeys. The shafts on the cart should be parallel to the ground when hooked properly to the donkeys correctly fitted harness. Sometimes you can change the wheel size on the cart to correct the size for the animal. Before changing wheel size make sure the wheels you want to put on the cart will fit the existing axle. Not only would it be unsafe to have the wheels the incorrect size for the axle, it could make extra noises that may spook the donkey.
Before buying a cart for your donkey, do your research. There are many types of carts. Some are very light weight, some are what I believe to be awfully heavy. What type of ground will your donkey be pulling on?. If on pavement, a light weight cart may be too light weight and you may have less control. If on fields a heavy cart may wear your donkey out in a short distance. Above all, do your research on cart size. How it should fit the donkey. Yes, it is important. Carts are not cheap, take the extra time and get what not only you want, but the type you need.
And a word on Cart and Wagon safety. You will need to check the cart/wagon out carefully to make sure it is in good repair. It may be 50 years old and in great shape, or two years old and needs work...you never know until you give it a good look over.
Don't just look at the cart/wagon from the top....flip it over or get underneath it (no equine attached, obviously <grin>) Look at the wheels, axles, frame, shafts and shaft attachment and every other part you can see and some you can not see.
A donkey may not be as spooky about the noise of the cart/wagon as a pony might be, but that does not mean you should not check those loud sounds out to see what he problem is....you do not want a wheel falling off as you toodle down the road.
Sometimes you might find a cart for next to nothing (price wise) if you put the word out you are looking for one. Years ago I mentioned at work that I was looking for a pony cart and someone there...that had no animals, did not like animals, knew where I could buy one. I went and looked and got a great cart in need of painting and wheels, all else in great shape, for $20!! You never know who knows what until you ask.
And maybe most importantly, Spending time with the animal. You can not, no matter how much you spend for all the best equipment, go out once in a while, get the equine out, and expect all to go well. Could it happen with the right animals?, you bet. But for the most part, it is what my husband and I tell people all the time: "You get out of an animal what you put into them." I have seen people ruin great animals that were trained well and a pleasure to be around. On the other side of the coin, I have seen folks take in what could be called "rank" animals and turn them into animals that anyone would be safe around, on or behind. I think it comes down to, It is not the money, it is how you spend it, how you use the items you have. For one person, my pony carts, they would not feel safe in them. For me, I feel blessed and thrilled to have them. I drive a donkeys and will be training another. Some folks do not understand donkeys and would just not have one.....and they should not. I must say, be happy with what you have, driving wise, and take care of it. It = animals, vehicles, trailers, harnesses, tack, barn, and all.
NEVER! when driving an animal use the reins as your "getty up". In other words do not use your reins, one in each of your hands, to slap the body of the animal to make it go. When a person does this, not only are you pulling on, floppy and rattling the bit and or halter/face of the animal, you are teaching the animal that when the reins move on it's back, it should too. This is bad behavior to teach...think what happens with the reins of driving animals as you get in and out of the cart/wagon/sleigh or sled. Carry a driving whip, IF you know how to use one. They are not for hitting the animal, they are for cuing.
IF YOU HIRE A TRAINER!
If you have an Equine you would like trained to drive it might be a very good idea to HIRE a Professional Trainer. Remember, However, that you are hiring this person to work for you. Do not let this person "razzle dazzle" you. Do not let them intimidate you. Do not walk away and tell your spouse "I did not ask, I did not want to look stupid." Driving and or Riding Equine is serious business, and can be life threatening. You would not more hire a person to do a job and not ask them questions or know what they had done BEFORE you paid them. Why do people do this when it comes to equine?!
Also, make sure that you hire someone that Knows Donkeys. Many Horse Trainers do not. And if anyone tells you something like, "It is a donkey, just hook them up and go." Do not walk away from them, run! They sure do not know what they are talking about! Many Horse Trainers honestly do not know anything about Donkeys. Donkeys are NOT Horses. Some Horse Trainers think Donkeys are just dumb, stubborn and worthless. These people do not know Donkeys and they sure do not know how to train them. Find someone that knows donkeys.
When the animal comes back home from the trainers facilities have the trainer drive the animal while you watch. Ask the trainer to SHOW YOU HOW to drive as she/he does.
Be sure to ask the Trainer questions that are important to your safety as well as your donkeys. Ask! the trainer, ABOUT HOW THE ANIMAL WAS TRAINED.
**How much time that the animal was worked?,
**How? (in the cart driving or walking behind the cart),
**What types of terrain?,
**Where? (around traffic or just in a round pen where it is quite with no action around),
**What equipment did the trainer use? (your cart? the trainer's own cart? Did the trainer use travois or training poles when training your animal in shafts? Did the trainer's use their own harnesses or yours?)
**How long, time wise, of drives did she take the animal out on/for?
**Were there other animals around? What type of animals? Were there dogs running around?
**Did the trainer have blinders on the donkey's bridle???????????)
**Be sure to ASK how much weight was in the cart that your donkey pulled.
**Ask if the donkey pulled up and down hills.
******These and more things your trainer should have TOLD you as they trained your animal, but many trainers do not, you must ASK.
There are a LOT of good driving training books you might want to read, cover to cover, before you ever try to drive an equine. There is far more in it than just pulling on the reins. Hills should be taken a lot differently than when you ride an animal.
AT YOUR OWN RISK
Please remember that you are working your animals at your own risk. We are only writing what has worked for us with our animals. You and your animals are individuals, what has worked for us may or may not work for you. Teaching animals to pull a cart or wagon is dangerous no matter how gentle the animals are. If you decide to train your own donkey and not to take it to a professional trainer, have fun, wear protective clothing, boots and gloves....but you are on your own here. We assume no responsibility for your or your animals health or safety, the way you train or how your donkey may or may not respond.
(Well, duh!!") <wink>
PLEASE SEE OUR "ABBY LEARNS TO DRIVE" PAGE HERE, IT IS MORE OF A TRAINING JOURNAL WITH PHOTOS WE HAVE PUT TOGETHER AS WE TRAIN OUR DONKEY NAMED ABBY
If you are also interested in teaching a goat or a llama to pull a cart or wagon, take a look at www.workinggoats.com and www.workingllamas.com
(more to come on training your donkey to pull and to drive)
I would like to invite you to join an eList I host at the Yahoo Groups Website called Cart_Wagon_Goats. Granted we do mostly talk about Goats and Llamas, but would love to have you join us to talk about training your Donkeys to pull and drive on that elist too. Also, I have a Holistic Donkey elist at the Yahoo Groups website you may want to join. If you are a bit or more overweight and would like encouragement to loose the weight before mounting or driving your donkey, please join us at an elist called "Does My Butt Look Big in the Saddle". Yes!! The conversation is as fun as the name of the group.