UC Davis undergraduate, 4th year
Major: Environmental Science and Management
On Monday afternoon, I received a call from a very excited Becca, announcing that we will officially be getting the donkeys! I was ecstatic- I had done weeks of research to find the right minis to add to our program, and could not wait to see how well they would work amidst my experimental design. “When are they coming?!” I quickly asked. This is where things got interesting…
“They are coming this Saturday,” Becca replied.
“Oh!” I exclaimed… That one word seemed to encompass the entirety of my shock, excitement, and nervousness. We had five days to set up an entire enclosure for three mini donkeys, who had been living the high life at their mini rescue sanctuary. I knew we could accomplish this, but, of course, it felt pretty overwhelming.
But wait, there’s more!
“One more thing…” Becca added, “We are also getting two mini horses on top of the three donkeys from the sanctuary. So, we’ll have five minis in total.”
“Oh!” I exclaimed, again. It felt like, once more, a most appropriate reply.
Five minis in total?! That number seemed like significantly more than three. Plus, we had already met the donkeys, and interacted with them. I felt like I understood their individual characteristics. But now, adding two more mini horses to the mix, whom I didn’t really know, I felt like this endeavor suddenly carried significantly more weight. I didn’t take even the idea of three donkeys lightly, but having a herd of five is no small feat. To build an enclosure, have the necessary supplies, and prepare ourselves mentally and emotionally for this huge responsibility ahead of us- it felt like five days was nowhere near enough. Don’t get me wrong, I was incredibly excited. One thing this experience showed me was the practice of feeling many different emotions at once. None of them take away from each other, either. Being stressed and also excited does not make me somehow less excited or unappreciative. It makes me human.
Thankfully, we had a lot of help this week, and we built a truly beautiful home for them, equipped with an automatic waterer, stall mats, shavings, toys, and salt blocks. I had assumed that, given the time constraints, we would make something temporary and liveable, but instead, we created a thoroughly enjoyable, comfortable, and spacious home for our new friends. Those five days flew by, and suddenly Saturday rolled around. It was time!
We all anxiously awaited the arrival of the trailer, carrying our five new family members. Trailer rides can be a stressful experience for any animal, so we hoped for a smooth transition into their home, without too much theatrics. Unfortunately, that was not quite the case.
It’s important to understand that, despite some animals’ neutrality in stressful situations, most of them don’t particularly want to be on a trailer. It’s hot, a bit cramped, and usually requires them standing in place for an extended period of time. Such pasture animals, who are used to choice in freedom of movement, are not built to be stagnant in such a way. Therefore, it’s crucial to act quickly and confidently in trailer situations, where they are to be on the trailer for as little time as possible. As soon as they arrive at their destination, it should be all hands on deck to get them off quickly, as they may be inclined to get themselves off themselves.
The door opens, and suddenly the donkeys are attempting to run off the trailer (rightfully so! They had a 6+ hour ride). I am holding three miniature donkeys by the halter, in an attempt to keep them on the trailer until lead ropes can be located. This quickly became a dramatic endeavor, and more hands were necessary than assumed. Luckily, we drew in a big crowd of people (which also made the situation more stressful), who were eager to see the cute minis and, ultimately, help us get them into their new place. One we got them off the trailer, they were pretty uninclined to move. To them, planting their feet and staying still felt safer than moving forward into the unknown. Can we blame them?
After a dramatic trailer offloading, and some resistance from the minis in getting them into their new home, we finally got them in their enclosure. They seemed to really like it! Until…
Olivia, one of the mini horses, started having some pretty serious stomach problems. Horses and stomach problems are not a good mix, as many are prone to colic, which can be expensive to treat, or possibly fatal. However, it didn’t seem she was suffering symptoms of colic. But, I couldn’t help but worry and feel anxious, knowing she was in discomfort. We gave her some supplements and she was definitely in much better spirits. I’m pretty sure I drove out to the ranch five times that day, to make sure she was alright.
After a few days of settling down, they all seem to be coming out of their shells, feeling physically good, and getting comfortable in their home. I found myself feeling somewhat territorial over them, as I wanted to be able to control everything that was to happen to them and constantly be with them. But, I realized that the reason they are here in the first place is to make people happy. If that means having to deal with some folks who really want to pet them, or really want to feed them, at a time that I personally wouldn’t find productive, it is not because they are being selfish or want to interfere; it is because the minis are sparking joy, and people want to lean into that. My main goal in coming to this lab was to facilitate animal-human interactions that have healed me in more ways than I could say, and these minis are a path to doing just that. My territorial feelings are out of love and care, but others’ enthusiasm is for the same reason. Why would I want to prevent and resist the very experience I came to this lab to create?
While this week was filled with extreme excitement, stress, worry, anxiety, and many more emotions, I feel eternally grateful to these minis who have started to trust us, and have adapted to a new situation with grace, despite their difficult past. It is admirable to see such creatures, who have had to overcome so much, continue to choose kindness and trust over fear. I am also incredibly grateful to Becca, who has entrusted me with this task, and also helped keep me calm, cool, and collected (or as much as possible) throughout their arrival, and have continued to be a rock for all of us, equines and humans alike. There is going to be quite a bit of good mini content coming your way. If I were you, I’d stay tuned…
Green Care Blog
Here you can find blog posts from each Green Care Lab intern. We'll be talking about our research process, the benefits of Green Care therapy, and sharing pictures of our work. Follow along with us!