The Secret Lives of Donkeys

A donkey named Grumble has taken me on a wild ride, no pun intended. Work on the third Sir Kaye book, Legend of the Forest Beast, has been a great opportunity to develop non-human characters that play an important role in the story.

Horses, like Sir Kaye’s horse Kadar, have been a mainstay since book one, The Knighting of Sir Kaye. Book two, The Lost Castle Treasure, introduced falconry and a goshawk named Oriana. So what about book three? In book three, Grumble the donkey plays an important, and at times humorous, role in the story.

(See the Chapter Books page.)

Of course, in order to write accurately about a donkey, I needed to do a bit of research. Much to my surprise, I have gained a new-found respect and appreciation for donkeys, so I thought I would share a few fascinating facts about them.

You may have thought, as I did, that donkeys are stubborn, less intelligent than horses, and weaker than horses of the same size. And if you thought that, then you’re in for a big surprise. Donkeys are more like the Clark Kent of the equine family, usually remaining unnoticed compared to the horse, but possessing some amazing abilities.

Clark Kent of the Equine Family smallDonkeys can live for over 50 years and pound for pound, are stronger, sturdier and more resilient than horses. Donkeys originated in the desert part of the earth, northeast Africa to be exact, and accompanied the Romans when they invaded Britain in 43 C.E.

You may have noticed that donkeys have bigger ears than horses. There’s a reason for that. In the desert, where donkeys originated, they are able to hear the call of another donkey 60 miles away. That’s some incredible hearing! Their large ears also serve another purpose: air conditioning. The large surface area of their ears is filled with blood vessels just beneath the skin. When blood flows through their ears, it cools. Then the cooler blood circulates throughout the body—a very important feature to have in a desert environment.

You may be wondering how a donkey’s diet compares to that of a horse. Donkeys don’t just have super strength and super hearing; they also have super digestion. Since food is scarce in the desert, donkeys utilize 95% of what they eat. Their digestive system can break down seemingly inedible vegetation and extract moisture from food far more efficiently than most other animals. If you need fertilizer for your garden, a donkey won’t contribute many nutrients to enrich the soil—he’s used them all up himself.

Donkeys have a reputation for being stubborn. If you were asked to cross a street with cars zipping by, would you? Well, neither would a donkey. Their reputation for being stubborn is actually because of their highly developed sense of self-protection. It is very hard to force or frighten a donkey into doing something it sees as contrary to its own best interest or safety. (If only people were that smart.)

Braying Donkey small

And compared to horses, donkeys show a limited response to fear, pain, and illness. These stoic animals rarely panic and may even appear unresponsive when in distress. When faced with a possible threat, donkeys prefer to plant their feet while they evaluate the situation. Unlike horses, donkeys are not easily frightened. Donkeys are often fielded with horses due to the perceived calming effect they have on nervous horses. If a donkey is introduced to a mare and foal, the foal will often turn to the donkey for support and companionship after it has left its mother. Donkeys are also more independent in their thinking than horses and will reason, then make decisions based on their safety.

Lynnes Three Donkey Amigos small

Are you impressed yet? Well here are even more incredible facts about donkeys.

Donkeys also have super memories. They can recognize locales and other donkeys they were with up to 25 years in the past, whereas I’m not entirely sure I can remember what I had for breakfast this morning.

Donkeys are also better at reading our body language than we are at reading theirs. That’s important to know when you approach a donkey. You want to be calm, approaching them with the confidence of a leader and with a comforting manner that isn’t demanding. If you are nervous, they will immediately assume there is something to be nervous about. Not good.

Donkeys are often used as guard animals for cattle, sheep and goats since they have a natural aversion to canines and will keep them away from a flock.

Like Superman, donkeys also have their Kryptonite. Donkeys don’t like the rain and being out in it for long periods can damage their health because their fur is not waterproof.

There’s also a tender side to donkeys.

Donkeys are social animals, enjoy company and develop strong emotional bonds with other animals. Donkeys often pick a best friend, with whom they spend most of their time, and pairs of them are frequently observed grooming one another. When separated from their companions, donkeys become noticeably anxious and distressed, often vocalizing, pacing, and even falling into depression.

Two Donkey Companions small

Training a donkey relies upon showing him or her, by words and action, that they can trust you to protect them from harm. They learn what it is we want them to do if we take time to show them.

And finally, if you want to get on a donkey’s good side, scratching them under their chin is a very effective way to make friends. But be aware that the area around the eyes and ears of a donkey is a very personal space—so avoid touching them there on first greeting.

These fun facts have caused me to rethink my preconceptions about donkeys—it’s been a good reminder to avoid jumping to conclusions about things when I don’t have all the facts!

So what exciting role will Grumble the donkey play in Legend of the Forest Beast? Well that bit of news will have to remain a secret for now. But don’t worry; Legend of the Forest Beast will be making its debut very soon, so stay tuned.


  1. Lynne Holder says:

    Fun! Are the three donkeys pictured in the pasture in the first pic mine? They look like mine and that looks like one of my dead trees!



    From: Don Winns Cardboard Box Adventures [] Sent: Thursday, February 11, 2016 7:31 AM To: Subject: [New post] The Secret Lives of Donkeys

    Don M. Winn posted: “A donkey named Grumble has taken me on a wild ride, no pun intended. Work on the third Sir Kaye book, Legend of the Forest Beast, has been a great opportunity to develop non-human characters that play an important role in the story. Horses, like Sir Ka”

    1. Don M. Winn says:

      Yes Lynne, the three amigo donkeys are yours–a great pic! I’m guessing that the three donkeys are still a trio?


      1. Don M. Winn says:

        Great experience Lynne! And you have continued to be successful and make a difference!
        Thanks for sharing.

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