Training a driving donkey

Training a driving donkey yourself isn’t that hard. I struggled for a couple of years with thinking I couldn’t do it and finally jumped in. How? That part wasn’t easy. There are no donkey trainers here so I pieced my program for training driving donkeys together multiple sources from the internet and advice from local mule driving enthusiasts. I wish there had been an easier way. I purchased books, courses and dvd’s but none really gave me what worked best for me as a whole program. Because you can’t train a donkey just like a horse there were many things I had to modify.

I put together my own plan and it worked so well! I’ll share what I did and use a couple of case studies as examples.

Case Study: Jeb

driving donkeys

Jeb is a rescue donkey I got straight out of the kill pen in 2016. He was is rough shape but he recovered here fairly quickly with natural donkey care methods with the help of my very awesome farrier. 

He is so beautiful once healthy and had the most wonderful temperament I made him the herd sire for my milking donkey. So he is intact.

He would halter but not lead well and he had absolutely no training on his feet. I got him trained in the basics and would hike with him from time to time. Then in 2019, I decided to train him to drive.

 

How Much did I train him?

I did not work Jeb every day! He got worked 4 times a week on driving training. Our sessions were 20 minutes long. Some days we did other things like short trick training sessions or a little liberty training for some bonding. I don’t believe in only doing work every day the same ol’ same ol’.  There has to be some fun in it too, especially for the donkey. All work and no play just create a sour donkey in my experience that will try to avoid you.

Donkeys are more motivated and learn faster if we keep the sessions mentally stimulating. At least my donkeys all have responded positively to this. 

Jeb’s personal temperament traits and the fact that he trusts me allowed me to have him hooked and driving a viceroy in only 2 weeks. That’s 8 training sessions!

***NOTE ABOUT USING TREATS AS MOTIVATION AND REWARD: I’m a big fan of using +R and using treats as rewards. IF you would also like to do this please see the video below on training treat manners. It’s easy to do and will save a lot of frustration learning to treat correctly, to begin with! This video is about halter training but at the beginning, I explain how to teach treat manners.

If you are new to the benefits of Positive reinforcement training you may what to read this post also Donkey Training Tips and Information

What they need to know before you start

Before you start training a driving donkey your donkey does need to know how to halter well and how to stand tied quietly. Leading is a plus but sometimes leading skills can be improved with ground driving. 

I have a PDF about training a donkey to stand tied available if you sign up for my Donkey Lovers List. Info on that at the end of this article.

Donkeys that are not overly sensitive and do not have a strong flight response are also easier to train for driving. Jeb is very laid back and doesn’t have a strong flight response. Not a lot bothers him. If your donkey is fearful and wants to bolt at many things you need to desensitize him first and work on building a stronger partnership. 

I recommend always setting goals and making out a plan, no matter how simple before you go out. This will help you focus! I use a training journal/planner for my goals and donkey training plans. I also like to keep notes on how things went. This helps me think about ways to approach differently and adjust if there was a problem or determine if it’s time to move on to the next level!

You can read more about planning in the following article and get a copy of my donkey training journal/planner for FREE here if you like. Donkey Training Tips {FREE Training Planner}

Donkey Harness

You can start out with a surcingle and some long reigns for ground driving but you are going to need a harness and know how to put it on. You can usually find harnesses used on craigslist, facebook or a tack shop that does trades.

Donkeys are built differently than a horse but having a harness custom made can be very expensive. What I did was find several sized inexpensive used harnesses on craigslist so I could mix and match to make Jeb’s own custom harness. Now I also have other harnesses for my different sized donkeys too. You can also resale what you don’t think you will use. I choose to train him in a side pull halter though. Just to see how he would do. 

driving donkeys

Having a leather punch is a plus and this article on restoring old harnesses can help you Tack Care {Conditioning and Restoring Leather} 

The harness is put on a donkey just like it is a horse.

Check my Donkey Listener Pinterest board Donkey Driving Board for some pictures of driving donkeys. Be sure to follow my boards because I update them all the time!

Donkey Driving Commands

Most of my donkeys begin learning driving commands during our hiking sessions so by the time I am ground driving they are used to them. It can take a long time for some donkeys to understand a voice command. Don’t be discouraged just keep at it! These are the driving commands I use

  • Whoa (to stop of course!)
  • Stand (stand still and do NOT move)
  • Step (when I want them to start walking)
  • Trot (or a simple cluck cluck with the tongue works for my guys too)
  • Back up
  • Gee for Left turns and Haw for Right turns
  • Canter (I actually do not say canter most of the time but I give’em a big ol’ kiss noise to signal canter)
  • Easy (transition down to a walk)

You can use whatever voice command you want! Just keep them short and simple.

A Video Story of Jeb’s Driving Training

To make it easy I recorded his training sessions and pieced them together in this short video. 

Training a Driving Donkey: A few words about blinders

Some people like to start without blinders and that’s fine. Some like to start with blinders and work it out right away. There is no set in stone right or wrong way here. I’ve done both ways and had equally good results. 

Teaching a Donkey to Ground Drive

I’ve personally not had a donkey act dramatically to the harness as a horse will. No one has ever bucked or acted fearful. Maybe a little grumpy but never over the top.

Keep in mind I don’t put a harness on a donkey until they trust me though. Once a donkey trust you, they will allow you to do most anything.

Once your harness or surcingle is accepted it’s time to start learning to ground drive. I have started them in a round pen sometimes or in the main barn area. Just depends on the donkey and whats convenient at the time. 

Case Study: Dixie

Dixie is every bit as laid back as Jeb. Her hoof manners are wonderful but her leading is lacking. She was trained for riding but over the years of being in a home in a small lot where nothing was asked of her (previous owners) has made her reluctant to want to move. Sometimes ground driving will help with leading and forward movement. 

Here is a donkey first-time ground driving. Dixie isn’t as forward-moving as Jeb so I also motivate her with rewards. I believe she would be trained almost as fast as Jeb but I haven’t got a cart big enough for her yet.

Once comfortable with me being behind them I ground drive through the woods and all over the farm. They have to be ok with twigs snapping and leaves crunching because I mostly like to drive over our farm trails and fields.

1 st Steps to Desensitizing to the Cart

None of my donkeys think the cart is scary because they see it all the time. It’s in and out of their pastures every week. It’s part of there habitat basically. If you can I suggest leaving the cart and moving it through their areas when you can.

I also use counter conditioning. When the donkey checks out the cart I click and reward the donkey. This is an easy progress with donkeys who are usually curious about new things. If I pull the cart around and they follow, click and reward. I want the cart to be associated with good things!

Hitch a Donkey to a Cart

After ALL the first steps I then hook them upfront between the shafts but I lead them around with the cart. As long as your donkey leads well and is used to the cart this is usually uneventful. 

From there I will ground train the donkey hooked to the cart. 

So with Jeb all this was totally uneventful so I got in after ground driving awhile.

 BUT wait! Just to be extra safe you can get a helper for this stage. The weight of a person might freak them out so I simply have my husband lead the donkey around just like I did before but with me in the cart. This is an easy transition and can help you and the donkey feel safe with this new adventure. No trauma for them and no injuries for either of us!

Now Jeb is a Driving Donkey

Training driving is actually a lot of fun. Once all that is done now it’s time to Work on more transitions, whoas, backing, turns. My areas have hills so if a donkey is feeling spunky we may drive up some little hills just to get them thinking a little better. I’ll work on refining Jeb’s skills and getting him more in shape for driving now. He seems to enjoy it and he’s even easier to handle now. Even as an intact jack!

Don’t forget to take time and have other fun too though. Giving your donkey a mental and physical break is much needed and appreciated. They are working hard for you and deserve it. My donkeys work better for me when they get fun training times and they love going on hikes too! So some days we go back to that for fun and exercise for both of us!

Donkey Training Membership Group

I often post free training videos to youtube but I also have an online membership donkey training group that I post videos and training plan examples to every 2 weeks. For less than the cost of a cup of coffee, you can get exclusive donkey training videos to help you train your donkeys and help support my effort to keep this information going. Click the picture for more information!

how to traing donkeys

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