Rescue Spotlight: Save Your Ass Long Ear Rescue…The Truth About Mules and Donkeys
By Juliane Dykiel
This is what I saw when I pulled up to Save Your Ass Long Ear rescue in South Acworth, New Hampshire on July 10. I had decided that it was time to visit Ann Firestone, the president of the rescue, to ask her some questions about mules and donkeys. I have been working with a little rescue mule who was adopted by my trainer Ainslie Brennan of Windflower Farm for the past couple of years. She has been fascinating, but one mule doesn’t make me an expert. It was time to get some real information.
First, about Save Your Ass…
She bought her first donkey in 1990, and met other people online who loved donkeys like she did. She started helping donkeys find homes, and one thing led to another. Several people got together, and the rescue grew from there. Save Your Ass adopted out 125 animals in 5 years. The happy donkeys and mules peering at me seemed to agree that this was quite an accomplishment!
I then asked Ann the question I had been burning to ask her the most: “Who came up with the name?” She laughed and told me that Gail Lever, who was one of the founders, thought of it. She got the business going as a 501-C3 non-profit organization.
“Do you get any heat for it?” I asked, referring to the rescue’s use of the word “Ass.”
“Yes,” she told me honestly. Some people are simply turned off by the terminology, but this does not irk her. “It’s the proper name for a donkey,” she said.
Then, the next question: Why long ears?
Ann told me, “There are a lot of horse rescues.”
I realized how true this was. I’d heard of a million “horse rescues,” or more general “equine rescues,” but never a “long ear rescue” before Save Your Ass. And mules and donkeys definitely need rescuing!
Yet the main reason, Ann continued, is that she’s simply crazy about long ears!
Then, Ann and I walked around the rescue and I met her mule, Gertie, and some other rescues. Their happy endings are truly heart-warming. However, there are some that still need happy endings – even though they have been saved by the rescue, they still need forever homes. Contact me or Ann for more info on the adoptables, or check out the Save Your Ass website.
Now, about mules and donkeys themselves….
How are they physically?
I’d heard rumors about how athletic mules were, and that they out jump horses in jumping competitions, which is why they aren’t allowed to compete in them.
Ann told me that this was due to “hybrid vigor,” and the fact that the sterile cross gets the best qualities of each of the parents. Not only can they do anything from jumping to an outstanding performance in dressage, they metabolize food more efficiently than horses. This means we can feed them less, which means they’re cheaper to maintain in the food department!
In fact, Ann stressed that Save Your Ass experiences many more problems with overfed animals than neglected ones. This is particularly a problem with donkeys, as it is very easy to overfeed a donkey and not realize it. Therefore, it’s good for long ear owners to exploit the financial advantage of not having to feed them very much!
I asked Ann about their feet and she admitted that donkeys don’t often have very good feet. The one advantage, however, is that they do well barefoot, which negates the cost of shoeing. Trimming is much cheaper than shoeing. Mules also do great barefoot and Ann had no complaints about their feet.
The next thing that blew me away about long ears’ health is their lifespan – they live and function well into their 30’s and 40’s!
How about their temperament?
I’ve heard that donkeys are fantastic for nervous riders, as their instinct is to freeze, not run off, when confronted with something frightening. Ann mentioned that mules are much more reactive than donkeys, having half of the “flight” instinct that horses have, but still much more level-headed than a lot of our horse friends.
In other words, donkeys like to “conserve energy.” Cocoa Puff, a donkey adopted from Save Your Ass by a volunteer and board member, proved this to me when I went out to meet him.
A donkey’s behavior, Ann explained, is any animal lover’s dream. They are usually in your face and want to be loved. Two of the little miniature donkeys at the rescue confirmed this for me. They were in our pockets the entire time we were in the pasture!
Ann told me that mules are a lot more wary, and it’s much harder to gain their trust. However, her mule Gertie’s attitude proved to me that the next thing that she told me is true: “Once you have a mule’s trust, you never lose it.”
She stressed how impossible mules are to handle, however, if they are not imprinted at an early age. She told me that she “learns something every day” working with the mules and that she is constantly reminded of how smart they are.
How about training methods?
After having met one of the rescue’s most difficult cases, Isabella, I asked Ann what kind of training methods she prefers for the long ears. She is a huge clicker training advocate and claims that it is one of the more effective ways to train a mule. She describes it as a method of “communication,” and that since mules are “thinkers,” it works very well.
I have seen the incredible effects of clicker training in horses, who are naturally very reactive animals, and have to say that I believe Ann when she says that this training method works. She has encouraged me to go out and learn more about it.
However, once you have a long ear’s trust and respect, in my experience, you can train them very similarly to a horse. Ann loaned me a book that confirms this: the exercises and methods that it recommends are similar to horse training books.
After all, Ainslie Brennan and I took her little rescue mule Brit to events and dressage shows as if she was any old regular training project of ours!
In the end, my visit to Save Your Ass was eye-opening and heart-warming. I hope this convinces you to try a new relationship with a long ear. While I had some frustrating moments with Brit at the beginning, as soon as we figured each other out, the journey was incredibly humbling yet rewarding.
If we’ve convinced you to adopt a long ear, check back regularly to the Mt. Toby Rescue Project page. We’ll keep updating it with new adoptables. And if you’re still in the mood for a horse, we have those posted up there as well!
Thanks for everything, Save Your Ass!