Lessons I Learned By An A$$ Kicking, Literally.

Image: Calvin and Hobbes comic strip by Bill Watterson

Life's lessons come in all shapes and sizes. A lot of us have learned from the school of hard knocks. There I was, minding my own business, when out of nowhere – Wham! A searing pain emanating from the top of my right leg. Our donkey had literally kicked my a$$. Why did she do this? I have no idea. Why do we have a donkey? Well, that is a story worth telling.

Lesson I – Wisdom comes in many shapes and sizes.

I live on a small family farm in Western North Carolina. When I was a kid my grandfather kept a few cows and we had a couple of horses. I had a wonderful childhood.

After getting married my wife and I had two children. When our son was five he bought a cow. (Click here for Lessons Learned from a five-year-old who bought a cow)We had 2 dogs and two cats at the time (my wife and I had gotten them prior to the children) as well as a turtle. We decided to keep the cow in the pasture with my parent's old horse. Unfortunately, the horse passed away. The cow, now almost two, started going nuts. We couldn’t keep him in the pasture. He was in mourning. My little girl notices this and comes up with a solution. “Daddy, I can fix Fred [the cow].” “Really, how?” I replied. “Get him a friend, he needs a pony. Mommy and you have the dogs and cats, my brother has the cow and a turtle, I don’t have a pet so a pony would be perfect.”

Wow! Children are perceptive. Yes, Fred did need a friend and my little lawyer did make a sound case. “Honey, a pony takes a lot of work and Daddy can’t dedicate that kind of time right now with my job.” Tears begin to build, I begin to fold. “I tell you what,” I say, “Let me look into it a bit and talk over some things with your mom.”

After a good bit of research on companion animals, we determined that the least expensive livestock that required the least amount of daily care was, you guessed it, a donkey. I knew a guy who had donkeys so I called him up. Home comes George. A miniature young donkey. I won’t go into all the details here but sadly George passed away shortly after we got him. I believe that it bothered my wife and me more than it did my kids.

However, while George was around, Fred the cow had calmed down and didn’t get out of the pasture. So clearly another companion was needed. I spoke to an ad rep at work and the topic of donkeys came up. He says, “I know a guy.” Enter an expert in donkeys and antique farm equipment.

I called the man up on Saturday and inquired about the donkeys. “Yes sir, I have a few donkeys for sale. They have spent the last few years on a cattle farm.” Translation: While good with cattle they haven’t been handled that much. “Can’t meet you today. I tell you what, come down to the house tomorrow after church. You can look at ‘em and pick one out. I don’t do no business on Sunday though, you’ll have to come back to pay and take it home.” We agreed to a time and Sunday after church to meet the gentleman.

I don’t know if you ever watched the show “Hee-Haw.” “Hee-Haw” was a music based comedy show that aired here in the states for awhile. On this show, there was a character, Grandpa Jones. My donkey connection was a spitting image of Grandpa Jones.

Image credit: planetcitymarket.com

He had all of the donkeys in the feeding area of the barn. “Those two there aren’t for sale, they are a little wild yet and that one, she’s spoken for. Any of the rest are good and they’ll run ya $150 – $200 depending on which ‘un you want.”

My daughter stood on the fence rail and watched the donkey’s eating and milling about for a long time. “That one daddy. That is the one.” “She’ll be a good ‘un, she’s about 4.” “That’s how old I am,” my daughter exclaimed.

Excellent. The following week we would bring home a new addition. We could hardly wait.

In order to transport a donkey one must use a trailer. I had been advised by my Grandpa Jones (a.k.a the “donkey whisperer,”) that bringing along a little help might be a good idea. (This should have been a clue for what was to come) Living on a farm we know folks who do show horses, go trail riding, etc., so securing a trailer wasn’t an issue. 

Saturday arrived. I had enlisted my father’s help because what grandad can say no to his granddaughter? Down the mountain we went. 

When we arrived at our destination we pulled up to the gate and my donkey whisperer came out to meet us. Introductions were made. “My, that’s a big trailer you got for one little ‘ol donkey.” We had borrowed a four horse trailer so yes, a bit of overkill. “Drive on back of the house and ya’ll park as close as you can to the barn.”

I must take a moment to describe the setting of the farm. Over to one side are miniature donkeys that were sweet. The kids enjoyed going over to them and petting them. They were very used to people. The property had LOTS of antique farm equipment strewn about. I recognized old tractors but had no clue as to what some of it was. The barn was missing a section. “Lost that part of the barn back when Hurricane Hugo hit, hadn’t gotten around to patching it up.” (Hugo had hit about 25 years earlier). Inside the barn was the most unusual giant collection. Everything from donkey statues to tricycles. Very eclectic, “Pickers” would have a field day. The remains of the barn were still huge. Four or five large stalls, a feed storage area, all full of a variety of everything.

My father and I walked through this treasure trove marveling at a lifetime of collecting to arrive at a small stall off of the feeding area. 

The donkeys were out in the pasture a long way from the barn. My Grandpa Jones went into the field and “hollered for 'em.” Here they came a dozen or so beautiful creatures. He chuckled and said, “I didn’t give them grain this morning so I could get 'em here when you came.” Into a holding pen came the animals all shapes and sizes. “You ever herded cattle?” I was asked. “Yes, sir,” was the reply. “Good, cause we’ll cut her from the group and put her in that stall there.”

This was easier said than done. A dozen donkeys bunching together acted like they knew their companion was getting ready to leave and they didn’t want her to go. We would go this way, they would go that way. After a few minutes though we were able to direct our lovely girl into the stall. “Now what?” I thought.

Our guide took out a small bucket and put cracked corn into it. Then he hands me a lasso. “Did you bring any work gloves?” “No,” was the answer. Now I am 6 ft 4 and about 220. Our host was maybe 5 foot 6. Needless to say, my hands were about 2 or 3 sizes too big for the gloves but I took what I could get.

“Now you go in there, show her the grain, slip the loop over her head and get to know her a bit. You said you had horses?” “Yes” “Well, donkey’s ain’t like horses.” This, I found, was the understatement of the year. In I ducked into a stall where the rafters were maybe 6 ft 6. The cobwebs sporadically hung down a foot or so. That was fun. The small room is probably 10 x 10. Come to think of it, isn’t that the size of a jail cell? Anyway, I digress. In the far corner stands the donkey. About 4 foot at the shoulder she had her head cocked to the side as if to say, “Now what?” 

I held out the bucket of feed and slowly began to approach her. Like a flash, she got around behind me and was at the other side of the stall. We played rope ‘e dope like this for about five minutes with my host chuckling to himself. He tells me, “Go into the corner squat down and make yourself small. Put the lasso round the bucket and hold them in front of you. Let her come to you and don’t do nothing till I tell you. You're just too big.” So I did, and amazingly after a minute or so the donkey’s curiosity got the best of her and step by step she slid over to my side. She began to eat a hesitant quick grab and a couple of steps back. When the time was right the old man said, “Get ready.” Ready for what I wasn’t sure but I was as ready as I could be. “She ain’t gonna like the rope too much so be ready to move.” Over the neck went the rope. 

I must say the old man was prepared. Thankfully he had the other end of the rope run over a beam. The lasso went over her neck and this sweet gentle animal became a spawn of the devil.  Her eyes rolled back, she flattened her ears and onto her hind legs she went, front feet pawing the air trying to strike out at the cause of her discomfort. The old man showed a tremendous feat of strength by holding his end of the rope long enough for me to scramble out from under the hooves of death.

The donkey came back down and it appeared, mistakingly, that some of the fight had left her. “What are you going to call her?” “Sally,” I replied. “Start talking to her. You’re a married man right?” “Yes sir,” I replied. “This ‘ol gal she’s like every other woman. You gotta take your time to get to the goods. Take it easy. Slow and easy. You rush it and you’ll spoil the whole thing.” I am not sure, but I believe that the old man was giving me marital advice.

I won’t bore you with the details but suffice to say over the next hour I had to slowly, very slowly get to know Sally. A couple of more fits but finally she was leaning into me sighing contentedly. “Ok,” my Grandpa Jones exclaimed, “I think it's time to load her up. Your old man and you can do the pulling and I’ll do the driving.”

Pulling and driving? What this amounts to is another rope was attached to Sally. My dad, 6 ft 2 and about 250 on one side; me 6’4 220 on the other. The lasso rope went around Sally’s body and back to the front because “She’s more likely to move with something pushing her on the backside.” Grandpa Jones, 5 ft 6 and maybe 150 – 160 is a few feet back (clear of the back hooves) and has a training whip. “I’ll crack the whip behind her feet and she’ll step forward. Ya’ll pull and we’ll just walk her right out to that big trailer.”

Now, this sounded great in theory. She’ll get motivated and we will easily walk her out to the trailer and whisk her away to her new home. Well you have heardI am sure, that donkeys are stubborn. They are actually not stubborn, they are the most cautious animal to ever set foot on this earth. They will not go somewhere without making sure there is no danger. 

So they old man says, “Ready? Yah mule! Yah!” And the whip whistles through the air cracking right behind Sally’s feet. We pull. Again and again and again. Finally, a hesitant step is taken then another. After about 5 minutes we reach theyou guessed itdoor of the stall. We had about 100 yards to go. One step at a time. “Gee golly!” I am thinking “This sure is fun.” Actually, choice phrases began to form in my mind as we pulled and tugged and begged and ‘Yah mule’'d our way step by painful step to the end of the barn.

“I got an idea,” the old man exclaimed. “Let’s rest a minute and let me go get something.” Gladly. What came back was surprising. It was my wife leading a miniature donkey who must have been the old man’s when he was a kid. ‘Granny' was her name. She was slow and definitely old BUT walked around like a dog on a leash. “I’ve had ‘ol Granny a long time. She can help us out.” Out in front walked Granny. Sally fell right in line and the last 60 yards or so only took an additional five minutes. (To the end of the barn had been a 45-minute ordeal).

Uh oh. Here was something new. A step up into a big cave that might eat you. Sally wanted nothing to do with that. Granny, bless her soul, would go in and out of the trailer without hesitation. “Ya’ll get up in there and pull and I’ll turn up the heat out here. When she decides to go in she’s coming though so be ready.” Granny went into the trailer again. With plenty of room, we tied Granny at the front. My dad and I got to the sides and began to pull. I must digress again for a moment and inform you that pound for pound, a donkey is twice as strong as a horse. Sally is no exception. Tugging and pulling we hear, “Alright boys put your backs into it.” This. Donkey. Will. Not. Win… And pull we did with everything we had. One foot in the trailer. “Alright, boys rest a second and we’ll do that again.” The world moved into a tunnel. It was me and the donkey. Nothing else mattered right then. The sweltering heat inside the trailer, the sweat streaming down my face and back, muscle pain that I didn’t know existed from working at the gym. The crack of the whip is heard and low and behold foot number two is in.

Whew. I don’t know how much more abuse my body can take. I look over to my dad and I can see that he is in worse shape than I am. This. Donkey. Will. Not. Win. Now it had become a contest of wills. I was mentally preparing myself to get a surge of adrenaline, knock the donkey out and throw all 400 pounds of her over my shoulder, when what do we hear but, “Lemme try something. Ya’ll stay outta her way.” The door of the trailer began to shut when it touched Sally’s backside a light went off in her and the next thing you know she is standing at the front of the trailer next to ‘ol Granny. Man, she’s fast!

I paid the man, we returned his gloves and got into the truck and back home we stopped at the first convenience store to pick up drinks. As we were getting them I asked my dad, “Now what?” He looked at me with a bit of fear in his eyes and replied, “I don’t know, we’ll figure out something.” All in all the loading of the donkey took us about 2 and a half hours. So much for our 30-minute trip.

Lesson II – Obtainment of a goal can be a painful process.

The women in our family had a baby shower to attend that Saturday afternoon so it was up to my dad, my 6-year-old son and me to unload the donkey. After we had eaten we decided to drive the trailer down to the barn and put it close to the gate of the small enclosure that we had made for our cow when he was a calf. Why we didn’t drive into the pasture and back the trailer right up to the adjoining stall is still a mystery to me.

50 feet. That’s all that we needed to go. 50 feet. My dad and I got on our work gloves, ones that fit properly this time. We had my son move safely out of the way and into the trailer my dad boldly goes. As he is unhooking Sally she throws her head slamming his hand into the side of the trailer. This knocks off a small piece of skin even through the work glove. “Gee golly!” He exclaimed, “That smarts.”

Round 2 – Back into the ring the challenger goes. Dad has a determination and will about him that could only be pulled from deep inside. A resolve that he would win this had set in. Unfortunately for us, our opponent had the same thought.

I may be down, but I ain't out. Image: Rocky Balboa – Sylvester Stallone

We untied Sally and she calmly walked to the door of the trailer. “Wow!” I exclaimed, “Maybe she is trusting us more.” Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. I should have never said those words out loud for my father and I both instinctively lowered our guard and with it the tension on the two lead ropes.

Do you remember the old Bugs Bunny cartoons? Remember the coyote and roadrunner? Imagine the Coyote strapped to a rocket hurling through the air. That is what it feels like when a donkey determines that it is time to leave a trailer with two big men tied to her. With a toss of her head, I saw my life flash before my eyes as the ground became perpendicular to my body. Surprisingly, the flying through the air doesn’t hurt at all. It is that abrupt landing at the end. By the grace of the good Lord above my father and I both landed on our feet. We were now about twelve feet from the back of the trailer. Upon landing my dad’s three back surgeries were all felt at once so he, at no fault of his own, released his rope as his body contorted into a shape that was unnatural for a moment. “Gee Golly!” Dad exclaimed. “That hurts!”

Now it was me and her. I was at the end of my rope, you might say. Sally is facing me and taking a step back at a time. My heels were dug in. I was holding on with both hands. My feet were creating little furrows in the ground as step by step I was being drug further and further from our ultimate destination.

That fighter’s determination was back. My dad had been beaten down and was hurting tremendously but was not out of the fight. Though at this point, while being drug down the field I was simultaneously trying to get Sally to stop and keep my dad from getting a gun. “Move the trailer!” I shouted, “She doesn’t like it.” 

My dad hobbled over and moved the truck and trailer. Low and behold, Sally quit going backward. She wasn’t going forwards either but we had at least stopped the backward progression. Now we were about 125 feet from our destination. It was going to be a long afternoon.

Remember earlier when the old man had me loving on the donkey all good and slow like you do for a woman? Well, apparently that was time well spent. My dad began to approach the two of us and she pushed into me and away from him. Upon later reflection, we realized that all she knew about dad was this big guy who pulled her where she didn’t want to go. I was the lesser of the two evils. I had given her grain and scratched her ears.

Dad picked up a foot long pine branch with the green needles on it and began to approach waving the branch. He got close enough to just touch her with it and we were off to the races. Sally began running. I directed her flight into the pasture and into the barn. Dad ran up and shut the barn door. Touchdown! We had her. We filled up the water trough and gave her some feed. I unhooked the lead ropes, crawled through the window of the stall and looked at my dad.”Well, son,” he said, “Looks like you are now the proud owner of a she-devil.”

We retired to the house, took Advil, rubbed on muscle cream, got bottles of water and collapsed into the chairs. We hadn’t sat but 3 or 4 minutes and the girls arrived back from the baby shower. Total time for unloading about 2 hours.

Lesson III – If you are going to grab a tornado, hold on tight.

So in this stall is Sally the donkey. Not an overly large animal but full of spit and vinegar. How was I ever going to feel comfortable enough with this animal to let my small children around it? 

It turns out that Sally distrusts men. I don’t know if it is because we are bigger than her or if it is only men who have tried to make her do things she didn’t want to do.

My wife is 5’2” and my kids were young and small at the time. Sally would at least look in their direction when they entered the barn. Slowly, over the next few days, my wife got Sally to eat some corn from her hand. My daughter rubbed Sally on the nose. But we had a problem. We had left the halter on her in case we needed to get a rope on her again and she was rubbing it a lot. This friction was causing a spot of her coat next to her ear to loose the hair and we were afraid that it would cause her injury.

It is time for me to play the superhero. Patience. Wait. Get a handful of grain and hold it out at feeding time for a long, long time. Step by cautious step, Sally came over to me one hesitant grab of the grain. Minutes pass. When the time is right, I grab the halter.

Back the donkey goes. I have ahold of her through the window, and the fact that my body was located on the other side of a wall kept her from rearing up all the way. The tendons in my shoulders screamed in agony. My chest feels like it was struck by a hammer as I was violently yanked into the wall.

Flee the tornado, don't grab it. Image from Art of Manliness.

This. Donkey. Will. Not. Win. I don’t know where the strength came from. I don’t know how I did it. This time it was the donkey who dug in, and I felt like the Mortal Combat character who yelled, “Get over here!” The donkey’s hooves dug into the floor of the stall and they cut little furrows. I pulled the animal all the way up to my face with nothing but sheer adrenaline. Nose to nose I held on with one hand and undid the halter with the other. Off the halter comes. Sally jumps back, shakes her head and looks at me with, “Well, THAT’s what you wanted. I didn’t know. Thanks.”

Back to the house for more Advil and muscle cream.

Lesson IV – Always be wary and know where your enemies are.

Pre-harness removal

As I was getting that halter off I had noticed a problem. The donkey had been in the stall with food and water for a couple of days. It needed to be mucked. (All of the waste needed to be cleaned out of the stall.)

Here we go again.

My wife and son were not home so my daughter and I went to the barn to clean it out. The way that the stall was situated it was best to enter through the window where my arms had almost been torn from my body. Our stall is about 15’ by 15’, plenty of room for two adversaries to have their own area, or so I thought.

Warily we danced around each other, me cleaning the stall, her looking at me with such innocence you would think she wouldn’t hurt a fly.

I finish and dump her water trough out so I can put fresh water in. Job well done. The stall looks good. The donkey looks, well like a donkey. She walks over to inspect the water trough I am a good distance (so I thought) away from her. 

It is a grave mistake to turn your back on your enemy. Wham! A searing pain emanating from the top of my right leg. As previously mentioned, our donkey had literally kicked my a$$.

My 4-year-old little girl watched as I emitted an animalistic death cry and flung myself through the window of the stall. (I must note, unlike earlier when the language was somewhat colorful in this situation, for some reason I was able to control a verbal tirade.)

Please understand, a donkey is extremely accurate with their hooves. They can kick front back and sideways and they are lightning fast. Sally had decided that I had served my purpose and it was time for me to leave her home.

The pain stayed with me for a couple of weeks. The bruise didn’t even surface until three days later. (My wife saw me hobble out of the shower and commented that the bruise was new. “What did that?” She asked…)

Lesson V – Stick to it and things will improve.

We have had Sally about three years now. While not on overly friendly terms, she did come up to the fence yesterday and allow me the privilege of rubbing her neck for about 45 seconds. Overall she serves her purpose. She keeps the cow in, keeps the coyotes out and created memories for us to share.

TC Thompson is a husband, father, and believes that men need to step up into the roles that they were created for. His focus is on leadership and discovering what you are called to be.