Of trotters, hooves, and goat worrying

I have not stopped moving all weekend. In fact, I’ll be glad to get back to school tomorrow for a rest. I only teach three periods on a Monday, so it is indeed a time to recover from the weekend.

On Saturday morning, Pepe the local blacksmith arrived to show me his proposed ideas for a metal structure to house the donkeys. We had based the plan on a 5 x 4 metre area, but as we looked at it in situit was obviously far bigger than the donkeys need. We reduced by two thirds and Pepe said he’d revise the estimate. “How much was the original estimate, then?” I asked.

“Two thousand Euros…” Pepe said, looking into the far distance, in the direction of Puig Campana.

“That is ridiculous,” I said. “I could build a wooden structure for less than five hundred Euros… The idea was that a metal structure would be cheaper, as timber costs more in Spain.”

“Let’s go drink some beer and eat some pork in Sella,” Pepe suggested. We put my folding off-road bike into his 4×4 and drove to Sella, fifteen kilometres up towards the Aitana ridge. It was the Festa de Sant Antoni in Sella and they had killed a pig at 9.30 with a brass band accompaniment and the whole town gathered to witness the killing of the pig. By the time we arrived, sausage making was in full-swing.

The feast of St Anthony – fourth century desert hermit and father of monks – is always the occasion of a matanza del cerdo or in Valenciano matanca del porc, the slaughter of a pig. Unfortunately for pigs, St Anthony is depicted in art as having a pig beside him; indeed a pig he made friends with, so became also the patron of animals. The Spanish naturally interpret this as ‘patron of pig slaughter’ and use the occasion of the feast of St Anthony to perform community ritual pig slaughter. The band plays a pasodoble as the sausages roll out…

Oh joy! The open-air bar serves not only bits of the unfortunate pig but Estrella Galicia beer…! Hooray! (Estrella Galicia is the beer from north-west Spain beloved of pilgrims to Santiago, and in my opinion the best beer in Spain. Estrella please advertise on my blog. I’ll accept advertising for two crates a month.) Pepe introduces me to his tenants who live nearby. They are English and recently moved in, high up the mountain. They have no electricity in the house but Pepe has promised to put it in. We talk briefly about sausages, donkeys, the reliability of Spanish landlords, and where to hire horses for riding locally; then I drive back to Finistrat with Pepe.

“I’ll do a new estimate based on the smaller donkey house,” he says, optimistically.

“Will it be cheaper than timber?” I ask. He shrugs non-commitally and says he will be in touch by phone.

I call to see Brian Colyer to take the photographs for a website we are setting up for him. Brian is a farrier who does not believe in putting shoes on horses. He lectures at Barcelona University and is a well-known barefoot horse advocate in Spain. It is a controversial subject, but I am really interested now, from a donkey point of view. Why put shoes on horses or or those lovely little donkey feet?

There’s something quite wonderful about seeing such a powerful animal as a horse compliantly putting its hoof onto the farrier’s hoof pillar to have its foot manicured! A lovely sight. The next hour was spent teaching myself the art of technical photography for the farrier’s art. It will need a few more sessions. Like any specialised photography, you need to know something about the art before you can get the right photographs.

At the end of the session, I had begun to appreciate something of the farrier’s art. The chamfered edge of the natural hoof (with no horse-shoe) in the way that Brian did it, while I took the photos, was an impressive and aesthetically pleasing shape. I want my donkeys’ hooves looking like that! He will be the ideal person to do the job, and possibly train me to do the job eventually. Who would have thought that at this time of my life I would suddenly become fascinated by hoof care?
That was yesterday. Today I went to the Sierra Bernia again to visit the donkeys, Matilde and Rubí. The bonding process is going very well: this time when I arrived, Matilde began to bray as soon as she saw me. I stroked her and she put her head on my shoulder, nuzzling in against my neck and she licked my ear. This is a very affectionate donkey. Rubí tried to copy the welcome but let herself down by biting my nose. Not helpful. She received a smack on her own nose and a good lecture. Worse was to follow, from both Rubí and Matilde (who should know better…)
I set the donks loose for bit of exercise, encouraging them both by a good slap on the hind quarters, and they set off at a reasonable trot. But they reappeared at a gallop chasing bleating sheep and goats, which had been happily standing about doing buggerall on the other side of the paddock out of sight…

Matilde and Rubí entered into the arena with all the panache of Caesar’s favourite gladiator decimating the starved slaves in the Colosseum by putting them all to the sword while the Roman masses ate their popcorn. I stood there aghast, suddenly realising my gentle donks had a goat-worrying streak in them…

As the rood and norty donks went around for the fifth circuit, with bleating goats scrambling to keep ahead of them, I brought out the secret weapon, as shown to me by Barbara: Ginger Nut Biscuits. This stopped the donks in their tracks. (No goats were interested in the biscuits: they just wanted to go home quick, and get away from loony donkeys.)

But Brian Colyer, of natural hoof fame, as mentioned above, takes a dim view of giving Ginger Nut Biscuits to donks… (Life is not simple.)

0 degrees this morning on the Costa Blanca. Snow in Palma de Mallorca yesterday. Where will it all end? The apocalypse begins with a great bleating of chased goats…


About Gareth Thomas

After a mixed career as an aircraft technician, London fringe theatre playwright, Franciscan friar, and secondary school teacher, I find myself looking after the needs of four donkeys in a remote location in the mountains in the Costa Blanca. I like to listen to BBC Radio 4 and the wind in the pine trees. I am writing a comedy about a school in Benidorm. My favourite film of all time is "Jean de Florette". If I had my time again I would not have spent the early 1970s working for Special Branch.
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3 Responses to Of trotters, hooves, and goat worrying

  1. Rebrites says:

    Matilde and Ruby, or Rood and Norty? Looks like they´re having a blast!

  2. Frere Rabit says:

    Yes. Obviously, this sort of norty behaviour is not to be encouraged, but it has clear benefits as pure physical exercise. I feel personally to blame, as I have kept delaying the moment I go to Specsavers in Calpe for my new glasses, and the goats were prolly more visible in the paddock to anyone with better glasses.

    Anyway, donks do look good when they give chase. Even if they is just chasing goats.

  3. damagedjock says:

    C’mon Dunstan lad…what’s new?…”Weve” been reading about this same story for weeks now. Whats happnin on the donko front?…my nerves wont hold out!!!

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