Braying to be rescued |

Braying to be rescued

Donkeys, also called burros, have thousands of years’ worth of bad press to overcome.

From ancient to current times, opinions frequently depict them as a less-evolved type of equine, barely worthy to haul common loads much less carry distinguished riders such as kings, noblemen or warriors. That lofty duty is best left to horses, say scoffers, declaring that donkeys are obstinate, unreliable and downright ornery.

New Testament writers disagreed, however, boldly assigning donkeys prominent parts in holy narratives.

For example, Matthew: 21 describes a Palm Sunday scene in which Jesus tells two disciples to go into a Jerusalem neighborhood where they would immediately find a donkey tied, with a colt. He directs them to bring the pair to him to fulfill the prophecy, “Behold your King is coming to you, gentle and mounted on a donkey. Even on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.”

A king? Riding a donkey? That seemed incongruous.

The scripture continues, “And the disciples went and did just as Jesus had directed them, and brought the donkey and the colt, and laid on them their garments, on which he sat.”

Then most of the multitude spread their own garments in the road while others cut tree branches to spread likewise before Jesus. Theirs was a culture that highly prized and demanded cleanliness; but roads of the day were frequently littered with human and animal filth. So, commoners created an unsoiled pathway as a sign of respect for this approaching royal man.

A donkey portrayed as a living throne for the only begotten Son of God, the Savior of the world! The King of kings chose to ride a humble donkey (rather than a classy, flashy, fiery stallion) as he neared the time and place of his prophesied death and subsequent resurrection.


Which stereotypical donkey representation is correct? Insignificant, stubborn and stupid? Or, noble, gentle and intelligent?

Donkeys are physically superior in many ways, including sturdy hooves less likely to chip, crack or incur other lamenesses/deformities more frequent among horses.

Karneffel teaches her 7-year-old niece, Aria, about open rein steering to aid in bending. Her standard size jennet, Itty Bitty, was a $75 Craigslist save. Labeled “uber stubborn” and “uncatchable," this jennet came to the rescue and restarted her life as a willing, supple, kid’s riding donkey. Courtesy photo

As easy keepers, donkeys can survive on dubious feed sources and endure lengthier water shortages than can horses. In fact, U.S. donkeys’ greatest health hazard is due to overfeeding.

When it comes to moving loads, even smaller examples of these “beasts of burden” can carry/pull astounding weights, often more than their own body’s poundage.

The largest of donkeys, Mammoths, make excellent riding as well as draft animals. As with horses, they can be used for a plethora of disciplines including cattle work, dressage, jumping, trails, pleasure and more. Standards are suitable as small adults’ or children’s mounts.


Rachel Ann Karneffel, a lifelong horse lover, still cherishes them. But about a decade ago her heart started beating even faster for long-ears. This fascination began when she was a Colorado State University student working toward getting a B.S. in equine science. Karneffel ultimately earned that degree and graduated with honors with her thesis on Easily Unrecognizable Equine Facial Expressions.

A classmate owned a molly mule, Jasmine, who Karneffel described as “opinionated” but loveable. In 2010, Karneffel jumped on the long-ears bandwagon when she purchased a john that she named Fritz.

“I rode him in the badlands of Utah with Garnett Weese, an old lion hunter,” she recalled. “I only kept Fritz for a year and then sold him to a couple who used him lightly.”

Figaro, formerly Stanley, meets his new adoptive human Alexis Knight for the first time. Alexis now has Figaro started on becoming an excellent pack burro racer! She also has found that Figaro is her “heart donkey.” Courtesy photo

Karneffel’s solitary horse, a mare, became lonely after Fritz left. Scouring the classifieds for a companion for Nela yielded a “free donkey” ad that worked out. The Mammoth X Standard was just a yearling at the time but he grew quickly, as did a big spot for him in Karneffel’s heart.

“Charlie,” who ultimately attained an impressive height of 14.2 hands high, was quite a multi-talented guy.

Karneffel listed the john’s many virtues, “He was the smartest animal ever. I learned a ton from Charlie. I rode him (including tackless), packed on and drove him. He was gaited, performing at a walk, pace, trot and canter. He became the love of my life!”

Sadly, Charlie didn’t make it to the old age of 40-plus years that many donkeys reach. He colicked and died at just 13. But that was long enough to transform his doting owner into a confirmed donkey lover, forever.

Rescue intake Stanley, now renamed Figaro by his adoptive family, learns to put his nose in the halter. Figaro was originally hard to catch and handle. Courtesy photo

Throughout learning experiences with the species, Karneffel has gained some noteworthy training differences between donkeys versus horses. The main thing, she declared, is that once a donkey picks up something a trainer is working on with it, it’s best not to continue endless schooling aiming for perfection as one might do with a horse.

She succinctly stated, “A donkey will feel like you’re nagging it, or think it did something wrong if you repeat a lesson too many times.”

They’re so smart that, in trying hard to please, they might switch from acceptable behavior to less than in an attempt to get it right — when it was already right on.


Donkeys, in general, live longer than do horses. The oldest donkey on record that she knows of, said Karneffel, was “Flower.” The Colorado jenny lived to be 66. Because she was a Bureau of Land Management donkey with a BLM freeze brand that identified her by age, origins, etc., Flower’s age was confirmed.

Several years before her first unofficial rescue donkey, Tilly, appeared on the scene. A blanket was gifted to Karneffel. When she used it on Tilly, it had Flower’s name written on it in permanent marker. It’s faded now but still used for other rescue donkeys.

Atlass, a young riding mammoth, practices the trot under saddle. Atlass is one of Rachel Karneffel’s personal donkeys. Courtesy photo

Karneffel believes Tilly just knew she had somewhere else to be when she “busted out” of her pen in 2012 or ’13. How that feeble old gal managed the feat is anyone’s guess, because the small, white Standard was quite a sight when she showed up at Karneffel’s place, virtually covered in Reservation goat fire brands.

Poor old Tilly was, to put it mildly, a hot mess. Among other ailments she endured were cancer-caused blindness; founder; slipper feet; arthritis; and several hernias likely caused by abuse suffered on the Reservation where she’d been mega-branded.

Also, because the super-old donkey had no teeth, she needed to subsist solely on senior feeds. An elderly woman’s son was supposed to have been taking care of the lady’s decrepit donkey. Instead, he’d opted for abject neglect. When located, her owner sold Tilly to Karneffel for $1.

Karneffel carefully monitored and expanded what little remained of Tilly’s quality of life for about 1½ years, keeping her comfortable and loved. When the little jenny showed undeniable signs that it was time to go, Tilly was peacefully euthanized. Her toothless condition made it impossible to determine how old she really was but Karneffel believes Tilly was bordering on ancient.

Rescue intake Sancho, now renamed Denver by his adoptive family, learns how to handle a pack saddle and panniers up and down hills. Courtesy photo


In November 2021, Karneffel decided to ratchet up her rescue efforts. She officially opened Hee-haw Halfway House Donkey Rescue (HHHDR) in Wellington, Colo. In the six-months since, she’s saved and retrained 11 donkeys: owner surrenders, BLMs, or collaborations with other rescue organizations.

Karneffel is currently working on obtaining HHHDR’s 501(c)(3) status. With multiple irons in that raging red tape fire, the 30-something year-old does most of the work herself on her rescue’s three-acre site, also dba Foghorn Farm Donkey Training.

Why Foghorn? That, of course, represents the unmistakable sound of multiple mammoth donkeys simultaneously braying in rich bass voices.

Aside from a few friends, additional volunteers are on-hold until her non-profit paperwork is accepted. Karneffel herself volunteers by training donkeys at two other facilities in Fort Collins and Loveland in Colorado.

Although she rehabs and re-homes her own rescues quickly, a larger acreage would simplify her life. For now, she has some animals fostered elsewhere. Lots of driving involved. (If you have a substantial acreage for lease, please contact her.)


Rachel Ann Karneffel is a published author. Noticing a dearth of books specifically on donkey training, she’s filling the need.

Her first book, “Starting the Saddle Donkey: A Training Manual, First Edition,” published 2021, has been getting really good reviews, said Karneffel. Included is donkey psychology, tack and equipment, groundwork, ground driving, saddling, riding in the pen and on the trail.

The cover of “Starting the Saddle Donkey: A Training Manual, First Edition” by Rachel Ann Karneffel hints at just some of its excellent content.

Sometime before Christmas 2022, she’ll release her second book in the series: “Starting the Donkey From Scratch — Wild To Mild.”

This comprehensive volume will include valuable information for donkey owners, such as the basics of ground work; behaviors; facial expressions and other body language.

Karneffel’s mission is to improve the welfare of donkeys and humans worldwide. She is a many years-long PATH International Certified Therapeutic Riding Instructor who loves working with humans with disabilities and at-risk youth. She combined her passions by training two of her mammoth donkeys for therapeutic riding.

Hee-haw Halfway House Donkey Rescue can be found on Facebook. Contact Rachel Ann Karneffel about her books and/or donkey training at

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