Last week we were on holiday in the West Country. The drive home from Cornwall is always a busy one on summer Saturdays, so we stopped for a while to visit the donkeys and to walk around the lush green farmland of The Donkey Sanctuary, at Slade House Farm near Sidmouth in East Devon.
The Donkey Sanctuary farm in Devon is now one of eight sanctuaries in Britain and Ireland. It was founded forty years ago by Elizabeth Svendsen and has grown into a world wide organisation that works with other equine charities to educate donkey owners and to improve the lives of their animals.
The aims of The Donkey Sanctuary......
As we entered the Sanctuary, these were the first donkeys that we met.
Across the valley, a larger herd could be seen grazing in the sunshine. Recent sunshine and rain had left the fields lush with new grass and belts of mature trees provided shade and shelter.
Some of the fields were empty and "resting", to give the chance for grass to grow for new pasture in the autumn and winter. The meadows dip steeply down into a tree lined valley, and the calm summer sea could just be seen between the trees.
Here is the main yard and the Visitor Centre. A shop, a cafe and educational areas are next to a quiet, enclosed yard where assorted friendly donkeys stand to be stroked and fussed over by visitors of all ages.
Below is the Donkey Hospital, which has recently been extended and modernised. Donkeys who arrive at the Sanctuary are carefully assessed and treated if necessary, while long term residents can also recieve specialist veterinary and nursing care.
This pair of donkey patients were grazing in the Hospital Paddock. Both of them have had treatment for fly bites to their legs and were wearing elegant tubigrip stockings! The blue rug is designed to keep flies and midges away from the animal`s skin. Donkeys can develop Sweet Itch (an allergic skin reaction to midge bites) in a similar way to horses.
Dr Elizabeth Svendsen, the founder of the Sanctuary, also began pioneering work in which donkeys were used therapeutically and educationally to improve the lives of children with special needs. Small groups of children visit The Elizabeth Svendsen Trust where they can learn through contact with the donkeys, as well as enjoying riding or driving. Physical therapy can be incorporated into riding sessions when this is appropriate.
Here is the colourful playground and the classroom building , which is attached to the indoor Riding School.
The Indoor Riding School is bright and inviting, with painted murals on the wall and an area where children can safely mount the donkeys. It is easy to imagine the joy and the benefits that this kind of specialist therapy must bring into the lives of children who come here.
This is the yard where the visiting public can meet the donkeys. Docile and eager to be stroked and cuddled, this little group of donkeys give so much pleasure to people who come here. It was good to watch parents introducing young children to the donkeys.
These two old friends were taking time away from the admiring crowds.........
...while this sleepy donkey stood in the stable doorway and dozed in the sun.
Each donkey has his or her name and age written onto a neck collar. Many of the donkeys are in their teens, twenties and thirties.
A clean, sweet smelling bed of deep straw awaited the older donkeys in the barn.
There are several ponies at the Donkey Sanctuary. They have come as the long term companions of donkeys admitted to the Sanctuary. Animals are sometimes brought to the Sanctuary when their loving owners become too ill or frail to care for them, but often the Sanctuary lives up to its name and takes in those who have been subjected to cruelty or severe neglect.
In one of the smaller field-side yards, this little donkey was enjoying being groomed in the sun.
Spacious field shelters are there in case of rain or bad weather. Donkeys have long coats which can become saturated by rain.
Dillon , the Welsh pony, is blind in one eye. He and the other donkeys in this field are partially sighted or blind. They seemed to be adapting well and to have a good quality of life.
Sea views across the meadows.
Finding a patch of shade.... Fields of contented donkeys, enjoying good grazing in a very special place.
For more information about The Donkey Sanctuary, visit
Living in the beautiful New Forest, I am married, a recently retired teacher and the mother of grown up boys who have flown the nest. I share my days with cats, dogs, ponies and the wildlife all around us. Starting this blog is a chance to explore woods, fields, lanes and heath with my camera. A chance to share the simple pleasures of my country life.