The good and the bad about having a free-range donkey.

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2023 | Filed under Norma Jean

As most of you know, my 30 year-old donkey, Norma Jean, is now a free range donkey during the daytime.

This is mostly good, but sometimes, not so good.  Like the image below… this happens daily.  Not only is it potentially bad for our porch to have a free-range donkey clunking about, but this vision tugs at my heartstrings and I want to stop all I’m doing and run out to see what she wants.  This is not so good.

This is a daily thing.


I’m letting her roam because she’s old enough now where she doesn’t cause a lot of damage when she’s out, and she’s old enough to not get herself into trouble.  Earlier this year, her paddock mates were intimidating her… so I felt it best to separate her.  However, separating her made Norma Jean unhappy.   Hmmm, what should I do?

Well, I decided to let her be a donkey in the wilds of our home in Grass Valley.

Norma is quite respectful.  She knows when it is time to go into the barn for the night and she puts herself away.  She does have a daily pattern of roaming, but she also breaks away and does whatever she wants, when she wants.

Mostly, she will roam over to her old paddock and spend time, eating fallen bits of hay or brown grass on the other side of the fence from her old friends.  Then she usually meanders to the green weeds of the new tree (which is watered daily) and up the hill to the upper pastures.  It is about mid day that she wanders up to our porch, and sits at the front door.

I’m not complaining (OK, I am a bit complaining) because she is healthier than she has been in a few years since she’s been free-range.  She looks good for an older girl.  Norma is bright and reasonably happy – for her – Norma is not very emotive, however she gets her point across and is able to tell me what she wants and what she doesn’t want.

Versely, though, when I tell her what I want or don’t want, Norma becomes deeply offended.  For example, if I shoo her off of the porch, she pouts an inch off the porch for an hour or so.  If I need to get her back into the barn for some reason, she will greatly resist until I raise my arms behind her – and then she’ll literally RUN back to the barn, as if I am the worst/scariest/meanest human ever to be behind her.

I cannot tell in words you how much I relish watching her move about and make choices daily.  I find her life decisions fascinating.  For me, stealthily  watching her from my office window is a total joy.  I always stop what I’m doing when I see her down there, and watch.

If you have the opportunity to have a free-range donkey, you should.  However, they might be a (a little bit of an ornery porch ornament).  But, they might just fill your heart with the magic of donk.

I came out, of course, and gave her a treat, which made her smile.

HERE IS A VIDEO OF NORMA ON MY PORCH and me trying to figure out what she wants…

Norma Jean loves to sit on the porch and take a nap.  She also looks in the windows.  Usually she wants a treat.  Any fruit, please, and she loves cold cucumbers.

Click here to watch video.

Click image to watch Norma Jean at my door… begging for treats.

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Gillian Larson, our ThruRider, is having a workshop!! Let’s GO! (no affiliation)

Gillian Larson is my young, brave friend who is a Thru Rider.   She’s the one who has done the Pacific Crest Trail three times, on horseback.  She’s done other trails across the US.  Just last week, she was in the Tetons with her horses.  I was quite envious!

The great news is that Gillian is holding a Wilderness Horse Camping Workshop here in Central California at Montana de Oro State Park Oct 27-29.  Montana de Oro State Park is right on the Pacific Ocean!!  Gorgeous.  I’ve ridden there.  A great location.

Click here to go to her website to learn more!


From her IG account Thru_Rider:

I’ll be offering a workshop in late October (27th-29th) for those interested in learning how to take their own horses on backcountry trips. I cover topics such as gear, trip planning, stock containment in camp, nutrition, training your horse to hobble, loading a pack horse/mule etc. I try to teach a menu of options rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. And aside from the practical knowledge side of things, it’s honestly just an incredibly fun weekend of connecting with other adventurous and down to earth kind people. Plus some beautiful rides in my favorite state park! So if you’re interested, check out the link in my IG bio (and stories). I hope to meet some of you in October!

This is Montana de Oro Park

Montana de Oro – last year’s clinic

Lunch! (I know everyone thinks California is always warm, but not at the Ocean and not in October. The weather is PERFECT in Oct.)

Gillian, this month, out on the trail in the Tetons!  – The Tetons are my favorite.  This is where we go every year to ride!


Hear it from Gillian herself!

Click here or the image below.

Click image to listen to Gillian speak about what to expect at her clinics


HORSE AND MAN is a blog in growth... if you like this, please pass it around!