From Wikipedia:

Thistle is the common name of a group of flowering plants characterized by leaves with sharp prickles on the margins, mostly in the family Asteraceae. Prickles often occur all over the plant – on surfaces such as those of the stem and flat parts of leaves. These are an adaptation that protects the plant against herbivorous animals, discouraging them from feeding on the plant. 


Everyone except for Bernard.


You’re not surprised, are you?




It hurts so good.


The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. (This is especially true for Bernard, who when he sees me opening a gate, is the first one to come galloping for inspection.)


Over the course of the last few weeks, we’ve been working with the herd on the ins and outs of electric fences. I’ve heard of this working well for horses, but had serious concerns about it working with donkeys, who absolutely have minds of their own.

You can tell a horse what to do, but you have to negotiate with a donkey.    ~Elizabeth Svendsen

We started by running an electric rope in our permanently fenced pasture, then moved it to an area protected by the woods outside of that pasture, and finally last week moved it to our largest pasture area, which is open. They have a good line of sight here, so if they wanted to bolt, this is where they’d do it.

It all starts with this spool of rope:


Which we pull out to the distance needed:


And string it along these posts which we push into the ground:


This allows the herd an even larger (and new!) grazing area. The area that they’re standing in here is the pasture area defined by the electric fence; the area to the right of the wood post fence line is their permanent pasture:


This is where the electric current comes in (clipped into the electric wire that runs along the top of our permanent fence):


I have to admit it wasn’t pleasant watching them learn that touching the white rope wasn’t a good thing. I know it hurts; I’ve touched it.

But now that they know it and respect it, they’re happy. Doesn’t Patrick look happy?


I think Bernard (in the background behind Buck) looks pretty content too:




It was yesterday afternoon. A spring thunderstorm had just passed through, the sun was shining again. It was time for Harriet’s afternoon alfalfa cubes and I ventured down to the barn.

I was attempting to move one of the donkey feeders and let me tell you… it’s slicker than snot on these here hills after a good rain and, well, I fell flat on my face in the mud and manure.

I was shocked. And I laughed.

I don’t know why, but I took a picture with my phone. Maybe it’s because Don wasn’t here and I wanted to show him photographic proof of my rite of passage. The only thing is, I apparently don’t know how to take a proper selfie. Here’s what I got:

donkey concern

Yup, that’s my hand. Covered in mud and poop.

But look at this:


I laughed again when I saw it up close. My beautiful boy Ellsworth, worried about his mamma after she fell down.

How can you not love donkeys?

♥ ♥ ♥





Harriet and Bernard


It’s taken me a while to feel comfortable sharing this, but here goes. And while we still don’t definitively know what’s wrong with her, Miss Harriet is doing well this week.

Back in December, shortly after we arrived in Virginia, we celebrated Harriet’s birthday and her first anniversary with us.

Harriet's birthday

She was doing well then, along with everyone else in the herd.

Harriet's birthday2

It was about a month and a half later that we called the vet. Despite the fact that she was eating, Harriet was losing weight. Here are my journal notes…

Wednesday, February 19, 2014:
Update on Harriet.  She’s lost some weight since we got to Virginia (no one else has) – despite the fact that over the last several weeks we’ve been feeding her unlimited hay, three cups of equine senior mash three times daily, plus a tub of alfalfa cubes daily. The vet was just here to see her – she said that Harriet’s teeth had a couple of minor but sharp points, so we’ll schedule a dental for her soon (this isn’t currently keeping her from eating though). All of Harriet’s heart/lung/gut sounds were good. The vet took blood and is going to run a standard panel plus send a sample to Cornell to rule out Cushing’s.  They also took a fecal sample with them.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014:
Cushing’s came back negative. Harriet’s protein levels are low. Took her to Blue Ridge Equine Clinic in Charlottesville for an abdominal ultrasound. Harriet has thickening of her small intestine that is preventing her from absorbing nutrients. A test for Lawsonia is pending. If that is negative, she likely has inflammatory bowel disease or lymphoma. An exploratory surgery with biopsy would be needed to differentiate between these and is not recommended. These may be treated with steroids.

Harriet (with shaved sides) after her ultrasound:


Wednesday, March 19, 2014:
Lawsonia test came back negative.  I just talked with the vet… she said that based on Harriet’s age, she would more likely assume some form of lymphoma.  She wants to start Harriet on 10 mg dexamethasone (steroids) – if Harriet’s issue is inflammation of the bowel, this could help for years… if her issue is indeed lymphoma, it would help for a shorter time period. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014:
The vet just left – Harriet had a bad day today.  She started feeling bad after lunch and wouldn’t eat at all this afternoon. She started having diarrhea, hid in a corner and kept her head down, postured to pee and didn’t… we took her temperature and it was about 103.5.  Gave her Banamine while we waited for the vet and her temperature went down to normal range.

The on call vet came and did a complete exam… her heart rate is double the normal, her gums are dark red, her breath is bad and she’s generally distressed.  She doesn’t appear to have had any (positive) reaction to the steroids and she’s continuing to lose weight.  The vet fears that if the diagnosis of lymphoma is correct that something may have perforated – that would explain the fever.

She tubed Harriet and forced water/electrolytes into Harriet in case she was dehydrated…

The vet took blood and we should know more tomorrow… our regular vet will be here at noon for spring vaccines for the herd, so we should know more then.  The vet tonight left antibiotics to fight any infection, which we’re giving to her every twelve hours for the next week to ten days.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014 (morning):
She looks good this morning – she’s got a spark back in her eye and is her feisty self. No temperature, administered her antibiotics and she’s eating. I’m heading to the grocery store to get her favorite strawberries – our regular vet will be here around noon today.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014 (afternoon):
Our regular vet was here. Harriet has had a regular poop, peed, no fever, heart rate normal, gums normal color again… she’s still not herself, but she’s not at all distressed like she was yesterday afternoon.  Her blood work came back – her total protein is still low, which means that she’s still not absorbing what she needs from her feed – and it is likely that the steroids aren’t working as we had hoped. We’re going to keep a really close eye on her – looks like time will tell. 

It’s amazing how much our herd loves Dr. Hecking and how at ease they are around her. In this picture, Dr. Hecking was on the phone consulting with the vet that did Harriet’s ultrasound while Harriet listened in:

Harriet with Dr. Hecking

Tuesday, April 8, 2014:
Just got results of Harriet’s diarrhea panel and it came back completely negative. The other good news is that she has her poop back in a group these last few days and is again eating and acting well… we’re keeping our fingers crossed that things stay this way.  The positive thoughts and prayers must be working.

Thursday, April 24, 2014:
Another blood test. While Harriet’s total protein is lower now than it was at the beginning of April, she hasn’t lost any additional weight.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014:
Harriet continues to eat and act well. We know that the thickening of her small intestine is preventing her from absorbing nutrients, but we don’t know what is causing it. Lymphoma? Inflammatory bowel disease? There’s no way to know without an exploratory surgery, and we aren’t going to put Harriet through that.

What I can tell you is that Miss Harriet has finally realized that she really is a donkey and that she can’t stand to be separated from her herd – even for a moment. Go figure, Bernard seems to be her best friend in the herd. He spends a lot of quiet time with her, which is contrary to his nature.

We will be watching her closely, working with Dr. Hecking to monitor her condition. We’ll make sure that she’s eating and drinking and not showing us signs of distress. And we will be hoping that she will make it for a long while longer. 

Here’s what Don wrote about our first year with Harriet:
Harriet has brought so much joy to our life here at Morning Bray Farm. Her gentle and loving nature is unrivaled. The way she looks at you with her soulful eyes will melt even the hardest of hearts. We have been so blessed to share this last year with her, and look forward to many more to come.

Truer words were never spoken.

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥




Don’s sister Debbie came to visit us over the weekend. I haven’t blogged for a while, and she graciously agreed to be our very first guest blogger. Thanks Deb!

At the beginning of my visit with Don and Justina, I was bribed early on to pick up the blog and give my perspective on the weekend. My mind experienced a “twist” over that request because generally speaking, my visits with them have always been pure magic, in a personal way. This is my family. They love me without question, and that is a cherished feeling. I’ll do pretty much anything they ask, so here we go…

We started the weekend with immediate cheers to being together again, and headed down to the barn to say hello to my larger nieces and nephews. Donkey greetings are always a highlight because whenever Don or Justina get within range of sight, the boyz and girlz are nearly bursting with joy. There was so much excitement that we took Bernard and Ellsworth for a walk down a lovely quiet trail. I took some of the first pictures on this walk, that opened up to a large field with breathtaking views as the backdrop.

Bernard and Ellsworth

It was a quick walk because we were on a deadline to see the Virginia Military Institute dress parade happening that afternoon. Bernard and Ellsworth were safely tucked away, the Moo was secured, and we took off for downtown Lexington.

Meggie Moo

If you’ve never witnessed a dress parade, understand that the process is amazing to both see and feel. The uniforms are sharp. Actions are precise and with purpose.

Virginia Military Institute

Feeling pride in your country is hard to avoid as you pay respect to our great flag and nation. There is no better country than the United States of America.

Dress parade

Upon returning home, Don decided it would be awesome to have me touch the electric fence. Generally speaking, I’d like to think I am smarter than this. Unfortunately, my love for family and trust for my brother brings out the stupid in me. He knows this and continues to trick his little sister without mercy. Note in the photo that Don is touching the fence. I inspected him carefully. He wasn’t sweating. He wasn’t twitching. He was very matter of fact that it was no big deal.  So, okay, I’ll touch the fence.  Had Justina said ANYTHING at this point it would have been helpful. She opted to stay in the barn and snicker quietly. If any of you visit, don’t fall for this. My howling in pain sent the donkeys racing halfway up the hill. Don giggled like a school girl.


Harriet was not pleased.


My favorite spot on the farm is the gazebo.


We spent most of the weekend here, blazing a trail to the fridge and back. The dogs visit at will, donkeys are visible, and we can watch moo wander around.


There is something about sitting there, hearing the breeze flow over the hill, birds chirping along with the wind chimes, and listening to music about popping tops and fried chicken that let you know you’re doing life right.

Another fine weekend at Morning Bray Farm. I’m feeling blessed.

Don and Deb

Deb and Justina


Thanks to everyone who encouraged me to write about our journey from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Lexington, Virginia. Here you go.

On December 6th, after months of planning, we were ready to drive across country. We had gone to closing on our house the day before and the new owners were scheduled to move in at Noon.


Knowing that 1,700 miles would put significant stress on the donkeys, we made the decision to hire a professional hauler to move them from Albuquerque to Lexington. Celso Rubio of Sin City Hauling out of Las Vegas, NV  is an excellent hauler who took extremely good care of our herd.

Celso arrived in Albuquerque at 6 a.m. ready to load donkeys onto his rig. It was bitterly cold and snow covered the ground. He backed his trailer up to our corral and we were able to run the herd onto his trailer. (One of the things that we mistakenly allowed the movers to pack and take with them was all of our tack, so we had no choice but to run them in. I felt horrible.) Poor Gracie was the most visibly affected as she stood in the trailer shaking like a leaf. I wondered if she thought she was going through another roundup situation. As we said farewell to Celso, I hugged him and burst out sobbing as I said, “Please take care of my babies!” I knew he would (thanks to the recommendations from our friends Dorothea and Paula), but the thought of not seeing them and knowing that they’d be under stress for a couple of days was more than I could bear at the moment. Watching him drive off with our herd was surreal.

Herd on Celso's trailer

After saying good-bye to our old house and farm, we loaded the dogs and Meggie Moo into our vehicles and got on the road around 9 a.m. I was in my truck with my mom (who had flown from Maryland to help out and drive back with us) and four dogs, and was pulling a trailer with Don’s motorcycle. Don was in his truck with Whisky and was pulling our horse trailer, which was filled with bales of New Mexico hay and Meggie.

Driving out of Albuquerque and up into the East Mountains, I watched the temperature plummet. As we drove through Moriarty it was  minus 5°F – not counting wind chills – and I felt so bad for the Moo. We sat in accident traffic (a tractor trailer had careened off the road) for a couple of hours before crossing the border into Texas.

Pulling into a truck stop in Amarillo, we had to navigate a pothole that spanned the entire entrance.  Don’s truck and the horse trailer slammed into the hole with enough force to first unlatch the trailer then bounce it off the ball hitch.  Dragging the trailer by its safety chains, we got it to a flat spot and had to figure out a way to get it back on the truck.  The trailer jack – even extended all the way – was about two inches too short, so we ended up using the jack from Don’s truck to get the trailer up high enough.

We had planned to make the trip to Virginia in two nights/three days, but took a day longer due to unforeseen circumstances and the weather (we were in the middle of winter storms Cleon and Dion). Instead of making it to Little Rock the first night, we stopped in Oklahoma City.

December 7th was the worst day of our trip. We woke up to more frigid temperatures and continued ice and snow on the roads.

Waking up in Oklahoma

Because the roads were so treacherous, we were convinced that Oklahoma doesn’t own any snow plows. Thankfully the roads were virtually empty and we were able to plod along I-40 at about 20 miles per hour. I can’t tell you how many cars and trucks we saw that had spun off the highway and how many tractor trailers that had jackknifed or flipped. It was heartbreaking. I’ll never forget seeing a big RV that had smashed into a million pieces in the median and the family that was picking through the wreckage. They might as well have lived through a tornado from the looks of it.

The road was literally a sheet of ice:


We stopped that night in Brinkley, Arkansas – about 70 miles east of Little Rock. I’ll be forever grateful to Motel 6 and their pet-friendly policy, because Meggie stayed in our rooms with us all three nights on our journey east. There was no way we were leaving her out in the trailer overnight – she needed to get warm and she needed to know she wasn’t alone. She did great in the rooms with us, even if it made things a bit circus-like. Here she is sleeping standing up in the room in Arkansas:

Brinkley Arkansas

December 8th. We woke up to more ice; freezing rain had fallen overnight.  I seriously questioned whether I could drive another day in those conditions. Because we knew Celso was planning to get the donkeys to Lexington that day and because we were expecting our furniture to be delivered on December 10th, we pushed on. As we got out of Arkansas and into Tennessee, snow and ice turned into rain and fog. It was so foggy in Memphis we couldn’t see the Mississippi River as we crossed it. After Don had a fishtail incident and I watched him and the horse trailer almost permanently lose control, we decided to stop in Knoxville, Tennessee that night. That was the night I caught Meggie eating toilet paper in the Motel 6 bathroom and I was so happy to think that we would finally be “home” tomorrow.

True to his word, Celso got the herd safely delivered to Virginia late the evening of December 8th. Because we knew that Celso would arrive with the donkeys before we did, we made arrangements for him to deliver them to the Virginia Horse Center, which is just down the road from us. They were so kind and accommodating and took such good care of the Boyz, Gracie and Harriet.

Herd arriving in VA

Herd arriving in VA2

We can’t recommend Celso – and his heart of gold – enough. He provided us with constant updates throughout the trip, which was a godsend.

Herd arriving in VA3

Herd in VA1

Herd in VA2

December 9th. After about five more hours of driving, we finally arrived in Lexington. One of the first things we had planned was to go and get the herd from the Horse Center and bring them home. Unfortunately, because it had rained so much the previous few days, Don’s truck and the horse trailer got stuck in the mud at the barn when we drove down to unload hay. We knew there was no way we could take the trailer with the weight of seven donkeys down the hill, so we had to come up with a new plan.

We went to visit the herd at the Horse Center and vowed to get them home the next day. After a trip to Tractor Supply to buy new halters and lead ropes, we planned to bring the herd home in two trips rather than one. We put Bernard, Patrick, Buck and Harriet in the first load because we knew we could park the trailer up at the top of the hill and lead them down to the barn. Sure enough, we did… with no trouble at all. We then went back for Ellsworth, Nigel and Gracie. Without a doubt, Ellsworth would have walked down the hill with the others in the first load, but Nigel and Gracie needed him for moral support. When Ellsworth got right on the trailer at the Horse Center, we hoped that Nigel would follow. Nope. Nigel refused to get on the trailer, no matter how hard we tried to persuade him it was okay. We ended up letting him go and letting Gracie out to see what she would do. Gracie jumped right into the trailer and Nigel followed right behind. Whoo-hoo! When we got them home, because there wasn’t as much weight on the trailer, we were able to back them down to the barn and release them right into the pasture.

Home at last

What an adventure! ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Imagine my delight when I visited our blogging friend Christine’s site – Garybuie – last week to find this:

Whispering Donkeys by Christine at Garybuie's Blog

Drawn by Christine from this photo of Bernard and Ellsworth taken back in 2010:


And this:

Whisky by Christine at Garybuie

Also drawn by Christine, from this photo of Whisky taken last year:


Beautiful, right? Christine is self-taught, and has discovered that animals are her forte since fur and feathers satisfy her love of detail. How I wish I had even fraction of Christine’s talent.

If you would like to commission a portrait of your pet, you can email Christine at

The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.



As you know, it’s been cold here these last few weeks. The Boyz have all been fine, but to help keep weight on Gracie and Harriet, we’ve supplemented their hay with equine senior mash a couple of times a day.

Gracie gets two cups and Harriet gets three. It’s easy enough to tell whose bowl is whose by how much is in it, but Don decided to get artsy for the girls.


Pretty bowls for pretty girls. Sunflowers for Grace (Don prefers calling her by her original name) and hearts for Harriet.


Don also thought he’d try his hand at ice sculpting:


We’re ready for spring.

♥ ♥ ♥

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