April 26, 2021

Hauling Festus

Last weekend, I went back to my hometown to ferry a very special passenger to his new home.

Getting those ears into a selfie is no joke

Festus is my mom's 28 year old donkey, who we've owned since the spring of 1996 when we bought him as a companion animal for Little Red. He has a long and storied history as a no-way-no-how trailer loader - when we bought him, we ended up walking him the two miles home with 8 year old me on his back, and then when my parents moved around the block 10 years ago, they again walked him over. So as my parents prepared to move from southern Illinois to their forever home in Tennessee, my mom's biggest worry was how we'd move Festus.

Me and Festus, a long time ago

So I hauled my trailer over Thursday night, and first thing Friday morning, we got Jeannie and Blanche (lol) loaded into my parents' stock trailer. They're my parents' semi-tame no-shear sheep that basically serve as fuzzy lawn mowers.

Jeannie and Blanche like "WTF, this was not on our agenda for today"

Then it was Festus' turn. My mom's farrier of 25 years, who has actually known Festus since before we owned him, came out to help. My mom was a very novice horse owner when she brought Red and Festus home, and George has helped her through SO much. It was a poetic conclusion to their farrier-client relationship that he'd be the one to get him on the trailer.

We briefly tried convincing a hungry Festus to walk on for breakfast, but we all knew that wouldn't work, even though he had been braying his head off a few minutes before at the indignation of missing breakfast.

"I know this game"

In the end, getting him on only took about 15 minutes, with alternating bouts of muscling him forward and stopping to "let him pout", as George said. George looped a lariat through the interior tie rings of my trailer, and with me putting all my bodyweight onto the line and George and my dad's hands locked behind his butt, Festus didn't have much of a choice.

This is a sulking donkey

He actually hauled really well. If you've ever spent time around a donkey, you know they are just immeasurably smarter than horses, and I wasn't surprised when I stopped at a gas station to find Festus with his butt firmly wedged into the small angle of my slant, riding rear facing, and no indications in the shavings that he'd moved a muscle the entire journey. He found the easiest way to absorb the trailer's motion and stayed there the entire time.

Stopped for gas

Unsurprisingly, when we got him to my parents' new home, he leaped off the trailer without touching the ramp. Donkeys HATE it when the ground looks different, and I've survived more than one leap across a ditch on his back (which is no joke since he's built downhill with absolutely no withers!) But once that little bit of excitement was over with, he settled into his new digs.

Her most stressful part of the move over, my mom and I grabbed adult beverages and just hung out with him for a while.

One of my favorite ever pictures of the two of them!

The only remaining wildcard from that point forward was how Festus would do with the sheep. At the old house, he shared a fenceline but not a paddock with them, but here, he'd have to learn how to live with them, which theoretically shouldn't be an issue since donkeys are often used as livestock guardians, but you never know. 

Jeannie and Blanche napping in their new home

He spent a fair bit of time politely but firmly letting Jeanie and Blanche know he was the boss by running them off if they looked at him funny, but by the next morning, after it poured rain from 3am on, we found them sharing the run-in shed together like a weird new happy family.

The face of a donkey that hates being wet, and Blanche right behind him

With that, all of my mom's biggest fears were relieved. Festus' trip to Tennessee went fine, he integrated well with the sheep, and he did great in his new paddock even with his limited vision due to cataracts.

Drier times at the new place, still a work in progress!

For me, I was so grateful I could do this for my mom. She's given me so much, obviously the standard parent stuff but also the love of horses that has led me to pretty much arrange my whole life around them, so the fact that I could use my toys and my trailering skills to make this a safe and easy experience for her meant a lot.

My dad said Friday (after he saw me back a 20ft rented tow-behind camper down a hill around a turn between some trees last summer) when his retired buddies are bragging about their boat backing skills, he says he's got a daughter that can back a trailer better than any of them. I joked that he paid for my backing skills so he's earned the right to brag about them, since I had final exams in both backing a truck and trailer and backing a tractor and trailer in school for Equine Studies

And now, Festus gets to live the quiet retired life on an idyllic hill in Tennessee, and he never has to get on a trailer again as long as he lives. Enjoy retirement, little buddy!


  1. I'm so glad his trip went well! It's a toss up for me which pic is cuter, baby you and Festus, or your mom and Festus.... both adorable!!!

  2. So glad all went well! Festus is so cute, and I love that you all have had him for so long and have such great stories about his moves.
    When I sent Ducky out to my family in WI, the cowboy who shipped him had to do a similar pully system to get Duck on the trailer. According to his breeding (Holsteiner/quarter horse) he was full horse, but that animal HAD to have a little donkey in him somewhere.

  3. We rescued a standard sized donkey at a sale barn and we actually had to carry it onto the trailer.

  4. Your parents are goals. I want all of their animals one day, and the ability to offer them such great care! Festus is adorrrrrable.

  5. He's adorable (so are the sheep). Happy the trip went well!

  6. Love love love everything about this post!

  7. This is all SO familiar! We have a donkey that we have had for only 15 years, but he sounds super similar to Festus. I changed the mats in my barn aisle and over a year later he STILL jumps out of the barn as to avoid a weird visual break in the floor covering. Pablo also won't go places he's unsure of (hasn't had to trailer anywhere yet) which requires a special kind of donkey encouragement. Ours lives with goats instead of sheep and he cannot be trusted with male baby goats bc he tries to kill them for some weird reason. Donkeys are such interesting creatures! Happy new life Festus!

    1. Wow! Yes, very familiar. I left this out of the post, but when we brought him home the first time and I rode him the two miles home, we ran into a serious problem halfway through when he had to cross railroad tracks and he absolutely would not step over the gap between the platform and the actual track. He got partway onto the tracks and WOULD. NOT. MOVE. and we knew the next train was due in a half hour. We finally got a neighbor to come out of his house and he brought a sheet of plywood over to cover the tracks, and that was when we got him over. And not 5 minutes later the train came through! That's donkeys for you.

  8. This is so heartwarming. Congratulations to your parents on their forever farm, and having Festus on it.

  9. The only comment I have for this post is this: Awwwwwwwwwwww!