Donkeys, horses, lessons in patience

Published in About Animals

Donkeys have served humankind since time immemorial. The donkey is a symbol of Dalmatia.

Jana and Pano: unconditional love. Jana and Pano: unconditional love. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

From prized to despised

Some four thousand years ago in the Bronze Age, donkeys were specially prized. In ancient times kings and the elite rode on donkeys. In the Christian gospels, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. The common interpretation of this is that such a lowly form of transport was a sign of His humble status. However, another, possibly more correct version based on the Hebrew text (which is older than the Greek version followed by the Evangelists) suggests that the rider of a donkey would be a significant personage such as a king, who, despite enjoying high status among men, would be imbued with humility before God. In Ugant on the Syrian coast 'gods and kings' were said to ride donkeys using silver and gold reins.

Working donkey in Pitve with Ivo Radonić in the 1980s

Apart from their ceremonial role, donkeys were the main form of transport for people and goods for the two thousand-odd years before horses were tamed to take on some of their roles. Along with mules, which are bred by crossing a male donkey, known as a jack, with a female horse (mare), donkeys have remained important transporters almost up to the present day, although mechanized transport made them redundant in many countries. On Hvar, a few farmers have continued to use donkeys or mules for carrying grapes, olives and farming materials, especially on the island's steepest slopes.

Mule with Jakov Franičević transporting grapes in Pitve, 2009. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Humans have not always been kind to donkeys. Seen as somewhere between slaves and robots, working animals have been mistreated and neglected by brutal, irresponsible owners. Nowadays on Hvar some farmers keep donkeys partly for their work, but also as a source of meat.

Donkey celebration in Jelsa

Donkey tribute by Ivan Škrmeta. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Working animals, whether donkeys, mules, horses or dogs, who have served their owners well over the years should be respected, cherished and nurtured to the end of their lives. Ivan Škrmeta from Jelsa was one who recognised this and created a beautiful statue of a donkey which now graces Jelsa's renovated waterfront. It has proved a big hit with locals and visitors, with its back polished to a smooth sheen by little and big people sitting on it.

In praise of the donkey. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Jana: dancer, yoga teacher, animal saviour

It was the thought that a young donkey was destined to be slaughtered for meat that inspired Jana Appleyard to save it and give it a new and very different kind of life.

Jana and Pano, her first rescue. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Jana is a yoga teacher who left the United Kingdom to settle in Dol on Hvar Island some years ago. A former dancer, she had no previous experience of keeping large animals, but she set about learning at speed. Pano, her original rescue donkey, was quickly joined by his special friend Lily Rose, followed by his half-sister Lula. 

The three donkey friends, with fly deterrent fringes. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

And then there was Zena the horse. Pano was jealous of her at first, but quickly came to accept her under Jana's direction.

Zena and her donkey friends. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

It also didn't take long for the big animals to be joined by a selection of rescue cats and kittens.

The cats and kittens, July 2019. Photo: Pano's Facebook page, with permission

Despite their initial surprise and even scepticism that anyone should expend so much time, energy and money on caring for animals, well-wishers among the villagers helped Jana create a compound to keep the animals secure and sheltered, and allowed her to go across their fields at the end of their daily walk. The daily walk extended out into the woodlands above Dol and round a large circuit, returning through the village to the home base. Pano and his friends were able to sample the natural culinary delights which are still abundant on the island, a special treat being the wild carob, which used to be an important cash crop, but is now largely left on the trees. The animals greatly appreciate this delicious gift!

Happiness: foraging in the woods. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

The sight of Jana and her animals walking around is now a familiar sight and accepted tradition in Dol, and her fame has spread quite far and wide. As time has gone on, she has often been joined by volunteers who enjoy walking through Hvar's beautiful countryside in the company of Jana and her four-legged friends.

On a walk through the countryside. Photo: Vivian Grisogono.

In the main, Jana's animals were nervous and shy when they first came to her, especially Zena the horse. Over time, Jana has been helping them to lose their fear of humans and to gain confidence, as well as training Pano and Zena in particular in groundwork. A milestone was reached in August 2019 when Zena finally accepted a saddle and allowed special friend Raffaella to ride her!

Zena gives Raffaella a ride. Photo: Pano's Facebook page, with permission

In the autumn of 2019, Jana and her four-legged friends moved up to new winter quarters on the top of the island, the high point called Sveti Nikola (St. Nicholas), some 625 metres above sea level. There they joined a few four-legged companions who are in permanent residence, including Romeo, who struck up an instant friendship with Pano.

Jana with Romeo, Pano's new friend. Photo: Pano's Facebook page, with permission

The daily walks now encompassed new spectacular views, with the added advantage that there is no road traffic to contend with.

Spectacular views from the top of the island. Photo: Pano's Facebook page, with permission

Looking after such large animals is hard work, expensive, time-consuming, and requires careful organization. Their main foodstuff is hay, which has to be brought over from the mainland in bulk and delivered to the village. From the village it is transported to the animal compound by car and trailer, involving numerous trips. The waste produced by the animals has to be collected up regularly: this is preserved for use as fertilizer at a later stage, so it is not wasted. In summer, the animals have special fringed headgear and stockings for their legs to protect against flies and other biting insects. The animals are brushed regularly, and their hooves are checked and looked after. Stari Grad vet Prosper Vlahović deals with any health problems, as well as neutering to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

Mucking out, a heavy but worthwhile task. Photo: Vivian Grisogono
Jana bringing in the drinking water. Photo. Vivian Grisogono

Apart from the routine day-to-day tasks of looking after the animals' basic needs, there is the occasional mishap, notably when the animals have managed to escape from their compound and run off into the countryside. On one such occasion in the early days, Jana spent hours looking for them, and then several more leading the donkeys back home, with an extra bit of trauma when they stood stock still in the middle of the main road, obstinately refusing to budge. Zena the horse meanwhile had run off in a panic towards the Stari Grad ferry port, and was very relieved when Jana appeared after a tip-off and led her back to the safety of her own home. Needless to say, Jana was exhausted by the whole experience.

Unwavering love. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Unconditional love

Despite the effort and occasional hardships involved, Jana is unwavering in her love of her animals. By her own account, they have taught her patience.

Zena partnering yoga. Photo: Pano's Facebook page, with permission

She has shared her life with them, including her yoga practices.

Yoga practice with Lily-Rose. Photo: Pano's Facebook page, with permission
Pano supervising yoga practice. Photo: Pano's Facebook page, with permission

The greatest benefit is undoubtedly the unconditional love with which they reward her for her care. With hard work and unremitting devotion to her task, Jana has created a rare bond with the animals, giving them a new role in their relationships with the humans around them. 

Requited love. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

The love Jana has devoted to her menagerie is unprecedented in her village, indeed on the whole island. People have responded with a mixed response of incredulity or admiration - and a new level of awareness. Many have been impressed, not least because visitors and tourists so obviously enjoy seeing these happy animals in action. Jana has shown that humane treatment of animals brings untold benefits. Her example has set new standards, and - hopefully - stopped at least a few owners from treating their donkeys and horses carelessly or cruelly.

© Vivian Grisogono 2019

Further information:

Celebrating Eeyore. The Donkey in Human History, An Archaeological Perspective, by Peter Mitchell. Oxford University Press, 2018. (ISBN 978-0-198-74923-3)

Jana's website: http://donkeysaregreat.com/visiting-the-donkeys/

Pano's Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/donkeyshvareno/

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2014 Video - Jana, Pano Penelope HRT1
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