Communicating about better harnessing for healthier and more productive donkeys
THE GOOD HARNESS GUIDE
GUIDE TO PACKSADDLES
© DONKEYS for AFRICA 2021
It would be wonderful if all carts in Africa were purpose built, lightweight and balanced, sadly this is not the reality where we are and what we have to deal with repeatedly are heavy, out of balance, badly constructed and overloaded vehicles all bearing down on those little donkey necks.
It makes no sense to continue placing the weight on the donkey's weakest spot when it should be on its strongest just behind the withers - the part of a horse's neck, not applicable for a donkey. The conformation of horses and donkeys are not the same - equally, and size aside, I do not believe the amount of muscle they are able to build is comparable - also for most horses driven in harness the animal to cart height and weight is usually less than we are seeing in Zambia.
by Dr Peta Jones
Resources and training material to download to assist with harnessing:
Click on the image for a link or PDF download.
HARNESS HELP - Abbreviated PDF guide from our FB posts by Chris Garrett
At ZWDP we continue to explore designing something based around types outlined in our presentation. I think we all understand that moving too far from what is currently used will surely lead to an aversion to use.
'Adoption' as Dr Peta Jones has pointed out is likely to be the most well received concept and this is part of the reason we have been looking at harness used by the Romans, Celts etc, whilst this needs a lot of thought regarding shape and padding to keep off the spine it is not so different from the present yokes for ease of use and most materials (wood, sacking, straw) easily sourced and hopefully not too complicated to be acceptable. We have a prototype in the making and will share once it's had a trial.
It has been said that working donkeys so often have harnessing wounds that it is considered the norm, yet this can be addressed. The owner must believe that improved equipment is to the advantage of the animals and the humans involved, otherwise why would he bother changing an existing system?
This page is dedicated to harnessing and hitching issues. Knowledge is shared alongside practical experiences, challenges and solutions. There is no 'one size fits all' solution - open minds and intelligent applications will win the day for the working donkeys that rely on us to improve their lives. Please participate!
IMAGE: THE BROOKE
Scroll to the bottom of this page for additional harnessing resource links and material.
MARES Donkey Sanctuary conducted successful outreach programs in Bela Bela, South Africa in conjunction with Network for Animals as well as in Victoria Falls for education on correct harnessing.
Ideally, we would like all scotch carts to be 4 wheel, not 2 wheel, which would alleviate the weight of the cart and load on the donkeys' necks. However, this is impossible so we are working with what the owners have, 2 wheel scotch carts.
In Zimbabwe, every scotch cart we see has 4 donkeys across. Part of our education is to inform the owners that only 2 of the donkeys are carrying not only the pulling weight but also the downward load. 4 donkeys will only increase the pulling weight, you cannot add extra downward load. Therefore the 2 donkeys holding the load on their necks by means of the yoke can only carry 40% of their weight.
We also educate the owners of 2 wheel donkey carts that the donkeys must be hitched to the cart by means of a swingle tree and straps (normally they use chains) that must be a minimum of 1.5m long. Each swingletree must have 2 x 1.5m chains.
Below are some experiences and harness knowledge-sharing from organisations in Africa:
From MARES in Zimbabwe:
MATABELELAND ANIMAL RESCUE & EQUINE SANCTUARY (MARES)
Many of the donkeys' back legs are severely injured, sometimes even fractured, due to them being attached too close to the cart. It is imperative that the donkeys are attached to the front of the dusselboom (dusselboom must be 2m from front of the cart) which will allow a 50cm gap between the back of the donkey and the cart. This way, when the cart is stopped it cannot go into the donkeys as the donkeys cannot step backwards as they are attached to the end of the dusselboom.
Our most important part of our education is about the harness. 80% of all wounds found on the donkeys are from ill-fitting harnesses and of course wrongly hitched to the cart. Our harnesses can be adjusted to the size of the donkeys by means of a buckle on each strap. The positions of the straps are very important, the front strap is over the wither of the donkey and the second strap is on the strong part of the donkey's back. Our harnesses are also padded so that the material which is normally used, conveyor belting, does not chafe or cut into the donkey. This padding is fastened to the chest plate and the 2 straps with Velcro, allowing the padding to be removed for washing, drying and even replacing when worn.
From Zambezi Working Donkey Project in Zambia
ZAMBEZI WORKING DONKEY PROJECT
LINK TO THE BROOKE SADDLEAID HARNESS INITIATIVE
DONKEY POWER HARNESSING VIDEO
by Dr Peta Jones (200MB)
LINK TO THE SPANA YOUTUBE VIDEO ABOUT HARNESSING