Topic: They called me The Donkey Man by Ivan D. Taylor

Topic type:

A 2013 Memoir and Local History Competition entry.

Archived version here.

Why donkeys?

That is a question I’ve had to answer for the last forty-odd years, and there has always been only one answer.

“Because I love them.”

The next most asked question was always how did it all start?

Just like this...


I was the property manager for The Famers Co-op in Christchurch and one of my jobs was to travel around the company-owned properties and inspect them on a regular basis. I always somehow managed to be in Oxford the day they had their livestock sale and Paddy’s market.

While checking over the facilities I noticed a donkey for sale in a pen. The first ever live donkey I had seen. I was immediately reminded that my 14-year old son, who was into trekking and athletics, had once said it would be great to have a donkey to take trekking with him. The donkey could carry the gear!

A word in the ear of the company’s auctioneer and he was ours.

I had a donkey, but what now? He was too big for my company car so transport had to be arranged.  He was eventually pushed out the back of a stock truck at 1.30 am by a drunken truck driver onto our shingle drive. Bloodied, bruised and grumpy, he had been in the truck since 3pm. We put him in the paddock and went back to bed.

We found out that his name was Henry and he was about two years old and had already has several owner. We didn’t have any idea of how to train him, etc., but between my son Andrew and me we slowly got us and him sorted out.

Andrew used to take him out on his training runs so they were both very fit.  Henry’s first public outing was the City to Surf Fun Run, Andrew entered him as Henry Taylor, and when he turned up with him they were reluctant to let him start.

Andrew pointed out that others had their dogs why couldn’t he have his donkey. He won the argument and they both completed the run near the front of the bunch and both received certificates.

My wife Brenda and I had now fallen under the donkey spell and we decided to get one of our own. So we purchased a 6-month old English donkey from a local breeder. We called her Abby; her stud name was Landsdale Abbygale. Now we were really hooked.

Andrew decided that he wanted to build a wagon and go walkabout. We built a miniature American-style covered wagon on four BMX wheels, big enough for him to sleep in and carry food, etc.

Then we both needed to find out how to break Henry into harness and to learn how to harness up and drive. With help from some experts this was mastered and finally they both set off for the long walk from Waipara to Blenheim. Unfortunately going through the inland road to Kaikora they had a bad accident and we had to go and rescue them both.

Undeterred, a few weeks later they continued on the journey eventually arriving in Blenheim.

We had joined the New Zealand Donkey Breed Society and started showing Abby and Henry. We became concerned at the number of neglected donkeys in the area. People often bought donkeys for their small children to ride, but once the children got older the donkeys became unwanted and neglected. As we had room we started taking in unwanted donkeys, treating them and finding new homes for them. 

In order to keep things legal we established the Chadwell Donkey Stud.  Abby had her first foal Samuel when she was three, which was a real milestone for us.

Things grew rapidly over the next three or four years. We were now also placing donkeys on a farm in Amberley that Andrew owned.

Abby was proving to be a special performer. Christmas and Easter church services were done with no trouble. She always behaved herself although there was usually a small boy following behind in church with a bucket and spade in case. But nothing ever happened.

These performances led to her first stage appearance.  This was on the stage of the James Hay Theatre in the Town Hall, Christchurch, where we did nine performances of the opera Elixir of Love. Abbey pulled a cart shaped like an ornamental telephone box twice on and of the stage with a singer in the cart. Then she stood centre stage with the chorus all around her.

She loved it and soon knew exactly when to go on and off. I was dressed up and led her.

Her next stage appearance was at the Christchurch Town Hall main auditorium. The National Youth Orchestra were performing The Grand Canyon Suite, one suite of which is called Along the Trail, which imitates the sound of donkeys travelling through the Grand Canyon. 

After the orchestra started this piece, the conductor stopped them, saying it wasn’t good enough, to both the audience and orchestra’s surprise and dismay.

He then said, “I think that we can do a lot better than that, can’t we Abby?”

On I walked with Abby. The orchestra started up again and we walked around through the orchestra while they played.

The Press review of the concert was headlined ‘Abby steals the show’ - a moment that I treasure. I shall never forget the applause, it was amazing. Abby loved it and she didn’t want to leave the stage, standing there and gazing at the audience.

By now we had our own jack, two other jennies that we were breeding from, and the odd foal. We also had other donkeys in for serving or care, as well as Toby, a gelding, whom I was now using for harness events.

We also had a Welsh pony that I used for competitive combined driving events, which I was now right into. I trained Abby and Toby as a pair and we competed at shows and driving events, a first in New Zealand.

We were outgrowing our Kaiapoi property so we purchased 60 acres in Little Akaloa and I built a kit-set house there with the idea of us retiring there eventually. At one stage we had fourteen donkeys grazing there.

Unfortunately because of my wife’s ongoing health problems we were unable to live over there full time so we decided to sell it and our Kaiapoi property. We purchased another more suitable property in Woodend.

After we moved onto this property my wife Brenda died suddenly, which was a tragedy for me and my family.  It had always been a joint operation as far as the donkeys were concerned, but I decided that I needed to carry on.

Following a trip to Australia I purchased a young English jack called Elect and an Irish jenny called Mary. Mary was in foal on arrival and produced a nice jack foal, I latter put her in foal to Elect and she produced twin boys a very rare birth, only the second recorded live twin birth in New Zealand.

I did have to cut down on showing and some driving events as I found out that I had a heart problem. Following an operation I decided that it was time to wind down the stud. Consequently I gradually disposed of all my donkeys apart from my three best friends Henry, Toby and Abby. Elect and Mary went to a local stud and Mary has since produced several great foals.

Elect won South Island Champion Jack twice and is now retired with one of his prodigy taking over his duties. The stud name Chadwell still occasionally appears in the show results, which is good for the ego.

We had to put Henry down about eight years ago. Six years ago Toby died quietly overnight in his paddock aged 36, and five years ago Abby became seriously ill and was put down, aged 34. Not bad ages for donkeys.

They, along with many other adorable (and the occasional ragbag) donkeys were my life.

Following a heart attack three years ago the decision was made to sell the farm and retire at age 80 and return to my old Kaiapoi township.

As my vet who had looked after all the donkeys over all these years said to me when he put Abby down, “Well, Ivan this is the end of an era.”

Reluctantly I agreed.

But I still have all those wonderful memories.


This page archived at Perma CC in October of 2016:

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