It’s all too easy sometimes to look at the interesting things other families get up to in the weekends and holidays and feel a twinge of jealousy. Think, ‘We could do that too if we didn’t have Pudding in tow’. Well perhaps now we’re starting to access some respite hours that will be possible.
But also, there are some activities that have opened up to us simply because of Pudding’s special needs. One of those is donkey riding at the Leeds Donkey Sanctuary.
One Saturday every month (and extra dates in the holidays) they hold sessions for children with additional needs to come and interact with the donkeys. It was recommended to us by another mum and when we turned up the first time I had no idea what to expect. All I knew was that Pudding would be keen (as he loves animals), and Twiglet would probably steer very well clear (as he doesn’t).
It’s a simple, no-frills, welcoming sort of place which is just perfect for what they do. After only a few times of going we quickly fell into a routine. First stop is the stable yard where we say hello to some of the donkeys and stroke them. And they are so very stroke-able with lovely soft hair and not as tall or scary as horses. Then we head inside to sign in and get our name stickers on. Just the other side of the hall there is a little outside play area with a swing and ride-on toys, which Pudding enjoys. Mainly though, he runs around shouting loudly and making sure that everyone, staff and volunteers included, knows there are donkeys through in the main arena.
Soon it’s time to get helmets on and have a turn riding. Siblings are able to have a go too, and much to our surprise, on the second visit Twiglet announced that he would. Donkeys are apparently much more acceptable than any other animal.
They ride around the arena supported by careful assistants, and have little challenges on the way that promote learning: for instance collecting different colour balls and throwing them into the matching bucket. If nothing else, Pudding can at least do the throwing part. On our latest visit though (first sunny time there) we got a ride outside, walking up a little lane and back through a field, spotting birds, dogs and of course more donkeys on the way.
Then it’s lunchtime (ok, I admit, it’s sometimes only 11am) – fried egg or bacon sandwiches keep us all happy. And if I’m feeling generous it is followed by a piece of cake or donkey biscuit. Then back in the car for a sleep on the way home.
Nothing particularly exciting or adventurous; on the surface not much to assuage that jealousy I feel when looking at other ‘normal’ families. So why do I like going so much? It’s because it’s an activity we can share and enjoy as a family. It’s because Pudding can now sign and say the word ‘donkey”. It’s the feeling of belonging, knowing that we’re accepted there – it doesn’t matter if Pudding runs about or misbehaves.
And it’s because of Pudding’s very obvious enjoyment of these big furry animal friends. ‘Hey ho, away we go, riding on a donkey…’
(There are also six other Donkey Sanctuary centres around the UK, so go visit. I’m sure they’re all equally lovely!)