Newsletter Autumn 2015

It has been a challenging summer on many fronts – if it could be called summer at all in the north west of Ireland. Talking about the weather is something of an institution here but given the knock-on effect bad weather has on all types of farming and animal husbandry it is no wonder it has dominated most conversations over the last months. April was beautiful and June passable but the other months to date have been cold, wet and often very windy resulting in a very small hay crop and a great deal of late, wet silage and poor growth overall. Other parts of Ireland and UK fared a little better so we are hopeful there will be winter fodder available even if not of the very best quality this year. And as always there have been happy and sad stories. Here Gabriella tells her own:


After spending over three months struggling to survive out on the ‘Mullet’ at Belmullet, Co Mayo an elderly mare donkey finally got a break towards the end of May.

‘I always did my best. It’s just that I was never good enough. It would have helped if the man had kept my hooves clipped shorter and balanced up but he didn’t seem to understand how painful it is trying to work with terribly overgrown, curled up and infected feet. When he’d done with me he used to smack my rump with a big stick and shoo me out on a bit of scrubland to pick what I could to eat. He didn’t believe donkeys had feelings, that we feel pain and grief, sadness or happiness. We were just there to serve him, always at his disposal.


Then one day when I was too old and crippled to work he took me to this big rough stallion because he thought if he made me have a foal he could still make some money by selling my baby. I’d had a foal before when I was younger but she was taken away when she was 5 months old, before she was even weaned and I never saw her again, which made me sad. I’ll never forget her pitiful little brays as she was dragged away, terrified and confused. At least I was spared that experience this time as I was too old and poor to carry a foal and I miscarried.

‘Ah! Ye worthless ol’ baggage’, said the man when he found I was no longer pregnant. It seems he had forgotten all the hours of hard work I had given him over the years. That’s the trouble with humans – it’s always about themselves. Instead of comforting me he called for two other men to come and help him and they forced me into a rickety, bad smelling trailer full of cow manure and slammed the door shut with a head ringing bang.

I was very afraid especially when the trailer started moving, lurching and bumping along an old track. When it stopped the three men hauled me out by my ears which hurt a lot and I could see we were at a deserted, barren headland with absolutely no shelter. Not a tree. Not a hedge. Not a wall. Just long stretches of barbed wire like a huge outside prison camp.

There was a big field with some horses in it and brand new fences and a big gate fastened with a heavy chain and padlock. At first they couldn’t see how they were going to get me into the field, then they grabbed me roughly by the tail, the ears and the legs and quite literally swung me over the fence! I landed hard, severely jarring my old joints and lay there winded for some time, wondering what I done wrong that they wanted to get rid of me so desperately. I had only ever tried my best.

Later, when the horses wandered over to see what was going on I thought at least I would have somebody to talk to after all the years of living on my own, but one of the horses didn’t want anyone else in his field and he bit me hard on the neck and kicked at my ribs and legs until I was even more sore and ached all over. I learned from the others I was at a place called ‘The Mullet’ which is right on the Atlantic coast sticking out into the sea. I suffered being constantly soaked to the skin, cold and hungry – hungry not because there was nothing to eat but because I was too stiff, sore and sad to be able to eat it. Donkeys come from Africa and Asia so we don’t have waterproofing in our coats like horses and cattle, so after a while my back got chapped and sore with being constantly cold and wet. Somehow it was never either dry or warm.


I don’t know how many weeks I endured when one day a man called a farrier came to trim the horses’ hooves and for the first time in years I knew kind words and a gentle hand when he saw the bedraggled and neglected state of me. He looked into my eyes and I knew hope as he promised to help me, though after he had been gone for several more days my spirits slumped again as I wondered if he had forgotten this promise. Daily I fell into deeper despondency until I was really just lying hunched against the wind and rain, waiting to die.

Then it happened. Two people came to the field with a big comfortable looking trailer which had a funny sounding name on the side – Sathya Sai Sanctuary. And suddenly, the sun came out!

There was a man and a woman and they came with the farrier man who had first promised to help. I hardly dared to hope but when I saw the glow of light shining around the two new people and heard their gentle voices I knew that at last something good was about to happen. .

Very, very gently they helped me to my feet, stroking me all the time, telling me in soft, kind voices that they were going to take me home to a beautiful place where I would be looked after and have lots of other donkey friends. My suffering was over!

It was a long journey but I didn’t complain. When we finally arrived at our destination I could hear and smell other donkeys and ponies all calling a welcome. There must have been many of them though at first I was introduced to just one, an elderly gentleman donkey called Roki who was quite handsome in a white fluffy coat covered with brown spots.



He was a bit shy himself and waited quietly while the man and the woman and another woman who apparently runs the Sanctuary, eased me off the trailer into a big barn which opened onto a field full of lovely grass. I could see the other donkeys in the next field but for now I was happy just to rest. Indeed, I barely moved for four days and nights luxuriating in the soft, warm straw bed, regular food and clean water supplies and most of all, being able to lie in the dry watching the rain, smelling the wind and enjoying companionable chats with Roki.

When finally I was strong enough to venture out and nibble on the grass and herbs I felt I had been reborn. A few days later a different farrier man came to trim my hooves properly and gave me a flat surface to walk on so my joints didn’t rock every time I took a step. It took a bit of getting used to, all this being comfortable!

Now I’m one of the gang. I’m learning the names of everyone here and know that I have been given a name too, for the very first time in my life. I’m called Gabriella because they say I am a little long eared angel. I think it is a pretty name. I like it.



She-who-runs-the-Sanctuary says animals were brought to this planet to help humans learn how to love and she talks about this Sathya Sai Baba who teaches that all life is equal and important, even donkeys. Up till now I don’t think I’ve been very successful at teaching people to be kind but here, at last, I am truly embraced with human love. It’s like having a beautiful orange sunset wrapped around me all the time.’


Ambrose was confiscated by the County Vet on welfare grounds as he was being kept on a tiny patch of grass in the centre of a nearby village. He had no water supply unless he dared to scale the almost vertical banks of a drain which ran through overgrown bushes to one side of his patch. Fortunately he was spotted before he was thirsty enough to attempt this as in all probability he would have fallen and hurt himself, or even drowned.


We took him regular fresh water supplies while the statutory enquiries were made and the administration completed to secure his release and early in June he joined the big boys here at the Sanctuary where he was immediately microchipped, passported and had his hooves trimmed, vet check etc.

He is quite a small, fawn coloured donkey gelding with a distinctive bone spur on his lower left mandible behind the chin but whatever he lacks in size he makes up in attitude!

For the first few days he and the other geldings tore chunks out of each other until finally the ‘pecking order’ was established and peace reigned.

He is a pest around the mares, giving them no peace in his attempts to prove that he is the biggest man on the block so he will be allowed no illicit affairs until or unless he learns better manners!

Though to look at him....... ’butter wouldn’t melt’ is the saying that springs to mind. He seems to hang out most of the time with Benny and Little Luke, maybe because they are all the same size.




Penny and Coco

These two delightful sister donkeys came to the Sanctuary because their owner had to change jobs and move house due to family illness. Peggy is three years old, Cocoa only two and relatively shy compared with her more confident sister.

Happily they were fostered almost immediately into a wonderful home only a few miles from here where they quickly integrated into the family of ponies, sheep, ducks, chickens, dogs, cats and a couple of two-legs who have devoted themselves to looking after their animal friends.

We are also extremely grateful to this couple for giving us 3 acres of meadow to cut and bale for haylage – an enormous security in a year when fodder may be expensive and difficult to buy later in the winter.



Mousse and foal MinkaThis little bundle arrived on the 28th July, not exactly unexpected as judging from Mousse’s waistline there could be only one outcome, but certainly unplanned. Mousse came to us from Westport, Co. Mayo in August 2014 but none of us had the slightest idea she was pregnant.

For a young mare she has coped admirably (wish I had coped one half as well with my own daughter all those years ago...) and is a very protective mother who is not only friendly herself but allows us to handle baby Minka without anxiety.





Consequently Minka is growing up to be a cheeky, happy, active little filly who loves both big and small people.

Her colouring is almost identical to another of our donkey mares, an elderly lady called Cupid – so much so that new visitors to the Sanctuary constantly ask if Cupid is the Daddy!

It does make us wonder if they could be related somewhere in the donkey gene pool of the west of Ireland but whatever her heritage Minka is a delight to have around the place, lightening the mood after the toughest days with her acrobatic antics and endearing ways. Well done and thank you Moose.




Early in August we took a hard knock when a local foster home reported that their two fostered donkeys Huckleberry and Finn had gone missing sometime during Saturday 8th.

The fosterers had been away for the day so didn’t miss them until Sunday morning and delayed reporting them until they had searched the neighbourhood and enquired at the nearby farms.

Huckleberry and FinnUnfortunately there was no sign of them so we went through the agonising routine of informing the Gardai, vets, other foster homes, friends, other welfare/rescue organisations, all with heavy hearts suspecting the worst.

Happily late on Tuesday night a call came through to say they had been located on the mountain a few miles away from their home.

A local farmer had spotted them and brought them into his field...then the ‘grapevine’ worked it’s magic and the news eventually filtered back to an overjoyed foster family.

Other messages followed throughout the next day: they were seen as early as the previous Friday afternoon ‘headed up the bog road’. Wednesday evening saw them collected and brought home from their five day adventure, no doubt oblivious to the heartache they had caused.



This was held on Saturday 22nd August at The Museum of Country Life, Turlough House, Castlebar, Co Mayo. We were blessed with a beautiful warm sunny day, a rarity this year, and despite low attendance due to a conflicting event in Castlebar itself, it was one of the best Donkey Days ever!

Donkey Day

There was a friendly, relaxed atmosphere with a number of serious donkey fans seeking useful information.

Mark Hester, Master Farrier, gave numerous demonstrations on trimming and shoeing the donkeys’ hooves explaining as he went along many of the common problems and how to rectify them.

Roderick and a colleague hand crafted entirely from straw, a set of working donkey collars and other pieces of harness. That they didn’t end up with massive blisters, especially on their thumbs, is testament to their familiarity with the techniques.

It is salutary to realise that not so many years ago a plaited straw harness would have been considered quite a luxury when working the farm donkey. It may look harsh and uncomfortable but as the straw absorbed the oils from the donkey’s coat it softened to become both strong and supple so is arguably preferable to the modern day plastic -finished webbing harness, which being non absorbent is prone to chafe and rub the skin.


Above - Mr McNulty arriving at Donkey Day with Sanctuary volunteers Jacky and Neil

Other attractions included plenty of donkey themed occupations for children from colouring to competitions and of course most adults enjoyed the beautiful facilities of the Museum, gift shop and cafe as well as the magnificent surroundings of the park itself.



Other re-homings include five gelding donkeys, Aslan, Moses, Twain, Blackie and Tigger, all going together into the one home in Co. Roscommon where they are being looked after by a retired farmer who finds himself no longer able to manage cattle. The lads joined three other donkeys already at the farm and four more fostered from Hungry Horse Outside (HHO), so they are enjoying life in a small herd. So far we hear no complaints!


Cordelia and carson


This elderly mare donkey and her two month old foal travelled the country to find sanctuary with us here.

First rescued in Co. Wicklow by the IHWT they were collected by HHO to make the long journey to the Midlands where they rested for a few days before being collected by ourselves. Here we hope they will settle in with our ‘Golden Oldies’ and with Mousse and her two month old filly foal Minka, who will probably be delighted to have a playmate.

To use an Irish expression Cordelia was ‘shook’ - a word which encompasses a myriad of conditions from fragile and weak to depressed, abused, worn-out and wretched. She is quite a big boned mare, definitely in need of a bit of extra weight, a worm dose and a hoof trim, but she should improve in a short time.

Right - Safe now. Just an hour after arrival



On Thursday 20th August several of us from Sai Sanctuary enjoyed learning from animal behaviour expert Ben Hart at an event hosted by Hungry Horse Outside at Newtown Forbes, Co. Longford and which was organised in conjunction with The Donkey Sanctuary of Liscarroll, Co. Cork.

Animal behaviour class


Ben has spent the last 20 years studying animal behaviour, especially that of donkeys and mules and has travelled extensively round the world both learning and teaching. He is an excellent and humorous speaker who has that wonderful knack of keeping the theory absorbing and later transmuting it seamlessly into practical demonstrations with remarkable and fulfilling results.

We came away at the end of the day with a fresh insight into the different natures of horses from donkeys from mules and a basic knowledge of how differently to handle some of the difficult situations we find ourselves coping with in rescues.

Our thanks go to Cathy of The Donkey Sanctuary and Hilary, Mick, Caroline and the rest of the Hungry Horse team for hosting the event and proving an exceptional lunch.

At the end of the session she actively looked for attention and picked up all four feet on request! All without a cross word


Left - Making friends with the little mule mare which only hours before Ben’s handling was cowering in the back of the pen, terrified to allow contact!


The plan is to host more of these events in the future aimed at different levels of donkey management. The next date for the diary is Saturday OCTOBER 3rd here at the Sai Sanctuary when a first level 'BASIC CARE OF DONKEYS' one-day course will be held, again in conjunction with The Donkey Sanctuary.

The event is free of charge and open to anyone with a genuine interest in learning about donkey care and basic training. For more details and registration please contact Sue on 086103932 or email



Building fences


Despite the poor summer weather we have caught up on many of the outstanding jobs around the Sanctuary including a great deal of fencing repairs.

For much of this we say a huge thank you to four young men from ABBOT in Sligo, who, together with their overseer, Martin, gave us a complete day just banging in replacement fence posts over the entire 32 acres of the Sanctuary wherever existing posts had rotted.


The fence team


Given that most of the Sanctuary fencing was done within a few years it is reasonable that many posts have failed together so this was a mammoth task which would have been ongoing still had it not been for this injection of youthful strength and exuberance! Thank you lads!

Any stock-keeper, particularly owners of those famous escape artist donkeys, will appreciate the comfort of having good fences, particularly around the boundaries of the farm. We still have fencing work to complete but at least it within our capabilities now!

Right: Glenn Fitzpatrick. Sean Cawley, Ronan Skehill and James Guihen


A brand new fence was professionally erected along the road at Corrig, Ballinafad, where we summer graze some of the donkeys and smaller ponies and over winter many of the ponies and some of the horses. Their lorry container field shelter has been partly re-floored and the area around the shelter scraped back to clean hard-standing.

The old rusting sheets at the north gable end of the main donkey barn at the Sanctuary have been replaced with second-hand but intact sheets to include a large window which lets in a surprising amount of light, early morning sunshine and corresponding warmth. The whole barn has been repainted (for another year!) and the older field shelters, which were in danger of disintegrating due to both rotten and eaten (by donkeys!) timbers have been restructured so they are safe to continue housing donkeys and ponies for many years to come.



We have also been lucky enough to purchase a further 6.5 acres of rough grazing land which is sandwiched between the Carrowkeel megalithic site and our own eastern boundary. The vendor had no real use for this area and not only sold at a very reasonable price but completely renewed the fence between his own land and ourselves. The field is on a steep incline and consists of a mixture of old hillside meadowland and real mountain bog (moor) land which has small grazing value but greatly adds to the diversity of wildlife opportunities – and is healthy exercise for man and beast alike! We are delighted to get it and of course owe a debt of gratitude to the very many generous supporters who made the purchase possible in the first place. It really is true that we could do little without you.





Once again we have a great many thank you’s to proffer for the enormous amount of support and financial donations made throughout the year which have allowed, not just the purchase of the above land, but a couple of luxury items – plastic haybells – which fit over a standard round bale of hay or silage to keep the fodder inside dry and clean whilst facilitating four large horses to feed simultaneously around each one.

Neil in the snow

As five of our eight bigger horses are now over 25 years old we decided to keep them at home this winter instead of out-grazing them at Ballinafad a few miles away.

This way we can give extra feeding twice or three times a day if necessary instead of just once and can keep a better control over the amount of hay and haylage each individual needs to thrive.They will be rugged, as usual, and have a field shelter so they can escape the worst of the winter weather.

The disadvantages will be the damage to the land here at the Sanctuary and all the extra mucking out and cleaning up, though the peace of mind through having them close by far outweighs both of these factors.

The land at Ballinfad will accommodate most of the smaller hardy ponies instead where they will have 20 acres of rough grazing with loads of natural shelter and a field shelter, all to themselves. . . and except in the very worst of weather we will not have to carry bales of hay out to them as they are currently fat enough to survive two winters back to back without any extra feeding! In fact it would do no harm for most of them to lose a good bit of weight, so no Christmas pud for them this year!

Left - The work we’d like to avoid!




Piebald mare

This beautiful piebald mare lost her life due to an untreated wire wound just below her fetlock joint, which because it went unnoticed and untreated, cut off the blood supply to the hoof.

She was then abandoned in the grounds of Hazlewood House, Sligo where she was noticed almost immediately—but still too late as the infection had spread throughout her body and the hoof was in the process of sloughing off. With deep regret she was euthanased on the spot. Wire injury





Whether she was deliberately tied with wire or accidently caught in wire, the result was the same. And it is all down to negligence. Any responsible owner would have checked this horse early enough to rescue the situation and get veterinary treatment for the wound. Frankly there are NO EXCUSES!




Beth and Blaney


Beth and Blaney were rescued together by Hungry Horse Outside in the spring of 2014 in a severely emaciated condition. They spent the summer with us recuperating, returning to HHO in October for handling and training.

Subsequently Beth was offered an amazing home in Germany and despite the heartbreak of parting her from her friend it was decided she should not be deprived of an active, involved life in a five-star home.


Beth and Blaney


Blaney was sad at losing her friend but in the way of young horses she got on with it and tried to make new friends. So, imagine our delight when Beth’s new owner decided she would take Blaney too!

Several weeks later Beth and Blaney were reunited at their new forever home in Germany where they are very much loved. HHO receive regular updates on their activities and we look forward very much to hearing about their exciting new lives.

Together forever!

Right - A very happy pair of young horses.



We have three new cards featuring our donkeys in the snow, all in 6in x 4in (15cms x 10cms) format with an inside greeting of ‘Wishing you a magical Christmas and a happy New Year‘.

They cost €1 or £1 each with envelope including postage.

We also have some blank greetings cards from last year—please ask for details



Also available is our 2016 Sai Sanctuary Calendar which measures 32.5 x26cms or 13 x 10.4 inches and which features a different Sanctuary photograph, with quotation, for each month of the year. These are €10 or £10 each including postage and tend to sell very quickly (hurray!)



May we wish you all a very good winter and thank you again for your amazing support throughout yet another year. Many blessings!





Sathya Sai Sanctuary Trust for Nature, Castlebaldwin, Co. Sligo, F52 H046, Ireland

Tel: 00353(0)861031932





Also available is our 2016 Sai Sanctuary Calendar which measures 32.5 x26cms or 13 x 10.4 inches and which features a different Sanctuary photograph, with quotation, for each month of the year. These are € 10 or £10 each including postage and tend to sell very quickly (hurray!)

May we wish you all a very good winter and thank you again for your amazing support throughout yet another year. Many blessings!



With thanks to you all!

Sathya Sai Sanctuary Trust for Nature

Castlebaldwin, Co. Sligo, F52 HO46, Ireland

00353 (0)861031932



"Until one has loved an animal, part of their soul remains unawakened." ~ French poet Anatole France (1844-1924)


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