The Long Riders' Guild

The Donkey from Hell

Mefo Phillips

A tale of the road to Santiago de Compostela, taken from Chapter 17 of Mefo's  book Horseshoes and Holy Water, an account of her and her sister Susie’s pilgrimage from Canterbury to Santiago in 2002 on their Appaloosas, Leo and Apollo.

The incident below took place on a minor lane beyond Cahors in western France, when they unwisely took a short cut instead of sticking with the Chemin de St Jacques.

There’s an odd pattering noise on the road behind us.  Susie and I are just turning our heads to see what it is when a jack donkey straight from hell cannons full tilt into Apollo’s rump, out of its field and out of control, intent on murder or sodomy, all bared teeth and deafening roars of rage.  Apollo’s beside himself with fear, bucking and plunging all over the road as Susie fights to control him and beat the donkey off with her bare hands, but it lunges forward on its hind legs, bellowing over Apollo’s tail, trying to bite them both.  I’m carrying a whip but the donkey takes no notice of the blows raining on its bottom, and Leo’s reversing in fright in case I hit him by mistake.

There’s a car coming.  It can’t get by and I flag it down.  The driver gets out to help but there are hurtling hooves everywhere.  We’re going to have to try to catch the thing.  I’m off Leo, snatching his headcollar rope from his neck, but the donkey’s caught the driver with a thumping kick and he’s flying, hurled in a perfect arc over a ditch ten feet wide, turning in the air and landing spread-eagled on his back the other side.  Apollo, lashing out in panic, misses my head by a whisker, but amazingly the driver scrambles back and between us we manage to get the rope round the donkey’s nose and drag it off.

Susie’s white with shock, but she’s still planted in her saddle and she hasn’t even lost a stirrup.  Our cheese sandwiches are all over the road and Apollo’s trembling uncontrollably, but Leo, whose powers of observation I sometimes question, insists on making friendly overtures to this satanic beast just in case it’s female and fancies him.  The driver volunteers that his name is Dominic, and that he was careful to turn himself as he was propelled over the ditch so he didn’t land on his face and spoil his beauty.  He says the donkey comes from the estate behind us where he works, so we truss it up with Apollo’s headcollar rope as well, and drag and shove it up the road.

Dominic informs me it escaped last week and attacked a horse and carriage, resulting in a broken leg for the driver’s wife who fell out when their horse careered off up the road.  The problem, he says, is frustration: the donkey’s fiancée is pregnant and she’s not interested in sex.  I don’t give a toss about the donkey’s excuse; we could have had an awful accident, and when we reach the château and find the owner outside in the garden, I lay into him in my best French with no expletives deleted.  He listens politely for ten minutes until I run out of breath, when he tells me he’s a builder working here on a contract.  The owner’s out.

Dominic fetches the donkey’s headcollar and anchors the creature firmly to a tree, and by the time we get back to Susie and the horses, Apollo’s calmly eating grass.  We go our separate ways full of thanks and bonhomie.  When a police car comes into view half a mile down the road, Susie and I wave it down, spilling out the last hour’s horror story and demanding that action be taken.  No chance.  There’s an expressive Gallic shrug from inside the car: I am désolé, Mesdames, but where this ass resides is not in my département.

Ass, indeed.

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