Yes, Miss May is getting all gussied up for some proper riding.
I found an old English saddle for sale on Kijiji, my parents picked it up for me as it was not too far from where they live, and it made it's way here the other day. A bit of oil and it's shined right up - the seat is 17.5", exactly right for me, and the tree is nice and wide which is perfect for a flat backed round sided donkey.
I don't like riding on Western saddles: I always end up bashing against the pommel, the big fenders pull my legs out of position, and they are large and heavy and way more than I need for some pleasant meandering along country roads. It's not like Miss May and I are going to be roping calves. So, yes, English tack. On a donkey. It's not as weird as it sounds, really ... English saddles tend to fit donkeys better than most Western saddles do, and they are nice and light. Donkeys can carry quite a lot of weight, but well, I'm not a skinny little thing anymore so every pound helps.
Ahem. I know. I'm working on it.
Isn't she adorable?
Yes, I know, it still needs a saddle pad, and the girth strap I have is too small (I extended it with two dog collars for our test walk today), and I need a crupper to keep it from sliding forward but ... Miss May was quite calm about the whole thing. I expect she saw several saddles in use when she was at school at Lucky M Ranch last month, and donkeys do learn from watching, so she wasn't perturbed by having this put on her back.
She's not really as short as this picture makes her look - but you can see that the saddle fits pretty well. It's not quite level, so the saddle pad will need to be a bit thicker at the back to raise the cantle a little, but it does sit very nicely on either side of her spine with plenty of clearance. This is what saddles do - well, they give the rider a more comfortable and secure seat, particularly with stirrups to help keep your legs where they need to be, but they also distribute the weight of the rider over a larger area along either side of the spine rather than directly on it.
Donkeys are very wide and round and have no withers (the pointy bit where the spine meets the neck in a horse). Saddles tend to slip forward and press on their shoulders, which is uncomfortable for the donkey and unsafe for the rider because a sudden stop can send you right over the donkey's head, saddle and all! This is where a crupper comes in - it's a loop that goes under the tail and holds the saddle from slipping forward. I need to get one of those. I already have a breast band, you can see it in the pictures: this keeps the saddle from slipping backwards. With those, a good girth strap, and a non-slip saddle pad, we should be good to go.
What you see in the photo above is the space under the saddle that allows for the spine to move freely, it's a bit higher than it absolutely needs to be because of the aforementioned lack of withers, but it sits nicely all along both sides, with weight evenly spread along the big pads on the underside and a tall channel up over the spine. This gap gives the donkey lots of room to move while still providing the rider with a nice solid seat - which also helps the donkey, because it's much easier to walk confidently when the person on your back isn't shifting around.
Today we just went for a walk - even having the stirrups hanging loose didn't bother her (I know how to run them up, but I wanted to see if it would be a problem for her, and because she's so round they don't really bang into her sides as she walks). I'll get to work on a saddle pad and pick up a crupper and a longer girth strap (I got a 36", thinking that was probably about right but it's a good five inches too short!).
We need to do more ground work to solidify our working partnership, so there's no rush on getting everything sorted.
What an awesome way to get your exercise, though! And after the walk, you get to hug a donkey. Which makes any day better.