About Donkathon

What is Donkathon?

Donkathon is a fundraising project. Polly Vacher (supported by her husband Peter) plans to drive her two donkeys, Wizard and Muffin, on a 200 mile adventure from South Oxfordshire to North Wales. The purpose of Donkathon is to raise money for the MS Society – to support its research to stop MS – whilst having a lot of fun along the way. The name came from ‘Marathon’.

Have Donkathons been done before or is this a one off?

As far as we know, Donkathon is a unique idea – but who knows where it might lead?!

When will it start and finish?

Donkathon will start on 25th June 2021 in North Moreton, Oxfordshire, and end on 25 July at St Melangell, North Wales.

What about Covid?

By no earlier than 21 June, the government hopes to be in a position to remove all legal limits on social contact. So our planning is based on being good to go on 25th of June. Of course, like everyone, we are having to keep things under review, but that is our plan at the moment.

We know that COVID-19 remains a part of our lives and will comply with all COVID-Secure measures that remain in place. One big benefit of Donkathon is that all public activities take place outdoors – so lots of fresh air!

Do you have a financial target you are aiming for?

We have set an initial target of £25,000 – but we have already raised 35% of our target so who knows what might be possible?!

Why have you chosen the route from Oxfordshire to North Wales?

Donkeys Wizard and Muffin, live with Polly and her husband Peter near Oxford. Whilst in hospital following eye surgery, Polly received a card from Christine Browne, the Guardian of St Melangell in Powys, North Wales. ‘Donkathon’, the idea of driving her donkeys to St Melangell, was born. You can see the route here. The route was chosen to avoid main roads wherever possible

What is the history of St Melangell?

Saint Melangell is a beautiful, remote, small church, situated in a peaceful valley near Llangynog in Powys, Wales. Its history (and there is lots of it) dates back to 12th century. Once visited, never forgotten. Read more here.

How can I get involved? How can I help?

There are lots of ways to be part of Donkathon:

About Donkeys (from Polly)

What made you interested in donkeys?

On completion of my second solo world flight in my trusted single engine Piper Dakota, I needed something to take my mind off it and help me to ‘look forward’ - not back. A friend of mine had two donkeys and it inspired me to try my hand at training donkeys. Hence I found Wizard and Muffin, both yearlings, and with the help and support of many wonderful people I trained them, first to have a headcollar on, then to clean their hooves and finally to drive a carriage.

How long do donkeys live for? How old are Wizard and Muffin?

Looked after well, they should live on average 45 years. It has been known for a donkey to live for 65 years! Wizard and Muffin are the same age – both 13 years old.

What do they eat?

Mostly straw (preferably barley straw). Hay and grass have to be rationed as they are too rich and they easily get laminitis or colitis/colic. My donkeys also have a meal of ‘Hi-fi lite’ with ‘Donkey balancer’ and a scoop of biotin for their hooves once a day.

Will the donkeys enjoy Donkathon? How far will they go each day? Is it fair to drive them so far?

In the desert, donkeys will walk for 17 hours a day foraging for food. They are strong animals and love to work. 8-10 miles a day are a ‘doddle’ for them. They love going to new places so the Donkathon will provide new views (and challenges) every day – perfect! They also love attention, so if there are lots of people to meet they will be in seventh heaven.

What training have they done?

Specifically for the Donkathon they have done a lot of hill training. Donkeys are partial to stopping at the bottom of a hill and we have had to find various ways to incentivise them to proceed uphill. This has been as much a challenge for us as for them!

Donkeys are desert animals and therefore do NOT like going through water – even puddles made them a bit nervous. On the Donkathon they have to go through two fords so ford training is essential and they are doing really welll.

Like humans training for a marathon, we are in the process of building up their strength and stamina. Currently we take them for three long drives a week and two short ones. The long drives vary between 8 and 12 miles and the short ones approximately 3 miles. Nearer the start of the Donkathon we will increase this gradually.

How fast do the donkeys go?

My donkeys average 2 miles an hour. I am sure others manage to get their donkeys to go faster, but I am quite content with that as the Donkathon is in mid summer with plenty of long days so I prefer not to hassle them and enjoy the ambience.

What happens if one of the donkeys goes lame, for example?

This would pose a problem, and this is why we are being meticulous with the training and preparation for the Donkathon. We are making sure their hooves are in good order and we have had their annual visit from the donkey dentist - but if one gets lame for whatever reason, they will ride in the horse box and we will continue with the other. They are inseparable so this could be a challenge!

Can donkeys get Coronavirus?!

Not to my knowledge, but they can get equine ‘flu’ and are vaccinated against that. We will carry their ‘passports’ with us at all times which gives all details of inoculations and any treatment they may have had.

Will it just be Polly and her donkeys travelling or will there be a following like the Pied Piper?

My husband will follow with the trailer which will carry all straw, hay and feed as well as grooming kit and mucking out equipment for the stables we are being so kindly lent.

I will have Elana Gannon or Oscar Pye (they will do alternate weeks) who work for us as grooms. Carolle Doyle, a journalist who followed me round the world on my first world flight writing for the Sunday Telegraph and who subsequently got her two donkeys will come with us. She also introduced me to Christine Browne, the Guardian of St Melangell. Carolle will host donkeys and humans for the last few legs.

We have several volunteers who will step in and do odd jobs like buying picnic lunches, helping ferry people, etc.

BUT we want anyone who would like to – to follow us on foot, bicycle, scooter, horseback, donkey carriage, horse/pony carriage, car – everyone is welcome – a bit like the Pied Piper but with a vastly better motive!

About MS and MS Research

What is MS?

MS stands for multiple sclerosis. It's a neurological condition, meaning it affects your nerves. MS happens when your immune system attacks your nerves by mistake. It damages nerves in the central nervous system - the brain and spinal cord.

Once diagnosed, MS stays with people for life, but treatments and specialists can help manage the condition and its symptoms.

How does MS affect people?

The specific symptoms that appear depend on which part of the central nervous system has been affected, and the job of the damaged nerves. Symptoms could include problems with vision, mobility, balance, memory and thinking, emotions - but MS is different for everyone who has it and there are many other symptoms.

How many people get MS?

More than 130,000 people in the UK have MS. It affects almost three times as many women as men. Read the latest statistics on MS in the UK. In the UK people are most likely to find out they have MS in their thirties, forties and fifties. But the first signs of MS often start years earlier. Many people notice their first symptoms years before they get their diagnosis.

What will my donation be used for?

All funds raised through Donkathon will be used for MS Research. The MS Society funds a broad range of projects to understand MS and help improve diagnosis, treatments and services. Your donation will help them make ground-breaking discoveries. They have a major ten-year project called ‘STOP MS’. You can really make a difference - please donate here.