Something Old, Something New, Something Burro’d Just for You

Be the best you can bray with Dick Courteau’s new book, Get Your Ass to Work!

“SO YOU’VE GONE and done it. You’ve bought a donkey!” comes a warbled voice at the beginning of the video. On paper, that sentence, saddled with an unfortunate flatness, is a sighing exasperation of a disappointed ’50s-era sitcom parent—a “well, you’ve done it this time, haven’t you?”

But to hear those words spoken by the owner of the aforementioned voice, Dick Courteau, 85—who’s spent “three quarters of a century” around horses, donkeys, ponies and mules—there’s a warmth and earnestness to it. He makes it sound like finding oneself with a donkey is just about the most natural thing in the world.

“Maybe you had planned that out well, or maybe you just surrendered to impulse when you saw that lovable creature you now own offered for sale on Craigslist,” he goes on to say. “Either way, you thought it would be useful around your little homestead or country acreage. But now all it does is stand there and eat, and you wish you could put it to some practical use. My little book—Get Your Ass to Work!—will show you just how to do that.”

At 209 pages, it is hardly a little book. And though the appeal is overwhelmingly for those who are actually interested in learning the finer esoteric points of the Scotch hobble or the leveraged snaffle—as was likely the case for the 108 backers who footed $7,705 for the Kickstarter campaign—there’s a charm that goes well beyond practical animal husbandry.

Even the non-donkey-devotee can see that this is, at its core, a lifework. It’s a book that’s informed by both life experience (“I have been riding and working horses—and then mules and donkeys—since age eleven, when my foster father gave me my first pony, the stone-blind but spirited twelve-hand pinto mare Toots.”) and his extensive reading on the subject, (an appendix recommends future readings ranging from a technical manual put out by the U.S. War Department in 1941 to G.K. Chesterton and Cervantes). It’s a book from someone who’s given more thought to donkeys and their training than most people give to anything at all.

And while you may not have gone and bought a donkey—in the end, you may be considering it. (