When four donkeys from Yorkshire step out on Blackpool’s Golden Mile this Bank Holiday weekend, hopefully there will be a queue of children keen to get into the saddle.
But first they have had lots of human input to ensure they are 100 per cent – including a visit from the vet, having their teeth checked and hooves trimmed and finally beauty treatment – a haircut and shampoo.
Owner Mark Ineson, who has been running donkey rides at the famous tourist spot for 24 years, keeps 14 of his 20 donkeys at a farm not far from Pinderfields Hospital, Wakefield.
He developed his love of donkeys and Blackpool after holidaying there as a child, and said the animals are stubborn, but far from stupid, and all have their individual personalities.
It has been a stressful year. When the shutters came down in lockdown, he still had to feed and look after his charges.
Vets and dentist bills did not magically stop. Apart from a brief respite when he was allowed to do rides last July and August, he has not been able to do any of the galas, fetes or agricultural shows he normally does, and had to go on universal credit for the first time in his life.
It has not been easy trying to live on £400 a month while ensuring the donkeys are getting fed and looked after in the way they’re accustomed to.
While he got a grant of £10,000 during the first lockdown, he had to battle Blackpool Council to get any more funding – only securing £5,000 recently.
He said: “People see donkeys on the beach and just think they walk up and down and do rides. They don’t understand there’s a story with every donkey. They don’t understand the amount of time and effort that goes into preparation. We’re hoping for a busy season and that events build up again.
“Getting back to normality is the key, they’ve been out of routine and used to taking it easy.”