Penny James, manager at EARS donkey sanctuary, was born in Zimbabwe (then Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia) and it was from around the age of 10 that her love of equines emerged.

“Donkeys with bells around their necks used to come onto our property to eat the green lawn and I used to sit on their backs while they ate. They were probably poor abused creatures and here I am adding to their plight. I begged my parents for a donkey but no go. We lived in an area where there were loads of horses so watching them and feeding them were highlights of my day”.

Penny describes her teens as ‘heaven’ as it was then that her parents bought a horse for her and her sister to share.  “Where we lived there were still wide open spaces for riding and being free. As my sister got older she lost interest but the love of these animals has never left me. Two memories I cherish are midnight, moonlight rides and going to a dance  party on horseback. Such fun”.
The family also had chickens and ducks, a pet goat and a dog called Scott.
“My parents never put pressure on us to be doctors or lawyers or rocket scientists. They were quite happy for me to finish school and get a job and start paying for the horses.  I had two then. Someone had given me an old, ex-racehorse.
“Working in a horse environment evolved naturally as passions often do. I gravitated to horsey jobs and as I was living in Cape Town getting a job at a racing yard was pretty simple. I didn’t much like racing but loved the horses.  In fact I would love to get a worldworld-wide ban on the use of the stick which is seriously abused on these beautiful animals in this sport”.
Penny also worked in banking, as a secretary and as a volunteer with St John’s Ambulance for 10 years.  “My experience in basic life support and  the treatment of traumatic injuries have helped enormously with my horse care work in the Greyton valley.”
When Penny left her job at the racing yard, EARS Sanctuary founder Jo Sedgwick  and her sister Judy asked if she would manage the sanctuary, a job she describes as pure heaven.
An average day starts with feeding and checking stabled horses and donkeys and the cleaning of all paddocks. We cut grass for them and some get concentrates etc. Oat hay or straw must be collected from our suppliers. Animals needing their meds or wound care get sorted before our commitment to the horses in the community.  Unless it is a dire emergency we like to ensure sanctuary work is completed first.
“My day finishes late if I have horses to treat in the valley as I find it easier to go after 5. Then the horse is assured of a regular treatment time and I don’t have to rush. Sometimes owners only see their horses when they return from work so I’m often asked  to help then.
“The most challenging aspects of my job are the call outs and the wound care of some  pretty horrific wounds on community horses. I’ve learnt that everything heals eventually so long as basic requirements are followed. With life threatening  conditions we call our local vets to assist with euthanasia”.
Penny says helping horses fills a need in her to pay back some of the joy she has experienced over the years. “I just feel so fortunate that I am in a position to be able to do so. These strong, beautiful animals which allow us humans to use them for work, sport or pleasure and sometimes abuse, need our care when they are sick or injured”.
Every equine, says Penny, tugs at her heartstrings.