I think you can tell a lot about a society from its donkeys. The way they are treated, the way they are dressed. What sort of work they are asked to do. For example, in the West of France, they dress their donkeys in long culottes to protect their legs from biting insects. This shows consideration as well as a certain French flare for elegance.
I should really widen my definition to include all equestrians, for here in Senegal they don’t seem to have donkeys. But this gaping hole is filled by a gallant looking little pony, that can be seen pulling light carts through the sandy streets. All the ponies that I have seen so far (and that is quite a few) have been in excellent condition, well fed and sturdy with sleek well groomed manes and hides. They seem well treated and inspite of the midday sun they pull their carts along at quite a clip, prancing elegantly past the battered Nisans and Peugeots that are pressed into taxi service.
It is also telling that there seems to be no direct correlation between poverty and the treatment of these sturdy friends. Cart drivers here in Dakar are often recent immigrants from the countryside who have come to the city to work their way up from the slums. The ponies are their livelihoods and they look after them as such.
I have spent some time trekking in Ladakh in the high Himalayas in recent years. There the donkeys are seemingly much smaller and thinner. Infact they are possessed of such a sinewy strength and sense of balance that a trip
here is unthinkable without them. Again their owners make their living moving goods and accompanying trekkers through the high passes and the donkeys are their primary consideration. Before setting up camp for themselves, they first make sure that the donkeys are relieved of their loads, fed and watered.
Not all societies treat their equestrians well. You have only to read some of the rescue stories at donkey sanctuaries throughout the UK to realise this. However, those that do value them often seem to share the characteristics that these animals bring to their relationship with humankind. Loyalty, hard work, and an unquenchable spirit!