Free U.S. Shipping on orders over $20.00


New World Library Unshelved

New World Library Unshelved

Positive news and inspiring views from the New World Library community

Thursday, November 29, 2018
“Why a Donkey?”: An Excerpt from Smart Ass by Margaret Winslow

How do you resolve a midlife crisis? Margaret Winslow, an overworked college professor in New York City, answered a for-sale ad for a “Large White Saddle Donkey.” Hilarity ensued, along with life-threatening injuries and spirit-enriching insight. 

In her book, Smart Ass: How a Donkey Challenged Me to Accept His True Nature & Rediscover My Own, Winslow shares her adventures with Caleb the donkey through training traumas, expert-baffling antics, and humiliating races. 

 In time Winslow came to an understanding of Caleb’s true, undeniable gifts: a willingness to be true to himself no matter the circumstances, to trust, and to forgive. As she and Caleb learn to thrive, readers learn the importance of being true to your own pure and powerful self.

We hope you’ll enjoy this excerpt from the book.

# # #

I could be astride a rhino or giraffe for all the baffled stares I receive as I ride my donkey down the busy road in the suburbs of Rockland County, New York. Commuters wrench around in their seats and slam on their brakes; teenagers honk and holler.

Few in the lower Hudson valley have ever seen a donkey, outside of Shrek’s sidekick and miniatures at the local petting zoo. And Caleb is no ordinary specimen. Pure white, he stands over a foot taller than the average donkey; even his ears are exceptionally long for his species. His shaggy coat completes the picture. According to small children we meet at horse shows and religious pageants, he looks like a giant Easter Bunny.

The question I invariably get from young and old alike is “What kind of horse is that?” Followed by a confused expression when I reply, “He’s not a horse; he’s a donkey.”

The further question — “Why would you ever get one of those?” — is loud and clear, if often unspoken.

Good question.


As a geologist and a professor at an urban university, I found myself at a crossroads at the start of the new millennium. After thirty years of fieldwork in South America, Alaska, and the Caribbean, numerous back injuries had taken their toll. A heavy teaching schedule and administrative duties had all but doomed any opportunities to pursue new challenges in faraway places. With my oceanographer husband away at sea for months at a time and the prospect of starting a family no longer an option, I was looking for the perfect animal companion to help navigate the next phase of my life. Most people would choose a cat or dog. I chose a donkey.

I encountered donkeys for the first time in the Dominican Republic. One day during the winter of 2001, as my geology students and I collected rock samples from a riverbed, a long string of donkeys zigzagged down the steep canyon wall to join us. Each donkey carried one or two small children nestled among empty water cans. The donkeys wore no bridles or reins, so they must have known the route by heart. The kids laughed and shouted to each other as if they were perched on dusty carousel ponies, secure on their sure-footed, slow-moving mounts.

Just upstream from where we were working, the children filled the water cans while their faithful companions waited in the deep shade, snuffling greetings and nuzzling their long-eared comrades. Here I witnessed another side to their hardworking lives. Like the children, the untethered donkeys played their own versions of tag and hide-and-seek, chasing each other around trees and in and out of the river. I was enchanted, especially by their forbearance and playfulness in the face of an indifferent, even harsh, environment. At the same time, watching them made me smile. I thought that these homely cousins of horses resembled ponies — that is, ponies drawn by an enthusiastic child with a strong streak of whimsy: with the ears of a rabbit, the tail of a witch’s broomstick, the stand-up mane of a punk rocker.

At that moment, a long-forgotten childhood memory sprang to mind. Every Christmas, starting at age five, I had pestered my parents to buy me the “Genuine Mexican Burro” that was advertised in the Sears catalog. The brown-and-white drawing featured a small shaggy pony-size animal with rabbit ears. The first time I turned to the page and saw the burro’s huge dark eyes gazing shyly toward the viewer, I was mesmerized. I felt an intense yearning that was impossible to describe. For several years I begged my parents to get me this donkey until, finally, under the tree one Christmas morning, I found a large gray stuffed donkey. “Francis” stood watch over my dreams for years to come.

But that only partly explains why I became the owner — or should I say unwitting wrangler and straight man — of a seven-hundred-pound donkey.

When I returned home from the field in the spring of 2001, I found several donkey-and-mule organizations and affectionateplayfulsmartundervalued — struck a chord in me.

With rose-colored glasses firmly in place, I convinced myself that the side of me that had always felt underestimated as a woman in a largely male profession — the outwardly docile but tenacious striver — would resonate with a The Brayer, for a “large white saddle donkey.”

I had no idea that a young, untrained donkey named Caleb would upend so many of my assumptions about life. Or that he would challenge me to accept his true nature — and help me rediscover my own.

# # #

Margaret Winslow is the author of Smart Ass and a field geologist with more than thirty years’ experience in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. She is also the author of two travel memoirs, and lives in Piermont, New York. Caleb boards nearby with fifty horses and ponies. Find out more about her work at

Excerpted from the book Smart Ass. Copyright © 2018 by Margaret Winslow






November 2019 (1)
October 2019 (5)
September 2019 (4)
August 2019 (5)
July 2019 (3)
June 2019 (4)
May 2019 (4)
April 2019 (4)
March 2019 (4)
February 2019 (4)
January 2019 (5)
December 2018 (3)
November 2018 (5)
October 2018 (4)
September 2018 (4)
August 2018 (4)
July 2018 (4)
June 2018 (5)
May 2018 (7)
April 2018 (5)
March 2018 (5)
February 2018 (5)
January 2018 (5)
December 2017 (3)
November 2017 (6)
October 2017 (6)
September 2017 (6)
August 2017 (6)
July 2017 (5)
June 2017 (7)
May 2017 (6)
April 2017 (6)
March 2017 (8)
February 2017 (5)
January 2017 (5)
December 2016 (6)
November 2016 (8)
October 2016 (6)
September 2016 (7)
August 2016 (6)
July 2016 (6)
June 2016 (7)
May 2016 (7)
April 2016 (6)
March 2016 (7)
February 2016 (6)
January 2016 (6)
December 2015 (4)
November 2015 (7)
October 2015 (7)
September 2015 (6)
August 2015 (7)
July 2015 (9)
June 2015 (9)
May 2015 (8)
April 2015 (9)
March 2015 (9)
February 2015 (8)
January 2015 (8)
December 2014 (7)
November 2014 (7)
October 2014 (9)
September 2014 (9)
August 2014 (8)
July 2014 (10)
June 2014 (8)
May 2014 (9)
April 2014 (8)
March 2014 (9)
February 2014 (9)
January 2014 (7)
December 2013 (7)
November 2013 (4)
October 2013 (5)
September 2013 (4)
August 2013 (4)
July 2013 (3)
June 2013 (3)
May 2013 (4)
April 2013 (4)
March 2013 (3)
February 2013 (3)
January 2013 (2)
December 2012 (4)
November 2012 (4)
October 2012 (5)
September 2012 (2)
August 2012 (3)
July 2012 (2)
June 2012 (3)
May 2012 (2)
April 2012 (3)
March 2012 (5)
February 2012 (3)
January 2012 (4)
December 2011 (4)
November 2011 (3)
October 2011 (4)
September 2011 (5)
August 2011 (4)
July 2011 (2)
June 2011 (3)
May 2011 (3)
April 2011 (4)
March 2011 (4)
February 2011 (3)
January 2011 (1)
December 2010 (3)
November 2010 (3)
October 2010 (4)
September 2010 (2)
August 2010 (4)
July 2010 (4)
June 2010 (2)
May 2010 (4)
April 2010 (5)
March 2010 (5)
February 2010 (1)