We live in challenging times. Life is a little uncertain and sometimes a little scary. Many of us have become more cautious and are making adjustments in our lives in an effort to “just get through this”. I know I think harder about spending money and am staying home more rather than traveling the country as I enjoy doing. We currently have a herd of just over 100 Miniature Donkeys so I have quite a few to care for. I worry about that much more than I have in times past. But what if I spend all my time worrying about the “what ifs” and forget to live now? This I will not do! For me, 2009 will be a year of creativity as I seek ways to find value and continue to chase my dreams. Fortunately for me I have a love affair with Miniature Donkeys which makes my dreams possible even now. In the past I have written many articles concerning the business side of raising Miniature Donkeys. While they can still be a sound investment, even in these economic times, that is not what this article is about. This one is about dreams, family, and the simple joy that living with these incredible fuzzy little donkeys can be. I am going to use some friends of mine as example and hope to inspire you so read on!
Six years ago a pickup full of more people than I thought it could hold rolled down my driveway and out poured mom, dad, sisters and a granddaughter. I had expected three people! These folks had come to look at Miniature Donkeys as a possible family pet. The mom was very enthusiastic and was the motivating factor, the others were curious, and the husband was long suffering. He was a good sport but clearly was there for the wife. They had very limited equine experience and knew even less about Miniature Donkeys. Bringing donkeys into your life often has an innocent beginning but can change lives in ways that may surprise their new owners. These newcomers have become good friends. They now own a small breeding herd of about 30 Miniature Donkeys, and the father and one of the daughters recently became National Miniature Donkey Association Performance Champions! This is a high honor indeed but is only a small part of the story. What I find remarkable is the way the donkeys brought this family together.
I have years of horse experience behind me and cannot help but draw comparisons between horses and Miniature Donkeys in terms of cost: purchase price, feed, veterinary care, farrier care, fences, showing….the list goes on. My friends are not moneyed people, and most folks don’t need to end up with thirty donkeys, but think of what that would represent if they were horses! My goodness. The donkeys they started with, and the ones they took to our industry’s highest honors, were not expensive or famous, and in the case of the gelding not quite a Halter Champion but this gelding would walk through fire for his owner/partner and just gives and gives for her. You can see the love in their eyes and I get chills sometimes watching them work together.
My friends took their new donkeys home and one by one the family all fell in love. They would take walks with them in the evenings – husband and wife arm in arm (this is the same husband who used to come home late and leave early). The daughters got involved and even the granddaughter could easily handle the friendly donkeys. They set up a trail course in the front yard and all contributed creative tasks to teach the donkeys using hula hoops, umbrellas, a bridge, tarps, you name it. The donkeys loved the attention and the family played together. When the donkeys were old enough the family took lessons from a local horse trainer and learned about cart driving. Soon they were driving their donkeys all over the property, and in shows, and on it goes. As many of us know Miniature Donkeys are very forgiving of mistakes and are perfect for beginners of all ages – especially children. Even a very young child can handle most donkeys with a little assistance.
They began their show careers with their donkey partners timidly but soon found that donkey people are fun and welcoming. Miniature Donkey shows are low stress compared to the horse shows I have been to and even the donkeys have a good time. Donkey shows are not expensive and the youth classes are wonderful. Think of the hours and hours this family has spent training and learning together. They have traveled many miles to shows and support each other’s efforts. They have made new friends in the donkey community and their lives are richer because of it.
Remember how all this began???? Innocent beginnings….. I am, of course, talking about our 2008 National Champions, and my good friends, Manuel Oliveira and Michelle Pimentel. Manuel won the National Performance Jack distinction with his beautiful black jack BR New Dealer. He bought Dealer as a yearling from us several years ago and I am so proud!!! His daughter Michelle Pimentel won the National Performance Gelding title with Country Place Derek. Manuel and Michelle are the first father and daughter ever to have won this award in the same year! What a statement that makes about family. By the way, Michelle is allergic to her donkey and lives 90 minutes from her family’s ranch where Derek lives. She had absolutely no prior equine experience when the first Benson Ranch donkeys came home and in spite of all this has made the effort to put in the time to train to this level. I live with my donkeys every day and still find it difficult to find the time to work with my as much as I would like to! Manuel works a million hours and yet has made his commitment to Dealer a priority. To the Sierra View Ranch -Manuel and Cathline Oliviera, and Moon Dance Miniatures – Michelle Pimentel, it has never been about competition. Quality time with their donkeys, adventures, education, and excellence are what is important to them. That they have received National recognition is just icing on the cake! Congratulations!!!! Also, thank you Cathline, for having the wisdom to bring donkeys into your family’s lives and setting it all in motion!