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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Donkeys, mules hit the ring

Friday, July 8, 2011

Katrina Fleener reassures Moony, her young miniature donkey jennet, as she gets used to the sights, sounds and smells at the Celebration's Mule and Donkey Show. The show continues through Saturday.
(T-G Photo by Mary Reeves)
The Celebration offered its own sort of "Hee-Haw and Howdy" Wednesday evening as the mule and donkey show exhibitors trotted into town. While Celebration staff grilled burgers and chicken breasts for the visitors, the mules and donkeys themselves provided the sound track with snorts, whinnies and the occasional bray.

"That's why they call 'em mountain canaries," said one old timer, watching a small gray donkey "sing" out.

Great start

The Great Celebration Mule and Donkey Show began its 29th year Thursday morning with more than 200 classes to show the long-eared equines at their best, with approximately $30,000 in prizes and premium money handed out.

"The event has evolved into one of the largest and finest mule and donkey shows held in the United States," said Celebration CEO Doyle Meadows.

Many of the visitors agree, coming from Oklahoma, Maryland, Arkansas, Kentucky and many other states.

"I've been coming five years," said Tanner McCuiston, 9, of Kentucky. "I'm showing in all of the 10 and Under classes."

He couldn't say for sure why he liked mules so much, but he did know one thing. "I win ribbons," he said.

Fun with jennets

There wasn't an elephant in sight at the Celebration Mule and Donkey Show cookout Wednesday night, but some Republicans made it out anyway. State Rep. Pat Marsh, left, and State Sen. Jim Tracy, center, visit with constituent Ron Vannatta near Champions Arena.
(T-G Photo by Mary Reeves)
Katrina Fleener didn't have to travel as far and has come as often, but she was having a good time, too. The Murfreesboro resident was there with Moony, a 1 1/2-year-old miniature donkey jennet.

"We only got into miniature donkeys three years ago," she said. "I was a professional dog trainer -- it wasn't a hard transition to make."

Fleener worked with the tiny spotted donkey, getting the youngster used to crowds and noises, stopping to reassure her when she got nervous and to praise her when she didn't.

"My husband and I visited a farm that had miniature donkeys and we ended up buying two of them," she said. "Then we bought an entire herd out of Texas."

Their herd, now numbering 23, includes new babies and one 20-year-old jennet whose name appears as dam and grand-dam on many champion pedigrees.

"We're showing her this weekend, and I think it's the first time she's ever been shown," said Fleener.

Last year, they were still a little green when it came to mule and donkey shows but they must have gotten the knack of it quickly, since they walked away with a grand championship with 2-year-old jennet Hill Co's Mini Lexus.

Unique background

Don Holland of Oklahoma gives his 2-year-old mule Preacher a chance to stretch his legs before the competition starts at the Celebration's Mule and Donkey show.
(T-G Photo by Mary Reeves)
Miniature donkeys are unique, she said, in that they were not intentionally bred down from smaller specimens for the novelty, as some other miniature breeds have been.

"They all come from two islands, Sardinia and Sicily," said Fleener. "They were being abused and mistreated there and were almost extinct when two men, a stockbroker named Green and one of the Busches from Anheiser-Busch brought them back and started breeding them."

She said all registered miniature donkeys -- which top out at about 300 pounds -- can trace their ancestry back to those Mediterranean islands. Full grown, they can pull carts and carry loads, and make charming pets.

Even though Fleener, who has worked with salukis and whippets in the dog world, still keeps her hand in as an AKC judge, she's no doubt found a new love in her miniature donkeys as well, and the Celebration mule and donkey show is the perfect place to share that feeling with others who understand. Hundreds -- possibly thousands -- of others who understand. And visit and cheer and clap ... and spend.

"Bedford County benefits from over one-half of a million dollars in direct spending from the 3-day mule and donkey extravaganza," said Meadows.

And that's something to bray about.

If you go

The Great Celebration Mule and Donkey Show continues through Saturday at Calsonic Arena. Classes are scheduled throughout the day and evening. Call 684-5915 or visit www.twhnc.com for more information.

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