My good friend Joyce Berghansen wrote the following article which has been published in all the Major Miniature Donkey magazines and the DBS magazine.
Below the article are the show results from both shows I showed at in Tennessee. Keep in mind that in 2006 we took 10 Donkeys to the Hottest place on Earth and thoroughly enjoyed it, even of we were exhausted at the end of it all.
From my two visits to Joyce's ranch and Shelbyville, meeting and talking to all the Top breeders in the US I have learnt much more than I ever could have in England and now apply my knowledge to my own Donkeys feeding, training and preparation for the show ring.
While the Miniature Donkey World here is still well behind the USA I hope in the future we may catch up.
I have started my DBS Judges course which I hope to complete over the next two years and shall be serving on two DBS Committee's in the coming years hoping to put my knowledge to good use outside my own Stud in the future.
Joyce with Wolfheart's Chica
The past couple of years have presented a couple of interesting journeys for Ann French of Arranbrook Miniature Donkeys in Ripon, England and me Joyce BergHansen of WolfHeart Ranch in Seneca, South Carolina. We have shown donkeys for each other in our respective countries. I may be wrong but I believe Ann is the first person from the UK to show Miniature Donkeys in the United States and I believe I am the first American to show Miniature Donkeys in the UK. This was not planned, it just happened.
It all began in 2004, Ann emailed me her congratulations after I had won two NMDA National Championships with my Country Music jennets Wynonna Judd and Loretta Lynn. She had just purchased two Country Music donkeys and was waiting for them to be exported from Texas to England. Having bought a jack and a jennet sight unseen, my success with Country Music donkeys had given her confidence that she had made a good decision to start importing with two Country Music foals, Johnny Paycheck as a potential herd sire and Dixie Nolan as a future brood jennet. Ann now has a large herd consisting of mainly American imports.
Over the next several months Ann and I corresponded regularly, she was always curious about the US breeders and their stock. It is hard to just see pictures of donkeys on the internet. She wanted someone to use as a reference and I was her logical choice. One day I suggested she come to the US and attend The Great Mule and Donkey Celebration in Shelbyville, TN. She would be able to see the best of the best stock, a variety of breeders, and all while developing her eye for quality stock. We both agreed that seeing quantities of donkeys is the best way to develop an eye for conformation. In addition to seeing donkeys and breeders I suggested that she show a couple of my donkeys to get some ring experience. It took some convincing but I prevailed and she agreed to show several of my donkeys in halter.
Ann arrived several days before we had to leave for Shelbyville, so I put her to work, she helped me feed, bathe, clip and shine the donkeys we planned on showing. I felt bad I did not take her sightseeing but she told me all along she was interested in spending her time doing donkey stuff not tourist stuff.
We arrived at Shelbyville the Wednesday before the show. Ann was amazed at the quantity and quality of the Miniature Donkeys at the show. It did not take her long to see the type of donkey she liked the best. She took advantage of her time at the show by talking to every breeder she could about their donkeys, bloodlines, breeding philosophy and just about anything else related to Miniature Donkeys. I was impressed with her appetite for knowledge. She was on a mission to learn all she could while she had the opportunity.
Let me back up, we had a couple of obstacles in preparation for the show. In England their dress attire is completely different from our dress attire. They don’t wear cowboy hats, cowboy boots, or jeans. Luckily, Ann was close to my size so we were able to get her decked out to look like a regular American. Then we had the language barrier, my donkeys did not speak the Queen’s English, they spoke Southern. It took us a while to figure out why they would not walk or trot with her but then we finally figured it out. No kidding they did not understand her accent. So she had to lose her accent when asking them to walk or trot. It was pretty funny hearing her rendition of “trot” with a southern drawl.
I know Ann appreciated the opportunity to participate because she came back in 2006 to do it all again. In 2006, The Celebration Mule and Donkey Show was the NMDA National Show. Our show string of ten donkeys did very well in halter with a NMDA National Champion Jennet award and a NMDA Reserve National Champion Gelding award. Nonetheless, Ann threatened to never return if I decided to bring ten animals again.
Ann had been to the US twice to show so we decided I needed to give the show ring in the UK a whirl. In 2006, I exported my NMDA Champion Jennet, WolfHeart’s CD Chica San Badger to Ann. Chica was the logical choice for me to show in 2007, at The Royal Highland Show in Edinburgh, Scotland. I was up for the challenge. In 2006, Ann had won the highest award of the show, beating out both Standard and Miniature Donkeys. It was a very prestigious win for Ann and Johnny Paycheck.
I arrived at Ann’s a couple of days before the show. It was a nerve racking trip after my flight was cancelled and I had to fly out the following day, not a good way to start out a transatlantic trip. When I arrived it was raining and cold. Chica does not like rain or cold, so I had my work cut out for me to get her shown. Then we had to arrange my attire no cowboy hats or cowboy boots allowed and jeans are banned! So I sported a tweed jacket, dress slacks and English riding boots. Hats are not required but considering it was raining like the devil when we showed I donned a stockman’s hat. I could have passed for a Brit, that was until I opened my mouth or tried to understand the scotch brogue. The Queen’s English was hard enough but the Scottish accent was really tough. Good thing I had Ann there to translate.
The differences in showing on both sides of the pond are interesting. First, Shelbyville, Tennessee in July is the hottest, most humid place on the planet, sweating is not optional, it is miserably hot. The Uk, can be wet and cold or hot and sticky, it rained from the moment I arrived and then it rained some more and then it rained again. I was afraid my feet were growing webs. For the end of June, by my standards it was quite cool, I was glad I packed winter clothes, and two rain coats. I was told the weather was not normally as wet and cold for the time of the year.
Most of the US shows are in covered arenas or coliseums; in the UK they show in grass rings with no cover. It makes sense to me now why they do not body clip the show donkeys in the UK, the weather is far too unpredictable and the chance of cold rain is imminent. Chica had been trimmed several weeks before our show at The Royal Highland and yet she was still cold in the ring. In the US, we almost never enter the ring without a fresh body clip. I will admit to bias on the side of body clipping I think it makes judging the animal easier, but having seen the unclipped donkeys being shown in the UK it was not as difficult seeing the conformation as I thought it might be. The good donkeys rose to the top regardless of shaggy hair. It is hard to hide quality.
Showing outside, rain or shine is not too conducive to all donkeys. My donkey was not accustomed to strutting her stuff in the rain so her cooperation level was not her typical “look at me”; it was more “I’m too wet and cold to trot”. Not that I blame her, she was miserable and she wanted everyone to know she was not having fun. The donkeys native to the UK were equally as unhappy with the cool damp conditions.
Another notable difference is show halters. In the US, a western style halter either leather or biothane decorated with sterling silver buckles and trim is the standard. In the UK, plain leather head collars with no ornamental hardware is standard. In the US, jacks must be shown with a chain under their chin. In the UK, jacks must be shown with a bit in their mouth attached to reins; the head collars also include a caveson and brow band. Jennets in the UK are supposed to have plain head collars with no trim. Jacks in the UK can have a little subtle trim but jennets should have no extra trim on their head collars. When I showed Chica in Scotland I used a biothane halter with silver buckles, silver cheeks bars and a plain noseband. I don’t think she was penalized for the silver trim and I hope we started a trend toward jennets wearing fancier halters in the UK.
The dress code serves the same purpose in both the US and the UK. Exhibitors are encouraged to dress in a manner that presents a professional image. Again, my bias is toward the US Western style; however, the UK English style was quite comfortable and warm.
In the UK at this time there are not enough Miniature Donkeys being shown to warrant their own classes at all the shows so at The Royal Highland we showed with the Standard Donkeys. With the rapidly growing number of Miniature Donkeys in the UK the shows are seeing greater numbers of Miniature Donkeys in attendance. Hopefully it will not be long before the Miniature Donkeys can warrant their own classes. It is a challenge to compete with the Standards because they have always dominated the show ring in the UK. In the US, we are very fortunate to have our own Miniature Donkey classes. It seems the US shows include more halter and performance classes.
The quality of the Standard Donkeys in the UK was impressive. They were considerably better than most I have seen shown in the US. I attribute that to the fact the UK has more Standard Donkeys in the show ring than the US. They had fantastic overall conformation, including straight legs, nice round rumps and pretty heads. It was great to see such nice Standards. The Miniatures seem to be much less uniform in size and type. My theory is the Miniature Donkeys have not had enough time to develop their type in the UK. Most breeders in the US that show would agree that the quality of animals in the US show ring gets better every year. That is the result of many years of careful breeding. The UK lags behind due to the limited number of animals available for breeding.
The last notable difference is the method in which the donkeys are evaluated by the judge, In the Uk, the judge requests you walk your animal toward them and then trot away. In addition, exhibitors circle the pen on the rail individually and as a group. The judge then examines each animal standing in line. The feet are picked up, teeth are checked and the judge may run their hands over the neck, loin and hip. The judge will ask you the age as well. In the US, we walk to the judge and trot away into a head to tail column, once all donkeys have entered the ring the judge then evaluates each animal while standing. The teeth are checked but feet are not examined. The US has many age distinctions in our classes so the judge does not need to ask the age of the animal.
At The Royal Highland Show, Ann won her class with Johnny Paycheck and stood Reserve Champion Male, Chica and I were third in the same class Ann won and we stood Reserve Champion Female, I know it does not make sense to my fellow US show folk but it is possible to win a Reserve Championship in the UK while standing third. In the US, the only animals eligible for a Grand or Reserve Championship must have won first or second in their class.
In conclusion, despite heat, humidity, rain or cold showing donkeys is fun no matter what the conditions. Most importantly, outstanding donkeys, standard or miniature rise to the top no matter which side of the pond you are showing on.