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The Donkey Show, Part 2

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Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Donkey Show, Part 2

Did you read The Donkey Show, Part 1?  If not, I'll save you the trouble with this quick synopsis:

I had a few half-wild miniature donkeys sitting around and thought it would be fun to take them to a donkey show at the State Fair of Texas, thinking that because I had experience showing horses, donkeys would be a piece of cake (Do you know donkeys? Do you know horses?  Or, do you just realize how ridiculous that sounds?  Go ahead...laugh!).

And that brings us to Show Day.

Charles and I arrived at the showgrounds nice and early.  I had a lot of work to do to get these guys ready for their big debut.

I would be showing the donkeys in several classes - I'll break it down here so it hopefully makes sense.

Roxy and Donkey would each be shown in a "halter" class - this is a competition judged on manners and conformation, in which the donkeys compete against similar donkeys (for example, Roxy was a baby and would be competing in the Yearling class, against other donkeys who were all roughly a year-old, and Donkey was a "jack," meaning he had not been castrated, so he would be competing in a class against other jacks).

After the halter classes, they would be shown in performance classes.  A performance class requires some sort of skill and the donkey is judged against other donkeys on their ability to perform said skill with precision and obedience.  Some classes include riding, pulling a cart, log-pulling, or in our case, obstacles. Because the donkeys were too small to ride, the class was called Trail in Hand - meaning I would theoretically lead them through a course of obstacles they might encounter in a "trail"-like environment (crossing a bridge, walking over poles, etc.).

I took both donkeys out of their stalls and groomed them (pretty easy when they are 34" tall and have no hair, even if they were not as cooperative as I would have liked).  And then, I polished their hooves.

Hoof polish is like nail polish.  Only, it dries in a matter of seconds and doesn't come off.  Ever.  It's made to stay on the hooves of a very large animal that drags those very polished hooves through sand, and it does its job well.  I'm guessing it's made from some Super Chemical that is outlawed for human use, because I could only wish my nail polish had this staying power.

Whether or not hoof polish is used depends on the type of show you are attending, and in the case of the donkeys, hoof polish was a must!

This particular type of hoof polish is applied with a spongy brush.  You simply dip it in the polish, run the brush around the top of the donkey's hoof, and watch as it spreads down over the hoof, drying almost immediately.  This should have been the easiest part of the day.  But instead, it ended up sending me into a tizzy.

It turned out Donkey was ticklish.  And every time that little brush would even lightly glance against the long hairs right above his hoof (which I clearly neglected to see when I was clipping him...), he would stomp his foot.

The first time he did this, he bumped the brush and black polish splattered onto my hand and all over the concrete floor of the barn aisle (which was marked with rings of black paint from all the hooves that had been painted before us on the same surface).  So, I got smart and told Charles to pick up a hoof and hold it while I polished the other three, knowing that he couldn't stomp his feet if one was already off the ground, right?

Right!  He couldn't stomp his feet!  But he COULD REAR.  And rear he did, straight up into the sky, hitting the brush and splattering polish ALL OVER HIS WHITE BELLY, my shirt, and knocking the bottle over onto the ground.

I said a bad word.  I picked up the now mostly-empty bottle and said another bad word.  Donkey eyeballed me out of the corner of his eye.  He now realized the polish smelled funny and was 100% sure he was not going to participate in this ridiculousness from this point forward.  And he had black paint all over his belly.

The plan changed.  Before I could finish painting his feet (and oh, yes, I would be painting those feet!), I first had to remove the paint from his stomach.

Of course, it had already dried.  And no amount of water/brushing/soap/scraping would remove even a smidge of this dastardly polish.

So, to the tack store (a place that sells horse equipment) we went.  Because I happen to know that hoof polish remover exists.

But you know what?  They didn't have any.  And the clock was ticking.  It was getting closer and closer to showtime, and all those thoughts I'd had about just having fun were nowhere to be found.  I wanted my donkey to look good, dammit.

And this, my friends, is where Charles shines.  When I am a panicky mess, he is a rock,  He told me to get myself ready and that he would fix this problem, and off he went.  Where to, I have no idea.  But I trusted him, and quickly changed into clean clothes and braided my own mane and found my hat.

I should tell you now how someone is supposed to dress for a donkey show.

The proper attire includes western pants (plain old denim need not apply!), a nice shirt, a sports coat, boots and a hat.  The look is polished, simple, and professional.

It does not include jeans and a hokey button-up western shirt...which is exactly what I had worn.  I knew the required attire, but if you hadn't noticed, I left my "A" game at home.  I wasn't sure if I would continue showing donkeys or not, and the show had been expensive enough as it I made the decision to save some money and just wear what I already had with the exception of a few things I needed to purchase.  This was all fine and dandy, except I stood out like a sore thumb (as if I needed anything else to make us stand out at this point).

So there I was, wearing boots a half-size too large because they were the only ones I was able to find in my price range and a hat that didn't quite fit right because I couldn't justify the expense of a nice hat, holding a donkey who was wearing a cheap halter I'd bought off of eBay with a bunch of holes punched in it to make it fit and who had one painted hoof and a belly covered in black paint, waiting for Charles to magically save the day.

And like a beacon of light at the end of a dark tunnel, Charles appeared...armed with a can of...WD-40?

Apparently he had asked everyone who would listen how to remove hoof polish and finally...FINALLY...someone had an answer.  Just put a little WD-40 on a rag, apply to the offending polish, and VOILA...polish is removed.  Just.  Like.  That.

A few minutes of spot-cleaning and sneaky polish application later (maybe with a little help from a couple of capable bystanders), Donkey had sparkling black hooves and not even a hint of polish elsewhere.

He was ready.  I was ready.  To the warm-up area, we went.

Now, this is where things go from not-very-good to much, much worse.

Donkey rebelled.

He didn't want to go to the show anymore.  He started rearing.  Balking.  Striking out at me with his little front hooves.  Rearing and striking at the same time, even.  He quit, and we hadn't even started yet!

All of the other donkeys waited patiently, swishing their little tails in annoyance while their well-dressed handlers deftly maneuvered them out of our way as Donkey unleashed his fury.  Some of the donkeys gave him the stink eye (who did he think he was, anyway) and others ignored him completely.  The handlers, owners and spectators all watched quietly and many made sympathetic faces when I told them - between rears - that it was his first show.

And then it was our time to enter the arena.

There were seventeen people there to cheer us on.  SEVENTEEN.  For some perspective, there were probably about twenty people in the entire audience, and this included the seventeen from our Pep Squad.

And these seventeen spectators we brought?  They.  Were.  Loud.

As the other donkeys filed into the arena, my cheering section was already cheering for me - and we were still in the warm-up area, because Donkey didn't *want* to enter the show arena.  He reared, he backed up, he nearly ripped the lead rope from my hands...and then he burst forward, dragging me into the arena, much to the delight of the roaring crowd.

And so it went for the next ten minutes or so.  The other handlers put their donkeys through their paces.  I was lucky to have Donkey stand in one spot.  I believe the saying "full of piss and vinegar" would accurately describe Donkey's demeanor at that time.

It was no surprise when they called out the results, from last to first, and we were the first ones called.  Despite our last place finish, we still got a ribbon (this is the benefit to only having three other donkeys in the class!), and this brought great satisfaction to my cheering section, which was having great fun at my expense and growing rowdier by the second (and the louder they got, the less cooperative donkey became).

Two things about this picture.  First, do you see the judge standing there watching us?  She's dressed the way I was *supposed* to be dressed.  Secondly, do you see how donkeys feet are all splayed out?  Yeah, they weren't supposed to be like that.  But they do look shiny and black, don't they?

So as you can imagine, I didn't have much hope for Roxy's halter class.  Especially because it was the most competitive class of the day, with sixteen donkeys entered!  The *only* thing we had going for us was that because it was full of young donkeys, the judge was lenient towards their juvenile behavior.  It was easy enough to pretend that Roxy was well-trained and just acting like a baby rather than just being wild.

But I dragged Roxy into the arena (she didn't seem interested in participating, either), I was kind of ready for the day to be over, already.

We went through the paces as well as we could.  There was some rearing, some bucking, some balking.  The usual young donkey fare.  There were a lot of donkeys and many misbehaved, and it took a long time to get through the class.  Roxy and I were both over it.

It seemed like this class would never end.  The judge walked up and down the rows of donkeys, stopping here and there to inspect one more closely.  She stared at Roxy for what seemed like an extraordinarily long time, and I thought to myself it was a kind gesture (judges will often know their top horses/donkeys from the moment they walk into the arena, and if you are being inspected closely, it likely means you are being considered for a prize).  I was pretty sure she felt sorry for us and wanted to make me think she liked us, but I could see what we were up against!  Fancy, well-bred donkeys who arrived in expensive trailers and had several generations of winning show donkeys in their bloodlines.  I was under no false impression that we were going to be competitive.

When the judge handed the final results to the announcer I stood up and breathed a sigh of relief.  My knees hurt from all the squatting, and I was starting to get sweaty as the day warmed up.

After some discussion between the announcer and the judge, the results were read.

"In sixth place," he announced, to an arena of complete silence (every one of my cheering squad was on the edge of their seats!), "is Short n' Sweet Roxy!"

O-M-G.  I looked up in shock.  It!

The crowd WENT WILD.  They were screaming, stomping their feet, general spooking every single donkey within hearing distance.  Even the other competitors were cheering (it was pretty obvious it was our first show, and everyone was very supportive), as their own donkeys danced around their legs in response to the sudden outburst from the audience.

I gave Roxy a tug and headed towards the exit, the other competitors congratulating me as we walked out, a giant smile pasted on my face.

In fact, it was so loud that I could barely hear the announcer trying to gain control of the crowd and be heard above the melee.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry!"  he was saying.  The crowd hushed.

"Sixth place actually goes to Little Donk, owned by..." but I didn't hear the rest.  I only heard enough to understand that we hadn't received sixth place after all.

The announcer had made a mistake.

There was a collective groan throughout the warm-up arena, the bleachers and the show arena as everyone realized what had happened.

Embarrassed, the announcer apologized again as we re-entered the arena, red-faced me dragging one reluctant little donkey as I looked at the cheering squad and shrugged.

We had barely returned to our place when the announced said, "FIFTH place goes to Short n' Sweet Roxy!" and if I thought it had been loud the first time, I was in for a surprise because they were even louder the second go-round...they brought the house down.

We walked out of the arena with our heads high to what pretty much equaled a standing ovation.

Roxy's owners were excited, her breeders were excited, our Pep Squad was excited, the casual observers who had witnessed my embarrassment were excited, and maybe most of all - I was excited.

Fifth place out of sixteen was not a bad showing at all, especially considering our company, my half-ass (hehe!) preparation, and the drama leading up to the Big Win.  It was a good day for Donkey Showing.

I'll be honest, it could only go downhill from there.  And downhill it went, fast.

We had two more events, remember?  Performance classes, that required actual...performance...from these disagreeable little donkeys.

Well, we never actually got a chance to perform.

Both donkeys were disqualified before even getting over the first obstacle.  Donkey refused to even enter the arena, letting me know loud and clear that his days as a show donkey were over.  Roxy entered the arena (high off her win, maybe?) and promptly planted her little hooves in one spot and refused to move forward.  At all.

But I was okay with that.  The little fifth place ribbon we had won earlier more than made up for the failures of the day.

And this was the show that kept on giving.

Several weeks later, after the excitement had worn off and I had decided to shelve donkey showing indefinitely, I received something in the mail from the State Fair of Texas.

It was a check. For $10.  Which, for the record, is about $390 less than we spent on attending the show, but that's beside the point.

It remains the one and only time I have ever won actual money from a horse (donkey) show.

That check has yet to be cashed.  In fact, Charles recently looked up my name at a website for unclaimed money and found that I had $10 from the State Fair of Texas waiting for me.  Maybe one of these days I'll cash in - but for now, that unclaimed money serves as a reminder of the time I decided to enter a donkey show with two nearly-wild miniature donkeys.  And that, my friends, is priceless.

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