Mini donkey contest kicks off Field Days

NEW HAVEN — As the sun shone down on the opening day of the 2017 Addison County Fair & Field Days, several miniatures donkeys earned class titles and one became overall champion. But ascertaining which deserved the crown was not as easy as it might seem.
“It’s a lot harder (to judge) donkeys because when they get into their stubborn or scared streak they don’t always walk as straight as they normally would,” said Kathy Kennett, this year’s judge.
Kennett explained that she looks at how well these half-pint equines are put together, how well they’re built, their “conformation” to the standards of the breed.
More than two dozen miniature donkeys and mules competed on Tuesday in the fair’s annual Miniature Donkey & Mule Show. This year’s show featured a number of competitions, including a coon jumping challenge and Best of Breed.
In order to compete for Best of Breed, a mini donkey or mule must place either first or second in their class. There were nine classes in total, ranging from miniature donkey foals that are six to 12 months old, to jacks (male) and jennets (female) more than 36 months old. There was also a class for castrated donkeys, referred to as geldings, more than 12 months old.
This year’s grand champion was Shalimar, a 17-year-old jack from Saylorsburg, Pa.
“We’ve been showing him since he was probably two,” said Jim Halterman, Shalimar’s owner and handler. “We’ve done every kind of competition with him so he’s had years and years of experience.”
The second-place finisher was Faith, a miniature donkey from Butternut Ridge Farm in Peru, N.Y. Faith won the grand prize at last year’s Field Days.
“She’s been with me since birth,” said Ken Besaw, her handler. “My wife (Holly) is very good with animals, she trains very well and she can teach them to do just about anything.
In fact, it was Holly Besaw who handled Copper, another one of their miniature donkeys, who won the show’s coon jumping competition.
As the name suggests, coon jumping consists of a donkey or mule having to leap over a wood beam. The challenge is comprised of several rounds, with each round featuring a higher beam. If a donkey knocks over the beam, it is eliminated.
By the time the final round came, the beam was more than 30 inches above the ground. That’s remarkable given that an average mini donkey is only 30 inches tall. After the other competitors were unable to clear the beam, Copper was declared the winner.
“I have a jump at home that we hand made,” Holly Besaw said. “When we started, I’d throw a treat and he’d jump over to get the treat.”
“Some year’s he’s good and some years he’ll knock the wood over,” she added with a laugh.
In addition to competing at miniature donkey shows, Copper and Faith are also therapy donkeys. The Besaws run a program called Thera-Pets, where they bring miniature donkeys into nursing homes, schools and other places where people with disabilities may benefit from spending some time with the animals. Their farm, Kickin’ Up Dust, houses several therapy donkeys that come from Butternut Ridge Farm.
“Just pet her for a minute and you can tell, it physically slows the heart rate for you. It brings your anxiety levels down,” Ken Besaw said. “They’re fantastic with people. They’re so calm, so collected, and they watch where they walk — they’re really careful. They go right up to wheelchairs, to bedsides. Most of the elderly grew up on farms and there’s just a real connection there.”
Marshlyn Reed of Addison can’t remember the year in which she founded the fair’s Miniature Donkey & Mule Show.
“It was probably over 20 years ago,” she said. “It was a long time ago. Of course, I never pay much attention to dates anyway. We just keep doing it.”
At Tuesday’s show, attendees honored Reed with a plaque thanking her for her years of devotion and dedication to the show.
“It is with appreciation that all of us who have participated in this great show acknowledge the love, passion, and joy for miniature donkeys and mules that you have so freely and generously shared,” reads the plaque.
Reed, now retired, served as the show’s first manager, and has raised miniature donkeys herself for more than 30 years. The impetus for starting the show, Reed said, was to teach folks about these animals.
“I thought, you know, we need to get these donkeys out so people can know what nice animals they are,” she said. “Over the years, people have responded quite well.”
Her passion for educating people about miniature donkeys is something she shares with Ken Besaw. In addition to his farm’s animal therapy programs, he also brings mules and mini donkeys into schools to teach children about the animals.
“We try to get rid of all the myths that they’re stubborn or ornery,” he said. “At times they can be, but that’s no different than any other animal.”
If the joyous crowd at this past Tuesday’s show can serve as an indication, it seems as though folks are starting to agree. 

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