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How a Texas Hill Country family falls in love with mini donkeys

Dancing With Don

Appeared in the July 2004 issue of Asset Magazine

Asset Magazine - Herd Sire Issue

Ten-year old Tyler didn't know it, but he had the Middle Child Syndrome. Big sister won awards at piano recitals. Younger brother Timothy played violin by ear and baby brother Caleb was a natural athlete. He had already spent several years on the sidelines, cheering for his siblings, while we, his parents, wondered how best to encourage him to develop his own gifts. How could we combine his love for the outdoors, his sensitivity to animals and his interest in science into an activity that would fit our family lifestyle? Maybe the answer had something to do with the vision we cherished of raising our family in the country - learning lessons from nature, not Nintendo. Finally, after 12 years in suburbia, we took a leap into the unknown and with great trepidation moved to the Texas Hill Country.

Then, quite unexpectedly, we met a Miniature Donkey, in fact, a whole herd! - grazing on the acreage we were considering for purchase. Every time we visited the property, they trotted alongside, nudging us gently for attention. An idea began to develop...

A year and a half, and thousands of Texas highway miles later, we discovered that there are lots of foals to be bought, but few mature show animals. Too much is invested in these donkeys for owners to part easily with them. For months we toured Texas miniature donkey ranches without a prospect. We finally got our big chance, however, at Itsy Bitsy Burro Company. Jerry and Tonnie Willrich gave us the privilege of purchasing a handsome 3 yr.-old gelding, Lorando, for Tyler and a gorgeous 2 yr.-old black and white spotted jennet, Dottie, for our daughter Lindsey. (Lorando was later nicknamed "Don" Lorando) After several days of prayer, we took the plunge into miniature donkey-dom, confident that we were ready at last to begin this new family adventure.

Proud and excited, we drove to LaGrange to pick up the newest additions to our family. We left, Tyler showing Lorandounsuspecting that the ride home would be a turning point in more ways than one. You see, in just two hours of trailering, Don became utterly and completely bonded to Dottie. And we, unknowingly, exacerbated the situation, by pasturing just the two of them together. At first, his devotion seemed cute, but as we had to separate them for training, he began to act out his frustrations with anxious and agitated behaviors: pacing, pawing, braying, even refusing to eat. Confused by the sudden change in his temperament, we sought advice. Several experienced breeders agreed on the diagnosis: "Separation Anxiety, Insecurity Issues." So, Don Lorando had developed a complex?! Come on, this is a donkey, we're talking about! Dumbfounded, we had to agree that the symptoms and circumstances did seem to indicate an extreme attachment to Dottie. If nothing else, we had to admire his loyalty!

Not one to accept defeat easily, Tyler persisted to work daily teaching his lovesick donkey manners and obedience through distractions, behavior modification, and even bribes! He made lots of progress, but we were all still skeptical about Lorando's readiness to compete without Dottie at his side. Could he overcome this most serious case of unrequited love and his desperation to be in her presence? With reservations, we submitted our registration to the Belton Donkey and Mule Show and the Texas State Fair.

The closer the time came to show the less confident we felt. We were overwhelmed with details: from purchasing grooming supplies and halters to shopping for our first trailer. Jenny, our trainer, had her hands full teaching us how to teach the donkeys. What a learning curve! Now only a week before the first show, Matt had to go out-of-town on business. Teaching outside classes, show preparations, homeschooling four children and overseeing our new ranch had me under a very big pile. Our budget was stretched and our energy sapped. I had serious doubts over the wisdom of taking on such a big project. Was it worth all the shopping, hassles, phone calls, time and money? Should we abandon the whole thing as a failed experiment?

Yet, we had prayed so earnestly for guidance and it had seemed as if we had received confirmation when God had opened so many extraordinary "windows" of opportunity. Veteran breeders patiently e-mailed us with answers to all our concerns. Nana volunteered to baby-sit our children so we could attend a first-class 3-day Miniature Donkey Expo. Jerry Willrich offered to do a mini-clinic on showmanship. Jenny Allen, a professional trainer (only a mile from our door) coached us even though she no longer gave lessons! Even our equipment and clothing seemed to be heaven-sent. We found boots on sale and my friend, Gwen, called to say she'd seen a show blouse for Lindsey on a clearance rack an hour's drive away (well worth the trip since there was nothing in teen sizes in all of Austin). Tonnie Willrich, also offered us three beautiful leather show halters at a discount and our trainer loaned us everything else we still lacked. The last and biggest hurdle was overcome when the trailer arrived (one week before the show) after having been back-ordered for six months! Finally, Jenny offered to clip our gelding, sparing Matt hours of moonlight "quality" time with the restless Lorando. Surely, all these provisions were reassurance that we were on the right path.

But, Oh Ye of Little Faith! Just like the Israelites who had had all their needs provided for in the wilderness; we, too, faltered at the first trial. The stifling heat, combined with a rebellious donkey, just about did us in at Belton. We had hoped to build our son's confidence; instead, Tyler was consistently humiliated as he "wrestled" a dancing Lorando in every class before a crowd of spectators. While all the other donkeys stood still as statues, we helplessly watched a frustrated Tyler complete another "circle" with Lorando. We felt as if we had failed him. Maybe we just weren't cut out for training animals. Were we fooling ourselves in hoping that we could adopt a country lifestyle and compete with folks who had been in the business of working with equines ever since they could walk? Maybe it was too late in the game for us to start all over.

Lindsey showing DottieAfter another week of indecision, Jenny came to the rescue. Within 2 hours, we saw significant progress in Don's "separation anxiety." A glimmer of hope! On to the State Fair! Tyler had the idea to enter him in different types of events (like leadline obstacle) so Lorando wouldn't be under so much pressure to stand still. (If you can't beat 'em, join 'em). Don Foust suggested we come to Fun Night to work the donkeys without the stress of performing for a judge. The whole family participated and we finally began to see the benefits of the children handling these delightful animals. They were as proud of their donkeys as we were of them. Tyler won ribbons in the tunnel and boot races and was finally having fun! We were thrilled to discover, too, that Don Lorando was a natural jumper and excelled in racing. So, our "Dancing Don" could do something, after all.

Saturday, we began our preparations with optimism. Cheerfully we cleaned stalls, exercised donkeys and organized tack. By late afternoon, we decided to take a break to watch an IMAX film as my head cold was getting the best of me. Afterwards, Matt offered to retrieve the truck parked on the opposite side of the fairgrounds. A big football game at the Cotton Bowl between Gramling and Prairie View intervened however, and after 1 hr. of watching traffic back up, we despaired of ever seeing Matt again! It was dark. Rowdy teens were shouting at us out of their car windows. I was aching and coughing. It was two hours past dinner-time and I had four children stranded on a street corner in downtown Dallas. Again, "What are we doing?" "This is crazy". (Doubt, Doubt) Matt finally rescued us, pizza in hand, and got me back to the motel recliner and my Tylenol. But, our adventure had cost us almost 3 hours and we still had donkeys to bathe. (You call this fun?) Despite the lateness of the hour though, Matt and the older kids enjoyed their midnight workout back in the arena with no one but a friendly security guard to keep them company. Even "Don" Lorando cooperated in good spirits as they put him through his paces.

Come morning, it was SHOWTIME. Everyone was recovered and ready to go, guessed it...Lorando! As soon as Lindsey left to trot Dottie into the arena, he threw a big fit: rearing, nipping and pacing. Remembering the embarrassment of the previous weekend, Matt and Tyler decided to "scratch" Lorando. But, being somewhat stubborn myself, I protested. Could I show him instead? What did I have to lose? (I didn't even have a reputation) If by some miracle Lorando behaved himself, well, that would encourage Tyler to keep working with him. And, then, if I failed "gracefully", maybe Tyler would also be less concerned about what other people thought of him. Besides, Pete Christian had just reminded me, "If you come to a dance, then you might as well dance!" Well, Lorando could certainly do that!

Taking a deep breath and repeating a silent prayer, I trotted past the judge-ready for mud on my face. Taking position, I could feel Lorando tense up in that "I'm about to lose it" posture, but I kept talking to him, begging him to behave himself, "only five more minutes Don, then you can go back to Dottie. Please don't disappoint Tyler, Don. You can do it. Please be still..." While everyone else was setting up: working back and forth, squaring legs, tickling tummies, massaging withers, jingling stud chains, realigning balance, and coaxing ears forward-I was afraid to move a muscle for fear of losing control of him. Terrified of releasing the tension on his lead chain, I didn't even attempt to set him up! As expected, he began his usual impatient gyrations, dancing forward a few steps, then back again only to repeat the same pattern. I was so nervous that during one of my "circles" to get him back in line with the other donkeys, I faced the wrong direction. Ms. Hilliard of Stock Market Donkeys whispered to me from the stands. Thanks again, Barb! But, Tyler was there at the railing, too, cheering me on.

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think..." (Ephesians 3:20)

Like Jesus' parable of the Persistent Widow, I felt convinced God would honor our determination; but I was totally unprepared for what happened next. At the peak of my anxiety, I heard my number called. "Was I being dismissed for having such a naughty donkey?" I heard someone in the stands shout, "That means ,'Go Get Your Ribbon!'" In shock and surprise, I took the Blue Ribbon offered me. While surrounded by hearty congratulations, I heard the next class announced: "Youth Halter." I called to Tyler, "You're going in there!" " I don't have my hat, Mom-I thought I wasn't showing." (His number is called again) "Yes, you are! Here..." (I put my hat on his head--several sizes too big) He follows his sister (with the "beloved Dottie") into the ring and another miracle occurs. Lorando, with the object of his affection still in sight, is perfectly still! Remembering all his trainer's instructions, Tyler works his heart out, setting Lorando up, stroking and reassuring him-all the while grinning from ear to ear. His donkey is responding to him! Then the best present of all: A first place ribbon for Tyler, too!! And, the victory all the much sweeter because of the trials. God knew all along how this would play out. Why had I doubted that he wanted to give my son a "good gift"?

The rest of the day was wonderful fun with tunnel races and musical chairs and knowing that "with God nothing is impossible."

We are looking forward now to the future with expectations and hopes of seeing children grow in faith and confidence that "He who has begun a good work (in them) will complete it..." (Phil 1:6) And that they need not grow weary of doing good, for in due season they would reap good fruit if they do not lose heart. (Gal. 6:9) The real reward is in a job well done and in seeing an animal (or a child) you've loved and nurtured grow to his/her fullest potential. I'm sure we will have many more obstacles (literally and figuratively!) to overcome in training our donkeys, especially Lorando, but at least now we have hope that all is not in vain. We've learned a valuable lesson in perseverance this weekend that hopefully will help us to be better losers as well as winners.

Koby Schooler of Frontier Legends reiterated this principle when he too, charged the children afterwards to "never give up." He encouraged them by stressing that the right heart attitudes result from caring about the animals and doing your best. The Cawthons of Celebraytion Acres also, realigned our priorities by reminding us to keep it "fun"-even when your donkey just left a blackened hoof print on your show boots! (Ask Matt and Stuart about that)

Our family really felt blessed by the graciousness and friendliness of so many folks. We are so very grateful to breeders who are willing to sacrifice their time, energy and resources to give young people a chance to personally succeed while promoting this wonderful and under-recognized breed. We felt in "good company" with the Miniature Donkey Community and hope we can, likewise, return the kindness shown us to others. We now realize that this kind of investment can reap eternal dividends. Maybe even by sharing this small victory, we might motivate someone else who may be struggling with discouragement. Help may be just a prayer away.

"...And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our heart..." (Romans 5:3-5)

Postscript: The Carlson Family just returned to the show ring after a 2 - year absence while building their home, StraightArrows Ranch, in Dripping Springs, Texas. "Don" Lorando is still dancing and winning ribbons for Tyler. He is currently training to drive. Dottie, meanwhile, has found another boyfriend in Itsy Bitsy Burro's Jet Pilot. She is expecting her first foal in 2004. Loyal Lorando has adjusted his attitude in her absence and become buddies with their newest little jack, Itsy Bitsy Burro Company's Starring Attraction.



Rx: Prescription Donkey Therapy

June 2004

"Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." (Matt 11: 28-29)

You've tried everything (almost): prescription drugs, vitamins, psychoanalysis, diets, exercise programs, yoga, transcendental meditation and still you feel depressed and worried. But, have you tried...Donkey Therapy??!! This highly acclaimed and innovative treatment is 100% effective for all types of stress, anxiety and fatigue-related syndromes.

How Treatment Works

Borrow or purchase one very miniature donkey. Sit on an old bucket. Wait about 10 seconds for the donkey to trot over expectantly and to "hug" your neck donkey-style, resting his head on your shoulder. RELAX. Now take a good look at his comical countenance. Notice his rather humble bearing, big brown eyes and disproportionately long ears. What about that big toothy grin? He doesn't take himself too seriously. Neither should you.

Now that you have a better perspective, tell him all your problems while you absentmindedly scratch the backside he just offered you. When there's nothing left to tell and he's finished nibbling on your shoelaces,

take a deep sigh and rest your elbows on the donkey's back (see example). Rest your chin. Survey the peaceful scene before you, seeing the landscape from your donkey's viewpoint. (Life's a lot simpler that way).

Try leaning on your little friend as a pillow or back-rest as you close your eyes and enjoy a quiet daydream. What a calm and patient support he is! - able to bear a burden many times his weight. Shouldn't you transfer the "weight of the world" off your shoulders to the One who made him?

Child leaning on mini donkey forgetting the day's worries
Now, test his loyalty by moving your seat. He won't disappoint you, but will follow you dutifully to your new corner of the pasture. His creator, likewise, says, "I will never leave you nor forsake you."

Next, count your blessings and remember the Lord God that "made them all: creatures great and creatures small." Stretch and pet your friend playfully behind his ears while telling him, "Good Donkey." When he looks up at you gratefully, smile at him in return. Feeling better? Not so alone?

Spend at least 10 more minutes watching your wooly friend chase a grasshopper, toss a bucket in the air, and kick up his heels in delight at being alive. Laugh as he "hee haws" back at you. Then, take a deep breath, brush off the dust and straw before returning to "reality" with a fresh attitude.

But, next time you get overwhelmed, remember your donkey retreat and that The Lord Jesus and his long-eared "paramedics" are available to help you anytime!

"When Jesus heard that, He said to them, 'Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice.' For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.'"

"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble." (Psalm 46:1)

NOTE: Treatment can be addictive, but can be repeated safely as often as necessary.


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ABOUG THIS WEBSITE: Straight Arrows Ranch breeds sweet, affectionate miniature donkeys for sale in the Hill Country area of Texas. Our top quality, pedigree studs are bred by matt carlson and sherri carlson. We specialize in award winning, show quality sicilian donkeys, mediterranean donkeys, jacks, jack, jennets, jennet, jennies, jenny, jennys, geldings, gelding. From the time our mini donkeys are foals, yearlings, weanlings, we train them to make the perfect pet for any family. ADDITIONAL KEYWORDS FOR THIS PAGE ARE: retreat, gentle friends, asset magazine, dancing with don, rx: prescription donkey therapy, gelding, mini donkey, donkey, donky, miniature donkey for sale, miniature donkey texas, donkies, breeder, breeders, breeding, texas, tx, straight arrows ranch, straight arrow ranch, stud, stud service, farm, farms, austin, dripping springs, hill country, burro, burros, , straightarrows ranch, straightarrow ranch, straight arrows, burro breeding, herd sires, herdires, jacks, jack, jennets, jennet, jennies, jenny, jennys, geldings, gelding, pedigree, awards, hill country texas, hill country tx, sardinian, christ, small, little, ranch, ranches, premiere edition, itsy bitsy burro, foal, yearling, weanling, sire, dam, brood, foals, babies, weanlings, yearlings, for sale, registered, champion, conformation, socialized, trained, reserve, model, black, spot, spotted, spots, sorrel, darks, pets, pet donkey, equine, animals, mule, mules,and long ears.