For an upfront look at some friendly critters you may not know a whole lot about, check out the Alberta Donkey & Mule Club-hosted Alberta Long Ears event in Stettler Aug. 10th-11th on the ag grounds.
“Our Club was established in 1989, and it’s an offshoot of the Canadian Donkey & Mule Club,” said Russ Shandro, who is based in Vegreville and serves as president of the Club.
The Club’s purpose?
“To positively promote and protect the well being of donkeys and mules; organize promotional shows and competitions, organize regional and national clinics and meetings, promote public education in the use, appreciation and management of donkeys and mules and promote the value of donkeys and mules as useful animals,” noted their web site.
Shandro recently dropped by Stettler to give locals a sample of what’s to come in the upcoming show.
“We rode down Main Street just to show people some of the diversity,” he said. “They stopped us, they were polite – they obliged us riding down the street and everyone, except one lady, recognized that it was a mule because of the ears,” he said.
“One guy came flying out of a restaurant and said, ‘That’s a mule! You know, I had mules 10 years ago! What are you guys doing in town?’
“I said, we are having a mule show August 10th and 11th. It just perked him right up, and he was pretty excited. So I think we perked up a few people when we rode down the street,” he added with a laugh.
They also visited Heart Haven Lodge, as Shandro works in a seniors facility back home and he brings his mules by occasionally for a visit.
“I asked them if they could have a few vegetables or apple slices for the residents to feed the animals,” he explained. “That went over really well. One lady walked up and said, ‘You know what? I’m 87 years old and I could ride your mule!’
“She flew onto that saddle like she’d been doing so five times a day for years. She took for a loop around the parking lot and then back up onto the grass.”
They also dropped by Willow Creek Lodge and the response was every bit as enthusiastic.
“They were petting them and feeding them apple slices – and everybody had a story about growing up on a farm,” he said.
As to the show, Shandro said it will include a regular equine show with a variety of classes from English Riding to Halter.
“It’s like what you would see at a regular horse show, except this is a mule and donkey show,” he said.
“And then mixed in with that, we also have driving classes. So it will be just like going to a regular horse show in small town Alberta!”
There will also be a few games like relay races and carrot eating contests. “What we also mix in there is a ‘mules against the donkeys’ segment. It’s a pro-rated event. We take measurements off of the animals, and we see how high they can jump and how big their steps are.
“We do a comparison, and it gets a little competitive with the mules against the donkeys. It also showcases the animals. People will see these animals perform in ways they have never witnessed before.”
In the meantime, part of the Club’s mandate is to clear up misunderstandings.
“People have a hard time with mules and donkeys, and the simplest answer to that is that they don’t understand them,” explained Shandro. “Training a horse, a mule or a donkey – there is a substantial difference.
“The majority of people in North America are also three, four or five generations removed from a farm (life),” he added.
With that in mind, it’s time to change the narrative, he pointed out. Donkeys in particular can get a pretty bad rap as being portrayed as always stubborn and uncooperative.
“Our goal at the show is to introduce people who haven’t seen mules or donkeys perform to be able to see what they can actually do,” he said.
“They are going to witness some exceptionally well-trained mules and donkeys. They are also going to witness some classes unlike what they have ever seen at a horse show before as well. Not just because the animals are a different hybrid or species, but also because we do things a little differently.”
Most of all, it promises to be lots of fun for everyone who pops in – full of laughter, camaraderie and goodwill that will be generously shared through the event.
“It’s a little bit competitive, there’s a little bit of gamesmanship, too. And it’s a bit of a get-together and a social blended into one,” he said.
“It’s light-hearted – nobody gets too serious about anything.”
For more, check out www.albertadonkeyandmule.ca.