Smart as a Donkey
AssN9 Ranch’s title-winning miniature Mediterranean donkeys prove
the stereotypes wrong
By Lauren Cavagnolo
Stubborn, stupid, lazy or slow might just be some of the words
that come to mind when you hear the word donkey. From the depiction of donkeys
in movies like “Dumbo”
and “Shrek” to expressions like
“making an ass out of yourself,” donkeys have gotten a bad rap.
lot of people think that donkeys are stupid or stubborn, but they have a lot
more self-preservation than a horse. They are not a flight animal like a
horse,” explains Kim Winton who, along with her husband Jim Speck, raises
miniature Mediterranean donkeys. “They are really very intelligent.”
and Speck, who own AssN9 Ranch in Shawnee, breed, raise and train award-winning
miniature Mediterranean donkeys. They currently have about 30 donkeys and
operate under the motto “pretty, performance, perfection,” a far cry from the
says she has always been around and owned horses. After moving back to Oklahoma,
she and her husband had some issues with dogs chasing their colt.
had always heard that donkeys were good watch animals and a natural enemy to coyotes
so we got a standard size donkey. Sure enough, those dogs would run out there,
but they would never cross that fence,” Winton said.
their donkey might like to have a friend, Winton and Speck bought a miniature
donkey that incidentally turned out to be pregnant. Winton recalled the day the
miniature donkey gave birth. “Oh my gosh, I’m pretty tough for a girl, but that
little baby hit the ground, and I just boo-hooed. It was the cutest thing I’d
ever seen in my whole life.”
after, Winton and Speck attended an expo to learn more about donkeys: how to groom,
feed and show them.
thought it kind of looked like fun, and it was something neither one of us knew
much about. So, it was something to learn about together,” Winton said. “Long
story short, we got more involved and bought some, really studied a lot,
started buying high quality stock, and we are now one of the leading breeders
in the business—especially when you talk about performance animals. We are in
it for the performance aspect, not just to breed a pretty donkey.”
miniature horses that have been bred down, miniature donkeys are naturally occurring
and stand between 30 to 36 inches high through the hip. Originating from the
Mediterranean area, they were imported to the United States in the 1930s and
can live to be up to 40 years old.
classic colors for the coat are gray and brown, but after years of breeding,
miniature donkeys can now also be found in several shades of red or even have
and Speck say they sell their donkeys for anywhere from $1,000 to $6,000, depending
on if it is a pet quality animal or a title-holding show animal.
Breeding for Competition
The couple has
plenty of title-holding show animals. In 2017, Winton and Speck’s donkeys swept
the National Miniature Donkey Association year-end high point awards, taking
the top spots for jacks, jennets and geldings.
were all animals that we had raised,” Winton added. “Those three were the epitome
of what we do try to breed for. With that particular three, I’ve won grand
champion jack, grand champion gelding and grand champion halter.”
said it has taken about six to eight years to really see the results of their
what we have tried to do is breed nice performance, our high-end performance
animal back to a halter donkey,” Winton explained. “We are at a point now, I
compete very well in halter as well as performance, but that took quite a
halter competition is judged by how well the donkey’s body conforms to breed
standards. A performance donkey has a little bit longer body; the hips may be a
little higher than their shoulders, and their heads are a little bit bigger.
have some halter donkeys that can move well, but they have to have a good
mind,” Winton continued. “They have to have the willingness; they have to have
the disposition. That’s not to say that all halter donkeys aren’t willing to
learn. Our particular bloodline, we are not just focusing on the body; we are
focusing on building a very trainable, willing animal.”
on the show, there might be anywhere from 8 to 15 different classes, ranging
from performance driving to in hand races to game classes with names like Hurry
Scurry, Scramble and Pleasure Driving.
courses can be as straightforward as maneuvering through cones and around
barrels or as complicated as jumps of varying heights, backing into a small
garage, opening a mailbox and retrieving mail or getting on a teeter totter.
might do lead line race, that means just get the donkey in your hand and run as
fast as you can. It’s a timed event, down around the cone and back,” Winton
said. “That sounds easy, but frequently it is a drag race. Or you get down
halfway, and the donkey says, ‘Hmmm, no, I don’t really want to go around that
cone.’ Or the donkey gets going faster than
you, and you do a flip in front of everybody. I’ve done all of that,” Winton said
with a laugh.
props are used to distract the animals from the task at hand.
of the shows we go to, they have a taxidermy wild pig. You don’t have to do
anything to the pig, but you have to execute an obstacle by it, and a lot of
times the donkeys are afraid of it,” Winton said.
the cart classes, people are pulled in carts behind the donkeys. For the
Pleasure Driving category, contestants dress the part.
people have kind of a fancy little cart or, at a minimum, a cart they keep very
neat and very clean; you’re dressed up like you are going to church. So, most
of the women have the big fancy hats,” Winton elaborated.
says for the cart classes, she competes with a specific type of cart called a
is much shorter, therefore, my donkeys, when they come around a barrel, they
will cross their front and back legs; I can cut a lot closer to the barrel. In
that sulky, I can almost touch the barrel all the way around it,” Winton
however, success in competition is all about the relationship between the
donkey and trainer.
really comes down to a lot of the trainability of the animal and the trust that
the animal has in you,” Winton said.
of competitions over the last several years, Winton and Speck have also
participated in Remington Park’s Extreme Racing Day charity event. Their
miniature donkeys race other donkeys to raise money for a variety of charities.
Camels, zebras, pigs and ostriches are also included in the event with charities
assigned to different animals. The winning animal raises money for its assigned
Golden Retrievers With Hooves
Though the couple focuses on breeding donkeys for competition, a
lot of the people who purchase the animals want them for pets, Winton said.
lot of people buy them for kids, and they are extremely tolerant of kids,”
Winton said. “These are really like a Golden Retriever with hooves. A horse
will come up and see if you have anything good to eat and then leave. The
donkeys really want to be up in your business: ‘Oh, you’re fixing the fence?
Let me help you fix the fence. Oh, you’re moving some hay? Let me help you move
says when she walks out on her property, she looks like the Pied Piper of donkeys:
“I’ll have a trail of 30 donkeys walking behind me.”
addition to wanting to be around people, they also want to be around each
are herd animals. They interact with each other a lot, they talk to each other,
they groom each other, they play and they chase,” Winton said.
being the case, money is not incentive enough for Winton to sell a donkey if it
is going to be by itself. And though the donkeys will acclimate to dogs that
belong on the property, a dog is not a substitute for companionship, though the
two animals do have their similarities.
one of their brays is different. Just like you have dogs and know which dog is
barking,” Winton said. “They make a lot of
says training a donkey is extremely similar to training a dog.
of them are pretty food driven, but more than anything, it’s just the praise,
scratch on the shoulder, attaboy,” Winton remarked. “And they all have their
own personalities. My two favorite jennets, they just know when I get up in the
morning, and by the time I get my coffee and sit in the sunroom, they are there
waiting for me.”
learn more about AssN9 Ranch, visit their website at www.AssN9ranch.com.