By Dale Cory
A real indication of what you are in for when you attend Tees Longears Days Donkey and Mule Show, which has been staged the third weekend of August for the past 22 years, came at about 2 p.m. last Sunday.
It was Day 2 of the event at the Tees Rodeo Grounds in the tiny hamlet a 30-minute drive southeast of Ponoka, which boasted a population of 82 following the 2008 census.
Judging by the amount of patrons in the grandstand, it was safe to assume a vast majority of the town’s inhabitants had shown up to support the event.
Longears Days offers plenty of competition, camaraderie and laughter — especially considering the circumstances surrounding those four-legged main attractions, which, let’s face it, have a reputation of being a tad cantankerous at the best of times.
“We use to have a very-competitive event. It got to the point where nobody wanted to come because it was so competitive, so they went back to enjoying the animals. There’s committed people that love their mules and donkeys and want to show them off,” said long-time Tees Longears Days public address announcer Russ Findley of Westerose. “God made great animals here. The kids get on them and they become a team. They can trust them and enjoy them. People are not here making millions of dollars in prize money — because there is no prize money. Most of the people that win a ribbon throw it back in the bucket so we can use it again next year. The people that are here are here because they’re having fun.”
That became quite obvious within minutes midway through Sunday’s final performance.
After Findley announced to those in attendance that the Flap Jack Race was about to begin, one of the volunteers rode up to the announcer’s booth, and yelled up that there would be a bit of a delay.
Seems one of the mules had relieved itself on some of the kindling that would be used for the fire to cook the flapjacks that were obviously a main part of this odd event.
While the volunteer did not exactly portray the situation quite so eloquently, Findley was able to tell a few jokes until the kindling had dried sufficiently in the hot summer sun — and the event could go ahead as planned.
The Flap Jack Race may well have been the highlight of the entire weekend.
Competitors lined up at the far end of the ring, rode their donkey or mule to an area in front of the grandstand, and proceeded to light their small stack of kindling on fire.
Once the fire was going, the competitors had to pour pancake mix into a pan, cook the pancake sufficiently to actually it eat, then mount their ride, and get back across the finish line.
The process took about 10 minutes, much to the pleasure of the crowd. Russ Shandro was able to take the checkered flag, and for the next year, will hereafter be known as the Flap Jack Racing king of Tees Longears Days.
Stubborn as a mule
And that’s the thing about the Tees Longears Days. You just never know what’s going to happen next.
After all, the star attractions are a bunch of donkeys and mules whose focus seems to be much more on themselves than their owners, or the fans in the stands.
You have all heard of the term, ‘Stubborn as a mule.’
Well, Ruth Burke of Heisler found that out first-hand when she took part in the obstacle course competition, an event that forces buggy driver and animal to manoeuvre around a group of 10 pylons.
“Donkeys do what they want to do. They’re union animals,” explained Burke, whose 13-year-old donkey, Ezekiel, (Zeke) walked through the first part of the course seemingly without a care in the world — paying more attention to the crowd in the grandstand than to the course, much to Burke’s chagrin. “If it doesn’t make sense to them, or it’s not fair, they don’t want to do it. It didn’t quite make sense to him today.”
In Zeke’s defence, it was only his second competition.
“We’re both learning together. It’s a learning process — and a good test in patience,” said Burke.
A test in patience for whom?
“Both,” quipped Burke. “A friend of mine said, ‘I train my donkey by the book method’, and I said, ‘What book was that, and he said, ‘No, No, I take along a good novel and when he stops I read a chapter.’ “That’s about how you train them.”
Burke did indicate that Zeke, upon learning the pattern, can make his way around the course much quicker.
Of course, that would apparently depend on his mood, and level of co-operation.
“They’re called stubborn because they’re actually smart. And we don’t like that, so we call them stubborn,” said Burke, adamant these donkeys and mules are smart animals. “Reluctantly, I have to say yes. I’ve worked with horses before. Horses tend to be reactive. If they get scared, they’ll run. A donkey will stop and think about it, and we call that stubborn. They just have a different way of figuring things out. “It actually makes them safer, which is why I trust him with novices much more than I would a horse.”
For Burke, the 22nd annual event was the second she has attended. Burke is certain to be back next year — hopeful that next time Zeke will have a little more jump and desire out of the gate.
Then again, all of that would be up to Zeke — wouldn’t it?
Russ Shandro was able to take the checkered flag, and for the next year, will hereafter be known as the Flap Jack Racing king of Tees Longears Days.