10/09/09 — Horses, ponies and mules take center stage at Wayne Fair

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Horses, ponies and mules take center stage at Wayne Fair

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on October 9, 2009 2:00 PM

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Starr Benton, 5, right, and Shane Moore, 3, try to move their stubborn donkey, Jackson, at the Open Pony and Mule Show Thursday.

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Cora Head of Mount Olive stands with her horse during the Open Horse Show at the fair Thursday.

It was a long trip from the Grand Canyon to Goldsboro, but Dan Lancaster's hinny, Arizona, made the journey from national park pack mule to show ring star Thursday at the Wayne County Regional Agricultural Fair horse show.

Like several of the entries, Arizona's life as a show animal wasn't her original purpose. Lancaster and his wife adopted the hinny after visiting the Grand Canyon, where sure-footed mules cart sightseers up and down the trails.

The park service retires the mules when they hit a certain age, and Lancaster was so impressed with the animals' quality and training, he and his wife adopted the 17-year-old Arizona and brought her home.

Mules can live to be 30 or 35 years old, so Arizona, also nicknamed Maggie, can look forward to many years of happy retirement ahead of her, Lancaster said.

On the other end of the paddock, Debbie Stroud waited for her halter class with her Belgian gelding, Whiz.

Standing over five feet tall at the shoulders and weighing about a ton, Whiz is still dwarfed by some of the other horses in Mrs. Stroud's paddock. But the draft horse is a gentle giant, and a people magnet, Mrs. Stroud said.

"He's one of a kind," she said.

Several people watching the horse show ambled over to admire Whiz and give him a pat on the neck. Even braying donkeys and screams from thrill-seekers on the nearby carnival rides didn't seem to upset the big horse.

"That's his personality, that's just him," Mrs. Stroud said. "I haven't found anything yet that fazes him."

Although most people use draft horses for pulling, Mrs. Stroud uses Whiz for trail riding and halter shows. His conformation and temperament makes him a good show horse, she said.

Although donkeys are also famous for their own temperament, it's often because they are thought to be stubborn, donkey owner George Stansion said. But Stansion's two donkeys, a jack named Sancho and a jennie named Charro, are smart enough to learn voice commands.

"Some people say they're stubborn. If they don't know something, they won't do it," Stansion said. "You have to really be patient."

One grizzled-faced mule stood out from the other entries because of one bright white, unnatural marking. Moses, a fairly recent acquisition for owner Kristen Jones, was freeze branded on his neck with the number 637 after he came into the care of the Equine Rescue League. Ms. Jones was surfing the group's Web site and fell in love with Moses.

Although no one could tell her much about his past or how he ended up needing a home, Ms. Jones adopted him and started preparing him to compete in shows. The 30-year-old Moses won fourth place in his class, even though it was not only his first show. It was also Ms. Jones' first time showing.

It wasn't the first competition for Morgan Brewer, 9, of Faison and her black and white pony Teddy Bear, who often travel to horse shows around the state. But despite his past show experience, the restive pony was nervous and acting up before their turn in the show ring.

Morgan tightened her hand on the bridle and leaned over Teddy Bear, whispering something into one black ear. The pair went on to win a ribbon in their class.

"I was telling him if he doesn't calm down, he ain't getting no carrots," Morgan said.