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Story ID:190
Written by:Kathe M. Campbell (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Local Legend
Location:Butte Montana USA
Person:Sweet Pea
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by Kathe Campbell

"Oh come on Darlin', jump!" I urged. "You won't drown, I promise." I applied another persuasion with the quirt, and for the fifth time, relaxed in the saddle while she mulled it over. I could feel her muscles tighten and quiver as she prepared for this momentous feat. While I hung onto the saddle horn for dear life, she reared on her hind legs and cleared the tiny stream in one mighty hurdle. We immediately turned around and did it once more. "Good girl . . . good girl," I told my mammoth jennet (female donkey) as I dismounted and heaved a sigh.

Unlike most equine, donkeys dislike getting their feet wet. Water is for drinking, and yet the two geldings learned sloshing through good-sized mountain streams easily. Apprehension ensues with small sure-footed feet, not trusting what lies beneath. After all, they might end up in China. Since donkeys rely on smarts rather than instinct, Sweet Pea had envisioned a muddy doom if stepping into water of any dimension. Training our horse seemed a cinch, but training a donkey really goes against mother nature's plan.

Pea, as we call her, had been a funny looking tag-along baby amongst Bureau of Land Management donkeys up for adoption. She looked to be sired by some great wild and wooly hippy-type jack, amassing gobs of long black hair. But as she matured, perfect conformation emerged that garnered numerous ribbons at donkey and mule shows throughout our region. She also loved to be hugged, cuddled, and ridden bareback by our grandkids, hour upon hour.

Okay, Sweet Pea, I lamented, I guess you'll never be an all-around performer like the big gelded jacks on our place. So I'll focus on your beautiful face, long dark tresses, your perfectly built chassis, and whatever is required to stand at show. Maybe that will become your claim to fame.

I mixed assorted concoctions to apply on Pea's neck to hide the white freeze mark that branded her an adoptee. It seemed important that she be perceived as a well bred jennet off our ranch, rather than a wild BLM fluke. Dyes and paint were of no use. Finally, a touch of black shoe polish applied with a toothbrush hid the ugly brand temporarily. Hours were spent polishing hooves, currying mane and bangs, and slathering on conditioners to make her hair shine and spring. She was high maintenance, but a knockout.

We graduated to the national two-day show competition as Pea turned five. Rising to the finals, she would compete with mules and donkeys, mostly close-shaven, narrow-hipped duns, and white prima donnas. Big-boned and coal black, she looked so different and out of place in the first round. But in-between eliminations, folks dropped by in droves to talk and give her pats. The attention put us both at ease, for she was having the time of her life.

Twice, Pea had refused to step backwards at local shows. It seemed ominous to her, like watercourses. So she wouldn't sense my apprehension, I took a deep breath and softly whispered . . . "Back, back, back, Darlin'." With a slight tug on her lead, she backed in eight perfectly aligned steps and halted on command. The worst over, she completed further compulsory moves handily. During the running exercises, I let her have her head and moved away to expose her bouncing coat and smooth gait. The grandstands exploded in thunderous applause and whistles. "That's for you, Pea," I told her while we acknowledged the crowd.

Before final judging, Sweet Pea and I returned to our little corral to find a fellow waiting. He insisted upon purchasing her on the spot. I told him, "No thank you." After further sizeable proposals, I politely refused his offer and went about some brush-ups and tucking in my shirt. 'Twas then that I began to realize this very unusual jennet's true worth. I buried my face in her soft neck and silently asked the good Lord to smile down on us and vowed to keep her always.

In rapid order, our names were called for final judging. Pea and I were placed between two large white mules while I mercifully noted the absence of her stiffest competition. Owners and trainers chatted nervously down the long line while judges inspected each animal up close, asking personal questions. When asked if Pea was a wild jennet, I proudly answered, "Yes," just as someone exclaimed, "Wow!" Clipboards in hand, the judge's and assistants finally sauntered to the announcer's booth to deliberate. Four down, one to go, and my heart barely had time to skip beats when the announcer took microphone in hand . . .

"And the overall national show championship goes to Sweet Pea and her owner and trainer, Kathe Campbell of the Broken Tree Ranch in Butte, Montana." My hands trembled as I accepted our championship ribbon and enough prizes to fill a tack room. Then amid my streaming tears of joy, Pea belted out a series of heehaws that brought the house down.

The following weeks, BLM and long ear magazines, newspaper reporters and photographers came to visit our lovely lady, born in the wilds, airlifted into a truck, trained her way, and soaring to national fame. I seriously doubt Sweet Pea will ever forget to "Remember the Lord in her everyday braying."

Kathe Campbell