"If a donkey or mule doesn’t want to move, he probably has a good reason and you should just agree with him," Teresa Caudle explained.
As the owner of C&S Dream Donkeys, Teresa seems to not only know, but sense, what her diminutive animals are thinking. She thinks mules and donkeys have a bad reputation for being stubborn they don’t really deserve. If a mule or donkey acts in a stubborn way, it’s probably because someone has mistreated it or has trained it in the wrong way, maybe even years ago.
"With these little donkeys, learning has to be fun," she explained. "They want to know why they’re doing something. Then they’re quick to learn and quick to obey."
Teresa, who has always been known as an animal lover, quickly fell in love with the miniature donkeys when she and her husband Jack lived on seven acres in the Smoke Rise area, near where Blount, Jefferson and Walker counties converge. When they moved to the current ranch of 27 acres just outside Oneonta about three years ago, she began expanding her herd, which now numbers 22 — and counting!
Although several of the little donkeys have won prestigious awards, she feels their companionship is what makes them really special.
Legend has it the little donkey was so humbled Jesus chose him to ride into Jerusalem one last time, and the little donkey volunteered the next week to carry Jesus’ cross.
When he was denied that honor, the humble animal followed Jesus to Golgotha where he stood trembling as Jesus was raised on that horrible wood. The legend says as the cross’ shadow fell on the donkey’s back, the little donkey was forever marked as a sign of remembrance of humbleness and true love.
Even though Teresa said she’s not certain if that’s exactly what happened more than 2,000 years ago, she can certainly attest to the little animals’ personalities.
Her herd bears that remembrance cross—a dorsal stripe starting from the mane and running down their backs and a matching stripe that goes over each shoulder—certainly makes you stop and think!
In this past summer’s 17th Annual Great Celebration Mule and Donkey Show in Shelbyville, Tenn., Blountsville fifth-grader Justin Butts won several ribbons driving four-year-old Digger pulling an easy-entry cart. All-in-all in Shelbyville, C&S donkeys won two first place ribbons, two fourth place and one sixth place.
Teresa (and Justin) said that really made them proud since the show this year grew to 1,233 entries with approximately 400 animals competing, making it the second largest event of its kind in the United States!
Justin had to control Digger as he pulled the cart through several maneuvers and obeyed commands like backing into a small garage.
More recently Justin and Digger and several more of C&S’s donkeys competed in Andulusia and came home with two first place ribbons, four seconds, two thirds and a Reserve High Point.
One of the females shown is named Maybelline, named so because her natural coloring around her eyes makes her appear to be wearing eye makeup!
But most people are not going to compete in competitions so why would anyone else want a tiny donkey: too small to ride and too small to act as a guard animal for others?
Teresa explained there have been a lot of "horse people" who may be growing older and still want animals, but just feel their age or maybe physical limitations may be prohibiting them from caring for a large animal. Others with smaller children like the idea of an animal the kids can care for more easily than a regularly-sized horse.
"These little animals are just a perfect fit," Teresa said. "They’re like big puppy dogs. They want to be brushed and petted. They don’t bite or kick—if you buy them from a reputable dealer that’s been handling them their whole lives. I even know of people who keep them in their back yards!"
And the little donkeys can be lifelong friends. They can live to be from 25 to 40 years old and weigh approximately 250 pounds.
"They are really easy keepers," Teresa remarked. "I give mine about a handful of dry pellets each day and about a flake of hay. And of course they get treats as well.
"The animals also usually give birth easily. They normally deliver their babies easily and the babies weigh about 10 to 15 pounds. Usually you just walk out and find them standing in the pasture the next morning by their mamas."
Although she can trim them herself, Teresa usually has farrier Larry Crane from Warrior trim their hooves about every six weeks.
Jason Butts, Justin’s dad, is Teresa’s "right hand farm man" doing everything from building the rows of neat fencing and cross fencing to helping with routine animal care.
And Teresa also has another "helper." The "S" in the ranch’s name comes from Teresa’s dad, Leon Sanders, who lives in Limestone Springs.
"A lot of times we just have to sneak and not tell mother when we buy a new animal," Teresa laughed.
All of Teresa’s animals must meet breed standards. Several of the females are due from now until spring.
"It’s really interesting to watch their different personalities develop and to see the traits they get from their mamas and their sires," she said.
C&S is open by appointment only to only those "serious" about the miniature animals. For more information you may phone Teresa at 205-274-8361.