Canadian barrel racer Tamara Reinhardt has teamed up and competed with nearly a dozen different horses throughout her more than 50-year career.
Reinhardt has spent countless hours training, traveling, and in the process, forming an unspoken connection with each of her horses. But these days, Reinhardt has a new addition to her string: a small, black donkey, with an oversized name: Mariana Falina Rachelle Anesse. Without her, the show cannot go on.
Reinhardt, a two-time Prairie Circuit Champion and former National Finals Rodeo qualifier, and her 8-year-old homebred mare Yessir Imareddie (aka Remilee), have quickly risen to the top of the professional rodeo world.
Bred by Reinhardt, Remilee is a family legacy horse. Her father purchased Remilee’s dam, Ravishing Red Ruby, off the racetrack as a two-year-old. Although Tamara sold Ravishing Red a few years later, the horse eventually came back into her life after more than a decade as a 19-year-old. Reinhardt bred the mare to AQHA stallion Eddie Stinson, and in 2012, Remilee was born.
Remilee has her father’s speed and a few of her mother’s peculiarities. To remain competitive, Reinhardt and Remilee traveled from town to town, following the rodeo circuit to competitions across the country.
But Remilee had difficulty with life on the road, and her angst would often spill over at competitions. Early in her career, the horse developed performance anxiety, and although she tried to remain focused, her reaction was akin to a human having an anxiety attack.
“She’s pretty eccentric,” Reinhardt said. “She lacks a lot of confidence outside of the arena. She developed these really insecure behaviors that resulted in ulcers, stress markers, things like that. She’s pulled rings off the trailer, trying to run away. She’ll jump on you when she’s scared. We couldn’t haul her or stall her overnight without taking another horse with her.”
Reinhardt said Remilee’s anxiety brought her to her wit’s end, but despite her problems on the ground, she felt Remilee had the chops to make it as a top barrel horse. The veteran horsewoman knew she had to find a solution that kept Remilee focused on the competition.
“It was very humbling to admit you had a horse you cannot manage,” she said. “You cannot make her comfortable, cannot let her know everything’s fine. When she’s left alone, she frantically paces, twirls in circles, works herself up until she is panicked and sweating.”
Reinhardt said she and husband Donnie, her faithful travel companion, even tried taking turns sleeping in a lawn chair in Remilee’s stall to give her some company. “She needed a consistent companion, it was obvious,” Reinhardt said.
Enter Mariana Falina Rachelle Anesse, a tiny donkey so crucial to Remilee’s success, and that of her owner, that she’s earned four names. The 6-year-old donkey, who goes by Falina, serves as a travel companion for Remilee and helps her remain calm and focused during competitions.
Falina’s companionship is not a novel idea. Reinhardt’s own foray into donkey ownership was inspired by a friend, whose barrel horse benefitted from a donkey companion. Companion animals of many species can have a calming effect on nervous horses, who may take their cue from a more steadfast friend.
Owners of anxious horses often resort to adding a companion to make travel easier. Companions also accompany these equine athletes at shows or races away from home. Even Seabiscuit, famed racehorse of the 1930s, had a companion pony named Pumpkin who accompanied him to races.
Donkeys are stoic by nature, and their cautious and thoughtful approach to situations can sometimes be mistaken for stubbornness. Donkeys are very inquisitive; when alarmed, instead of running away from threats, they instinctively tend to stand their ground and evaluate the situation. They are quick learners, who require less repetition than horses to learn new lessons. That demeanor is well-suited to jittery horses, and can help diffuse situations a horse may find frightening.
Falina has revolutionized the way Remilee and Reinhardt travel. The horse and donkey are a package deal. Reinhardt says she will no longer haul Remilee away from home without her.
Now, Remilee, Falina, and Reinhardt travel the country, following the PRCA rodeo circuit. Falina’s reassuring and protective nature allows Remilee to let her guard down and relax. The donkey’s low-key attitude keeps Remilee from worrying about the activities of rodeo and fairgrounds, and lets her focus on the upcoming race.
Falina’s presence also allows Remilee to rest properly and recuperate from her runs, Reinhardt says.
Outside of competitions, serving as a portion of an elite athlete’s entourage has its perks. Like any athlete in peak condition, Remilee frequently receives performanceenhancing therapies such as chiropractic work, breathing treatments, and massages. Falina accompanies the horse to her appointments, and occasionally receives treatments herself.
Falina’s effect on Remilee has brought success, Reinhardt says. The pair traveled to over 100 rodeos last year, and Reinhardt estimates the donkey has most of the lower-48 states.
The self-assurance and comfort Falina’s presence brings Remilee is irreplaceable. Reinhardt is so grateful for the change Falina has brought out in her mare, that she keeps dubbing the donkey with appropriately-symbolic names.
The donkey’s registered name is Pine Valley Rachel, which evolved into Rachelle. Reinhardt’s nephew, who helped pick up the donkey, named her Mariana, meaning warrior or problem-solver. Reinhardt wanted to call the donkey Falina, after the Marty Robbins song ‘Wicked Falina.’ Finally, a friend added Anesse—French for female donkey—to the name.
Reinhardt is convinced Mariana Falina Rachelle Anesse is likely the most beloved donkey in the Panhandle.
In early March, before COVID-19 caused PRCA rodeos to go on hiatus, Reinhardt and Remilee posted a blistering 13.56-second run to outperform 140 other barrel racers and win the Rodeo Grand Island. With the rodeo schedule starting back up, Reinhardt is confident the success will continue.
“A donkey’s role throughout history and society is they are a beast of burden,” she says. “Donkeys carry a load. For my horse, she carries an emotional load, and she carries it with no reluctance. So that’s been very spiritual and enlightening.”
The two co-dependent friends represent a simple dichotomy for Reinhardt. “Are you the donkey friend, or do you need the donkey friend?” she asks. “Are you a person that helps somebody take care of their stresses and loads? Are you dependable, never fearful? Are you that person? Or, do you need that person?”
“How hard is it to find a person that is always present, never waivers?” Reinhardt concludes. “This donkey is that person for this horse.”
PHOTO BY LAURIE EZZELL BROWN