Ears With Beers brings drink-carrying donkeys to Hill Country weddings
“One of my favorite things about them is their commitment to you once you’ve gained their trust,” says Delaney Collins, pulling two tiny halters from a rack in the tack room at Red Horse Ranch in Dripping Springs. Chalky gravel crunches beneath her boots as she walks down the path leading to the small pens.
“They really try when you have a connection with them,” she continues. “They would keep going for you until their hearts stopped if you asked them to. It’s really touching and humbling, how loyal they are.”
Right on cue, two fuzzy miniature donkeys rush to the edge of their pen and push their muzzles between the bars of the gate, braying and calling to Delaney as she approaches. She talks to them softy as she enters the pen, petting their long ears and brushing dust from their backs as she halters them. At somewhere between 30 and 36 inches tall, they stand no higher than Delaney’s hips.
In 15 minutes, she has them groomed and tacked up with leather bridles and saddles laden with flowers and wicker cooler baskets. Since April 2016, Spirit and Carrie have been the stars of Delaney’s business, Ears With Beers. Clients can hire the donkeys to carry beer, water, and other cold beverages in their baskets at events such as wedding receptions and birthday parties.
“It’s a really fun novelty to have a donkey at your wedding cocktail hour, especially one carrying beer, and everybody loves to take pictures and selfies with the donkeys,” says Delaney, adding that many of her clients elect to use her Instax camera to take Polaroid-style photos of guests with Spirit and Carrie.
Delaney grew up with horses and spent years working as a full-time intern for Sue DeLaurentis at Red Horse Barn. Under Sue’s guidance, Delaney learned how to care for and train horses. She quickly fell in love with Sue’s miniature horses in particular. Then in 2015, Sue approached Delaney with a unique opportunity. Sue’s longtime friend Judy Smith had asked Sue to train two miniature donkeys, Opie and Sassy, to serve drinks at Judy’s Austin wedding venue, Pecan Springs Ranch. Sue put Delaney up to the task.
“A really huge part of it was gaining their trust,” Delaney explains. “Donkeys are naturally stubborn. If they don’t want to do something, they’re not going to do it. You have to coax them into doing what you want by showing them there’s something in it for them, too, like cookies or attention or scratches.”
Through much trial and error, Delaney earned Opie and Sassy’s trust and developed a specialized donkey training program based on principles of positive reinforcement and patience. When Opie and Sassy moved on to Pecan Springs Ranch, Delaney began training her own two “kids,” as she calls them, for Ears With Beers.
According to Delaney, Spirit and Carrie caught on incredibly fast, impressing her with their intelligence and friendliness. Because donkeys have gained a reputation for biting and kicking, Delaney views every event with Spirit and Carrie as a chance to show people that donkeys can make wonderful companion animals when they’re given the right amount of attention and care.
“Every time I take them out, I encounter someone who asks, ‘Can I touch them? Are they going to bite me?’ Then they tell me a story about how they met a donkey who was really mean,” says Delaney, who likens raising donkeys to rearing children. “You can’t just turn them out into a field and then expect them to be lovable and respectful. I mean, if you want kids to grow up to be good human beings, you’ve got to teach them. You can’t just leave them to their own devices.”
Now that Ears With Beers is catching on in Dripping Springs and around the Hill Country, Delaney has expanded her offerings to include horses, which can be ridden down the aisle at weddings or featured in stylized photoshoots performing tricks like bowing and rearing on command. She’s also recently started a subset of her business called Ears With Cheers to cater to children’s parties and other kid-friendly events.
Delaney feels profoundly grateful to be able to do something that brings her so much joy, but she’s faced numerous challenges. She singlehandedly manages all of her marketing and bookkeeping, and working in the fast-paced wedding industry is rarely easy.
“A couple of times I’ve kind of broken down and asked myself, ‘Why am I doing this?’ But then I remember how much fun it is to see the looks on people’s faces when they see donkeys at a party,” says Delaney, adding that interacting with animals increases levels of serotonin—a chemical linked to happiness and relaxation—in the brain.
“When I sit in the pen with Spirit and Carrie, they’ll lie down next to me and rest their chins on my shoulders and rub their heads on me,” she says. “They’re just the sweetest donkeys in the whole world, and that’s what makes it worthwhile for me.”
To learn more about Ears With Beers or to contact Delaney Collins to book Spirit and Carrie for your event, visit earswithbeers.com.