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Meet Fernando, the horse whispering donkey who helps train Maryland champions

Meet Fernando, the horse whispering donkey who helps train Maryland champions
Meet Fernando, the horse whispering donkey who helps train Maryland champions 03:18

Horse racing has a long and storied history in Maryland. WJZ introduces you to an assistant horse trainer who has guided several champions. Linh Bui learns more about his bond with the animals, and why he truly understands them.

At Dunmore Farm in Monkton, horses become champions.

"We've been fortunate enough to have the last six Maryland Hunt Cup winners come out of our farm," said steeple chase trainer Joe Davies.

But Davies gives most of the credit to one of his assistants, Fernando.

"He's quite feisty," Davies said. "He's not that friendly to people. He doesn't particularly like me."

Assistant trainer Ashton Williams said, "He wants to do his own thing. Sometimes when he's loose, it's a little hard to find him."

When WJZ finally finds Fernando, he's more interested in eating than working. The farm's secret weapon is an 8-year-old Sicilian miniature donkey.

"We had no idea how big a role Fernando would play in our lives," Davies said.

The Davies got Fernando as a Christmas gift for their children and quickly realized he was unique. He loved interacting with the horses and would follow them while they were training.  

"He can keep up downhill. So if he loses a little time going up a hill, he'll finally get to the top and zoom down the hill and catch up," Davies said. "When we're training the steeple chase horses early on, we go through the woods and we set up a series of logs. And Fernando jumps those logs."

This donkey is a horse whisperer with a calming effect on the animals. Fernando's owners say he helps keep them relaxed and makes them less jittery.

"I think it's really special, especially when we're at the races," Williams said. "We have a few [horses] that are very anxious. He stays in the stall with them, and keeps them quiet all day."

He keeps the horses quiet, so they can focus on a victory.

"Horses are flight animals and tend to be a little spooky," Davies said. "But Fernando desensitizes them to other hazards along the way. He is the ultimate emotional support animal."

Fernando goes out with the horses once or twice a day, year-round. And even though he's not the one winning medals or prizes, Fernando is definitely winning hearts.

"He has a little fan club at the races," Williams said. "Everybody comes to see him in the trailer or the barn."

His training career is full speed ahead.

"Donkeys live to be in their 40's, so he'll probably outlive me, training horses long after I've gone."

Surrounded by thoroughbreds, Fernando manages to come out on top. 

Hear more about Fernando on Behind the Lens with Linh Bui: 

Behind the Lens: Linh Bui discusses meeting Fernando, the horse whispering donkey 03:04
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