Although Joe Hedrick was a rodeo clown for more than 15 years, he's not clowning round when it comes to camels, ostriches or emus. Hedrick, who grew up on a ranch and has been around animals all of his life, brought the animals for this year's Camel Races from his home near Nickerson, Kansas.
He provides racing camels for about twelve events yearly, as well as camel rides, Nativity and Easter work.
"I enjoy the animals, and I enjoy people," Hedrick said. Easy going and affable, he squinted into the sun as he spoke with a decided Western drawl. "I got into this business when I put the two together."
When his career as a rodeo clown was over, Hedrick went into the petting zoo business. He bought his first camel about 18 years ago, and now keeps between 50 and 60, together with an array of other exotic animals.
He sounds like a proud papa when he talks about his animals, particularly the camels.
"I originally got one for a petting zoo," he said. "I got a young male first, Takowish was his name. I learned a lot from him. Then I bought three females to train, and I did a lot of camel rides."
Hedrick prefers animals with an even temperament and physical makeup, and the camels he brings to the races are the ones that like to run.
"Some camels want to run and some don't," Hedrick said, noting if they don't want to run, you can't make them.
"But they have a real soft spot, and they're very affectionate," he said, noting they respond best to tender loving care. When they get out of line, the occasional verbal reprimand works best. They can bite, kick and strike, but usually that comes when they've been mishandled during their early years."If there abused, they will rebel, just like a person."