VESTA — Jessica Kesteloot has a special connection with animals, one that she shares with hundreds of people every year.
She operates Jessica’s Little Ponies, a pony ride and petting zoo business. She spends almost every weekend from June to October at events throughout the region, and sometimes travels to the Twin Cities metro area and South Dakota.
She concludes each season at Holmberg Orchard near Vesta. It was her first venue when she started her business in 2007. She still considers it a favorite location.
“This is where it began,” Kesteloot said. “We really like being here. It’s a nice relaxed atmosphere, a good way to round out the year.”
She began in 2007 by purchasing a pony ride business from a friend. The petting zoo became a way to create an added attraction, one that was launched in 2008. The animals are housed at her parents farm on the outskirts of Cottonwood.
“I already had goats and a miniature horse,” she said. “I added a donkey, a cow, sheep and ducks. I specialized in miniature animals, ones that are even tempered and easy to handle.”
Her three largest creatures tend to capture the most attention. Her donkey named Oliver is the one who’s usually the most interactive.
She said Oliver always responds favorably when he gets petted and fed. He seems to recognize some of the people he sees at least several times a year.
“Oliver definitely has a following,” Kesteloot said. “He’s very in tune with what happens around him. He knows when we’re about to go out to an event. I think he sometimes recognizes people because he often perks up for those who’ve seen us before.”
Another favorite animal is her 25-year-old miniature horse named Froggy. He won many harness competitions in his younger days. He makes special appearances at events like parties by being dressed up as a unicorn and going by the name Rainbow.
She also has a 13-year- old miniature cow named Pitt Squeak, who started out as a bottle fed calf. Like Oliver and Froggy, Pitt Squeak enjoys attention from the public.
She said having a variety of animals gives families the chance to interact firsthand with farm creatures. For many, it’s their only opportunity.
“I grew up with animals,” she said. “Most people no longer have that chance. Hopefully when they see us at events it’s the next best thing.”
Children who visited Jessica’s Little Ponies on Saturday said they enjoyed seeing all of the animals and learning about their characteristics.
“I like all of them,” said Bentley Walerius, a fourth-grader from Minneota. “They have interesting personalities. I look forward to seeing them every year.”
Diane Halgerson of Marshall said both Jessica’s Little Ponies and Holmberg Orchard have been yearly family traditions.
“Our little grandson loves it here,” Halgerson said. “We used to like bringing the kids here in the fall, and now we’re enjoying it with a younger generation.”
Holmberg Orchard offers a variety of fall attractions such as an apple shop, a corn maze, a pumpkin patch, a bounce house, wagon rides and the opportunity to pick your own apples. It is open six days a week and on Sunday afternoons until the end of the season.
Rosie Petty, who operates Holmberg Orchard with her husband, David, said Jessica’s Little Ponies is always a favorite added attraction.
“She’s an important part of our weekends,” Petty said. “She has a really good set up with a nice group of animals. They’re enjoyed by people of all ages.”