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August 20, 2006

Mule AmbASSadors: “Mules Attend TX State 4-H Horse Judging Contest, GA State 4-H Horse School and Open Horse Shows”

By Amy K. McLean
Sowhatchet Mule Farm Inc.
Madison, GA

I believe people who choose to be different and ride a mule or donkey are very unique individuals. One must have a lot of patience and be a strong person to ride an animal that is extremely intelligent and normally thinks 4 or 5 steps ahead of its rider. I tend to think that people who show or ride mules and donkeys are also confident people. However, it may be possible that to think or even believe that our animals build confidence and strength into our personalities; one riding a mule or donkey most often faces many not so funny jokes when you ride a long eared animal as well as a few some what embarrassing moments in public when your mule or donkey decides, “I’m not doing this today.” Some of my favorite remarks include, “oh, how cute” or “or look at its big ears and why are its’ ears so big,” “why are you riding a donkey (and it’s really a mule)” or “my horse just loves your mule” that’s my favorite comment. I have always been very proud of showing and riding a mule and never once have I been to a horse show wishing I was riding a horse! However, don’t get me wrong I do not take mules to horse events for the stratification of placing ahead of the horses but as practice and as ambassadors for our Longears.

I try to take every opportunity possible to help educate and inform the ones riding the short eared equine about our animules attributes and versatility. It’s not very often that you see horses competing in more than one event in several different disciplines. I had the chance to start educating the equine industry in Georgia at the early age of 10 when I entered my first 4-H Horse Show. I was quite delighted that everyone was just taken by the mules and feel in love with them. Today at some of the open shows I attend with my mule, W.C. He’s a Playboy; there are regulars that come over to pet him sort of like mule groupies. Occasionally, there are some horses that tend to be a little scared of the mules for example, one of my friends showed an Egyptian Arabian in the saddleseat division in 4-H with my mule Fido, a Walking Mule, and the Arabian eventually feel in love with Fido! A true love/ hate relationship but the cool thing was the fact my friend and her family feel in love with Fido first! In my opinion, mules and donkeys seem to have a captivating personality that draws you into to them.

Again, I can not stress the importance of youth being involved with an organization like the 4-H club, which teaches so many wonderful and life essential skills such as leadership, loyalty, responsibility, a hard work ethic, importance of friendship, etc. The Georgia State 4-H Horse program was always very receptive to me showing my mules in the shows and using them as my equine project animal. It saddens me deeply when I hear of 4-H members throughout the country being denied the chance to show their mule or donkey in their 4-H Horse program. I know some states such as Texas even developed just mule and donkey classes to keep the Longears out of the horse classes. The 4-H Club was not intended to develop hardships for its members and by not allowing 4-H’ers to show their animals in an open horse show type environment where you have every breed, registered or not, and ponies showing against one another there is no excuse why a member should be denied the chance to use a mule or donkey as their 4-H project and compete in the shows.

The mule I mentioned earlier, Fido, attended many of the Georgia State 4-H Horse Shows and won many awards and even traveled onto the Southern Regional 4-H Horse Championship 3 times and placed in the top ten every time as well as the top 3 several times. Fido was always on his best behavior and represented our Longears the very best as he was the first mule to attend many of these prestigious horse shows! I also showed three other mules in the 4-H State Show including Las Vegas Lights who also qualified for the Southern Regional Show. Unfortunately, I am now, a little to old for 4-H, so I take every opportunity possible to show our mules at open horse shows. I enjoy showing our mules at open horse shows because there are a variety of classes to compete in as well as extremely open minded officials who fairly judge our mules.

I use the open horse shows as schooling shows for the mule shows that we travel thousands of miles to attend. A few of these open shows are quite large such as the Newton County Saddle Club which holds their shows at the Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers, GA which was home to the 1996 Olympics. The open show is split into two days, Saturday is all English & Gaited and Sunday is Western & Petite Division. The average show will have around 300-400 entries per day and two or three rings going. Most people at the show just love the mules. We take my mule which shows both days, gaited mules, and mini mules to the petite show. The show has even added classes for miniature donkeys and mules in the petite division show on Sunday. Many people from North and South Carolina have begun traveling to the show on Sunday to show in the petite division as well as several who travel from North Georgia to compete in the gaited classes on Saturday.

There has also been an increase in adding Walking Mule Classes to Walking Horse Shows around the country. We use to show our mules at the Walking Horse Shows in the Country Pleasure Classes which are open to any breed or type of equine, but now many of the shows such as the Columbia Spring Jubilee, Columbia, TN as well as the International Walking Horse Celebration, Murfreesboro, TN have added Walking Mule Classes.

I really encourage people to get out and take their mules and donkeys to open shows because number one our animals can compete very easily and number two it’s a great way to promote Longears. Playboy has been named “Hunter over Fences” division champion several times for the day as well as for the end of year, and has been champion and reserve in the western show too. By taking a mule or donkey to an open show, you have the chance to open many people’s eyes to how talented and versatile our animals are as well as increase the popularity of mules and donkeys. The idea that a mule or donkey is stubborn and they are only used as draft animals is quickly diminished.

Another advantage is the fact you expose many judges to the Longears. I have had many compliments from the judges over the years which include some individuals who have judged world breed shows such as, the American Quarter Horse World Show. In the past two years four different judges who have judged at several of the open shows I attend have gone on and received their American Quarter Horse Association Judges Cards, as well as three judges at these open shows who have judged the world Quarter horse show, and many of them have approached me about judging mule shows because they were really impressed in the quality of the animals and their versatility.

In addition, this year at the Texas State 4-H Horse Judging Contest, several of us who were competing at the Houston Livestock Mule and Donkey Show were asked to be in the 4-H’ers state contest. Our mules were used in the contest for the Western Pleasure class. What a wonderful opportunity to again expose all ages to the world of mules. I heard so many positive comments from the 4-H’ers after the contest. I think the 4-H’ers and their leaders really enjoyed the chance to judge something different but something they could easily see in their judging career. In addition, I believe the officials including Dr. Pete Gibbs, from Texas A&M University who coached the World Championship Collegiate Horse Judging Contest was impressed by the western pleasure mule class.

The 4-H Club does an outstanding job in supplying its members with many educational opportunities such as horse judging, horse quiz bowl, public speaking contests and even a school where you can take your equine and learn how to better ride them. This past June a friend of mine who is a professor of Equine Nutrition at the University of Georgia, Dr. Kari Turner, invited me to bring a mule or two to the Georgia State 4-H Horse School to once again expose and help educate the youth and their leaders to the world of mules.

I took two of our show mules, one gaited, “And Red Eye Gravy” and the other not, “W.C. He’s a Playboy,” to 4-H Horse School which was held in Perry, Georgia. There were close to 200 4-H’ers in attendance and they were extremely intelligent. I have never been asked so many well thought out amazing questions about mules in my life. I taught two sessions with each mule being utilized in both lecturers and for a full hour students and adults from the age of 10-60 were fascinated and no one fell asleep while learning about mules and donkeys. I think I was most impressed with two different 4-H’ers asking if mules could inherit genetic disorders like HYPP. Having mules all of my life as well as having an extensive animal science background the thought never entered my mind until this past fall and here are 4-H, the youth of America, on top of their game! Impressive!

Although I’m not the only person showing a mule at open shows, I have friends all across the country from FL, SC, OH, TX, ID, AZ, to CA that do utilize the open shows to practice with their mules and expose more people to them but I encourage more of you to utilize these open horse shows. So, for those of you who love to show try an open show this fall get your mules and donkeys out in front of our friends on the short eared equine and show them what our Longears can do! Please don’t get me wrong I have nothing against horses because we need them to make more great mules! If you have any questions about using your mule or donkey in a 4-H project please do not hesitate to contact me, at amule@bellsouth.net or by phone at 706-296-8743.

Posted by Guest Contributor at August 20, 2006 06:57 PM