Tag Archives: donkeys

Mule Mo-Jo – part 1

As I walked into the arena, a pitched battle was taking place. Okay. Not exactly a battle. A struggle for domination. Well, not exactly that, either. Four mules were in an elimination round to determine the winner of the Coon Jumping class. Each time all four cleared a jump, the bar was raised another two inches. The bar was starting to get pretty high, and the mules were starting to get a little balky. Some might say “mulish.”

One mule, named White Lightning, was only 40 inches tall at the whithers (the point on the shoulder where the mane ends). Since he was over 36 inches, he was technically not a miniature mule, so he was competing against much taller individuals. And he was still in the running for first place. Four or five mules had already been eliminated and were standing around watching the battle/struggle/jump-off. I was glad I had arrived in time to see some of the action.

A small mule eyes a large jump

White Lightning sizing up his next jump

Small mule goes over big jump

...and he makes it with room to spare.

Coon Jumping is one of those activities mules and donkeys, but not so much horses, are uniquely qualified to perform. A little like fox-hunting, raccoon hunting in some areas is a mounted sport. Hunters ride mules, and when they come to a fence, they dismount, climb the fence, and then the mule follows them over. Mules can jump from a flat-footed standstill, and are able to clear impressive heights – when they feel like it. The world record jump (by an equine)of over eight feet was set by a US Army mule. But a mule won’t jump a fence it feels is too high. Its sense of self-preservation will root it to the spot.

As is natural with any sport, a spin-off sport was soon born. Contests to see whose mule could clear the tallest fence rose from the bragging sessions following the coon hunts. Then somebody had to make up some rules. And formal events like the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo began to include Coon Jumping classes in their Mule and Donkey Show every year.

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is kind of a big deal in this part of Texas – and maybe all of Texas. It’s been a fixture as a late-winter event in Houston for the past eighty years. The only year it wasn’t held was 1937, after the facility it had been using was torn down and the new Sam Houston Coliseum was being built. Since 1966, the event has been held at its present location, first in the Astrodome, and later in a series of buildings funded by proceeds from ticket sales – the Astrohall, Astroarena, etc. Now the whole area is “Reliant Park.” Astrohall has been replaced by Reliant Center, and the Astroarena was re-named Reliant Arena. Whatever the name of the place, the livestock show/rodeo built the places to have enough room for their ever-expanding programs, and they’ve done a great job.

I was only there for part of the afternoon to see some of the mule and donkey classes – I didn’t go over to Reliant Center to see how much bigger and better it was from the old Astrohall I remember from ages ago – but I’m sure there will be other chances to go see events there.

To get back to the jumping class, I’ll just point out a few things in some of the photos I took. The boxed area behind the jump is all the room the mule is allowed to use to approach the barrier. Obviously, it’s not enough room to get a good running start. Most of the mules would stand with their chests nearly touching the bar before they would rock back onto their hind legs, fold their front legs under, and launch themselves over the fence. The rules say the mule can’t step outside the box, or it’s a “fault,” which, after two, eliminates the mule from the class. After the first fault, the mule gets a second try immediately. They also have a time limit. Over 90 seconds is a fault.

Those mules knew just exactly how long 90 seconds is, and some of them would draw out the drama and suspense by refusing to budge toward the jump until the last split second, and then would go over just as tidy as you could want. Drama queens. I kid you not. There was as much laughter, if not more, as applause and cheering from the audience. The mules were obviously playing to the crowd.

The miniature donkeys also had a coon jumping contest, which was equally hilarious.

Mini donkey clears the jump

Bob the mini donkey clears the jump for his mini handler

Obviously, mules get their jumping technique from the donkey parent. Horses run and jump and keep running, while donkeys and mules can approach the barrier at a more leisurely pace. Why is that, do you wonder? I’m glad you asked. One of my Facebook friends related something one of her professors told the class about equine evolution, and I found the same explanation in a book titled The Natural Superiority of Mules, by John Hauer.

Horses evolved on the North American continent, and eventually migrated across the Bering land bridge into Asia, and later Europe and North Africa, before becoming extinct in their home ranges. The equine family tree was a bushy one for a long time, before being pruned down to the modern horse and its evolutionary offspring — the zebra clan and the asses. Ah, ha! So, donkeys and asses are actually younger than the horse, more evolutionarily advanced in some ways. In other ways, they have been shaped by the environments they occupied.

Horses evolved on the plains and grasslands with a variety of predators. They evolved to run away. Where they developed, running was always the best option. Think about it. Horses don’t have built in weapons, like bison, cattle, antelope, and all those other critters with horns and antlers. They just have escape velocity. Knowing when to run doesn’t take a lot of intellectual prowess – or a whole lot of sense. See a lion. Run. Hear a lion. Run. See a paper bag blow across the road. Ohmygod! Run and run and run! You get the idea.

Asses, on the other hand, evolved in more rugged terrain. A wild ass has to assess a threatening situation and decide whether to run or stand its ground, based on which is the safer choice. They had to learn to think, and think quickly. And they pass this ability to their hybrid offspring, the mule. When a mule is acting stubborn and hard headed, it’s much more likely that it has decided going through with whatever action its human companion wants it to do would be potentially harmful to itself. Duh.

To quote John Hauer: “People often ask me, ‘Why do you like mules?’ I say to them, ‘If you knew a man who would rarely start a fight, but was always capable of finishing one, who had very good judgment, high intelligence, a tremendous work ethic, but would never allow himself to be taken advantage of or overworked, what would your opinion of that person be?’” According to Hauer, that perfectly describes the character of a mule. Sounds like a good reason to like mules to me.

I, of course, think they are also cool looking, and like most other equines, make great subjects for drawing and painting. There will be mule portraits in the Crazybasenji gallery some day. In the meantime, look for the second part of this post, and a few more blurry photos from the show.


Source: The Natural Superiority of Mules Hauer, John 2005 Lyons Press, Guilford, CT

The Texas Shootout

Right off the bat, when you read that title, what do you think? Yeah, I know. But it’s not about guns. Oh, no. The Texas Shootout — billed with the tagline, “Where East meets West, to see who’s best,” has nothing to do with guns. Or shooting. It’s a mule and donkey show. Or a donkey and mule show. Depending on which critter you favor more. Yeah. So, of course, I had no idea there was an annual mule and donkey show right here in my own back yard, as it were, and I only found out about it this year. But better late than never, as the saying goes.

The event was held last weekend in the newish Brazos County Expo Complex, and I found out about it on Saturday evening. In time to go see some of the event on Sunday. By which time a lot of exhibitors had already left. No matter. I took my camera and got myself over there to see me some mules.

I walked through the barn area and watched some riders walking and jogging their mules and donkeys around the exercise ring, and saw this overly excited guy standing outside his stall.

Maybe a bit too highly strung

…or maybe he just had his eyes closed so he could concentrate on whatever he was listening to.

When I went into the arena, there was a class being judged. A donkeymanship class. Not only is the name a little whimsical, but the donkeys in the class were putting their own interpretations on the exercises. I thought, “how basenji-like.” So no wonder I like these alternate equines. Like basenjis aren’t your daddy’s Labrador, donkeys aren’t your daddy’s quarter horse. They have their own way of doing things. Sometimes it’s the same as your way, and sometimes it ain’t.

At another point in my peregrinations around the barn area, I stopped to watch another mule in his stall, munching on some grain in a sack.

mmmmule noms

And I heard this incredible noise start up from somewhere close by, but all the other stalls were empty — or so I thought. When I peeked over the solid wall part, I realized why these guys were making so much noise. They just wanted to make sure I’d see them!

We gotta make noise cuz we be short

I couldn’t stay for the rest of the show because I had to take the camera to my brother, but I watched a couple of mulemanship classes (yeah, I know), which were also pretty entertaining. The mules were all sizes and colors. One probably had a quarter horse mom, because he walked with his head down at cow-eye level, another could have had a Belgian (draft horse) mom — it was big and muscular. And there was one I was sure had an Arabian mother because she had the prettiest face. I found out from her rider that her mother was a mustang (I bet there’s some Arabian blood in that mustang herd).

A very pretty mule

So when I got home I looked up some of the mule and donkey farms on line to see if there are any close by, and maybe I’ll be able to go visit some of them and get some more photos. Turns out most of the farms I found listed close to home have miniature donkeys. Criminally, insanely cute little creatures. And miniature mules, too. Oh, I am in trouble.

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