Tag Archives: mules

Mule Mo-Jo — part 2

My trip to Houston a few weeks ago to see some of the mule and donkey classes at the Houston Livestock Show was more than just an outing to indulge one of my passions. It was therapy.

I’ve been mooning around worrying about my back, and possible surgery, and all things stressful, for the past few months. It was good to be able to just leave it all behind for a day. I didn’t even have to contend with Houston traffic when I got down there. The Livestock Show and Rodeo organizers had set up a number of satellite parking areas with transportation to and from Reliant Center. I didn’t even have to go inside Loop 610.

It was so un-stressful I might have dozed off on the bus on the way back to the parking area had it not been for the bouncy little girl in the seat in front of me. Her grandmother sat with her, and her mother sat next to me, so, of course, she kept jumping up on the seat and turning around, and had to be told to reverse the process multiple times. She would probably be wiped out for the rest of the day once she got home, but at the time, she was still wound up from the day’s excitement.

On the other hand, I was a little worried that I might want to doze off on the drive home. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. I kept myself awake and occupied by re-playing in my mind the events I’d just witnessed.

The second group of classes I watched were the weight-pulling classes. There were four weight classes: light-weight, medium-weight, heavy-weight, and super heavy-weight. The light-weight pullers, as you can imagine, are mighty small mules – or small mighty mules, if you prefer. One team may have even been at or below the 36 inch height cut-off that would classify them as miniatures. Named Jake and John, they were matching dark bays wearing pink halters to match their woman driver’s teeshirt. Absolutely adorable.

Light-weight mule team

Jake and John get set for their first pull.

Just as the jumping mules were awarded points based on how high they jumped compared to their own height, the weight pullers were scored on how much weight they pulled relative to their weight as a team. Jake and John were the smallest/lightest team, and pulled about 170% of their combined weight. Clyde and Sam were the biggest light-weight team, and finished off with a pull of about 190% of their weight.

Light-weight team pull away

Jake and John working with gusto!

And don’t you just love the names? Simple, honest names that sort of roll off the tongue in tandem. The team with the most original names were two blond molly (female) mules named Kate and Kate. Or maybe it was Kate and Cayt. Whatever. How simple can you get?

The entire approach to this class was different. Whereas in the jumping classes, especially the miniature donkeys, the handlers were dressed in Western show ring finery. They begged and pleaded their charges to go over the higher barriers. They hauled on lead ropes and showed signs of exasperation. By contrast, drivers and their helpers in the weight-pulling class were all dressed in work clothes. And it took a team of rather massive young men to move even the small teams of mules into position and hitch them to the weight sled. Their job was to keep the eager haulers from taking off in full pull mode before they were set. It was a little comical, but potentially extremely dangerous, especially with the larger teams.

Light-weight team number two

Another light-weight team waits for the "go."

Light-weight team three pulls away

Clyde and Sam show how it's done.

My favorite team of the day (aside from Jake and John) was a super heavy-weight team of matched, dark bay molly mules named Bella and Grace. They were enormous creatures with great, Roman-nosed heads, feathered legs courtesy of their draft horse (probably a Shire or Clydesdale) mother, and the dainty – relatively speaking – feet of a donkey. During the warm up period, they gave their driver a ride around the ring. He stepped onto the “tree” that was used to hitch their harnesses to the sled, and off they went.

Super heavy-weight team

Bella and Grace give their driver a free ride.

I didn’t wait around to find out who the definitive winners were. There was math involved, and I had left my calculator at home. Who won wasn’t important to me that day. I just wanted to see mules, and take a few pictures, and come home with a few stories to tell. Mission accomplished.

Super heavy-weight team waits to pull

Bella and Grace wait politely to start...sort of.

Super heavy-weight team pulls away

Bella and Grace make it look easy.

 

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

From the Land of Not-Quite

I live not-quite in a not-quite city, and it seems to suit me. All my life I’ve been not-quite sure who or what I wanted to be, so I have not-quite “arrived.” I was not-quite part of any group in school, and not-quite a great student – not-quite a rebel and not-quite an angel. Sometimes I feel like I’m not-quite even here. It’s a little like being almost a ghost – I sometimes feel like I can observe while unobserved, like the proverbial fly on the wall. But not-quite.

With people from all sides encouraging us all to “follow your passion,” and “do what you love,” I have not-quite been there or done that. And my problem seems to be that I’m not-quite sure which passion to follow – science or art, writing or painting, growing roses or building web sites. Let’s not forget reading. If I could kick back with a good book all day and make a living at it… heaven.

This past weekend I met someone you might call a guru of authentic living. Patti Digh is a writer/blogger that my friend, Tresha, has been following on line for some time. Tresha sent Patti some of her artwork, and one piece was published in one of Patti’s books – Four Word Self Help. Tresha gave me a copy of the book. Sunday, Patti Digh was going to be at a bookstore in Houston to chat and autograph her books, so Tresha asked me if I wanted to go.

Now Houston is not-quite on my list of favorite places to drive in my car on a warm day. My car is apparently going through menopause, and is prone to hot flashes – especially after I’ve been driving a while. So Tresha and I had to find a place where we could meet where I could leave my car – well away from the torture chamber that is the Houston freeway system. Did I mention that the air conditioner in my car doesn’t work? Yeah, that, too.

Anyway it’s a lot more fun to drive/ride into Houston with someone else, so we met in beautiful downtown Brenham, about an hour from where I live and two from Tresha’s home. And they have a handy public parking lot smack in the middle of the historic district – we sometimes meet there on a Saturday to eat lunch at “Must Be Heaven” and visit the funky little downtown shops.

But back to Patti Digh and why she’s in a piece about the “Land of Not-Quite.” I get the feeling she used to live here, too. Her 37 Days blog explains what happened in her life to cause her to want to leave the land of not-quite behind. She has since published books of collections of some of her blog entries along with contributions from some of her readers (like Tresha’s artwork). Her trip to Houston was part of a book tour for her latest book, What I Wish for You: Simple Wisdom for a Happy Life.

She greets everyone like an old friend, and so obviously is enjoying her life now, it’s hard not to wish for exactly the same thing. Except that nobody’s life is exactly like anybody else’s. None of us have exactly the same dreams or the same experiences in life that may have led us to live apart from those dreams. Let me tell you, not-quite achieving a dream is a hell of a place to be. Suppressing dreams to the point of losing all track of them is like some kind of psychic amputation, complete with phantom limb pain.

I’m struggling to reclaim my dreams, beginning with sorting through the dim storage areas in my mind to find which ones were the most precious and can still make me happy, and how I can rebuild the support structures to hold them up while I learn just how much I’m still capable of doing. For instance, the dream I shoved farthest back in the attic is a horse. I never got over my teenage crush on horses. I discovered that I’m not a natural-born rider, but I never got to spend enough time on horse-back to get good at it. On the other hand, I did get pretty good at falling off. The current condition of my back and various joints makes horse-back riding look like a bad idea.

And I’ve fallen in love with mules. They appeal to the basenji-lover in me. Mules are smarter than a lot of people give them credit for (as are basenjis), disinclined to follow orders that don’t make sense to them (ditto for basenjis), disinclined to let every little thing send them into a panic (as some horses are prone to do), and every bit as attractive. I could devote a whole blog to photos of mules and stories about them – if only I could get to the mules. When I went to the Texas Shootout last May, I felt like I’d found a little corner of heaven, but this year the event has been canceled due to the bad economy and high gas prices. I was planning to spend more than just the final day at the event, force myself to talk to more people, and hopefully get invited to a nearby farm to visit and take more pictures. Not going to happen.

I can’t travel far, especially in the warmer months, because of my menopausal car. It’s not as major a hardship for me as it could be for some people, because I’m quite happy to stay home and keep the Puppy company… and read. If I could make a living reading, that would be another dream come true. It might not be possible to get wealthy from it, but I’m working on learning to write great book reviews so that at least I may be able to get all my books free (and pre-publication) at some future date. I’ve already had several published at Story Circle Book Reviews. I don’t get paid, but I’ve already gotten a couple of free books.

For my third dream (and if I was talking to a magic genie, this would be my third wish), I would love to have a great big rose garden in my back yard. I have ideal conditions – a bald prairie where the roses could all get tons of direct sunlight and great air circulation. I would only grow roses that had won awards for fragrance, like Fragrant Cloud, Double Delight, Mister Lincoln, and that I could get enough blooms from to take some to sell at the weekly farmers market in Bryan. I would make little cards to go with the bouquets with the name and history of the rose, because I think that’s the best way to enjoy roses – knowing their personal histories.

So there it is. My recipe for a happy life. It may yet come about. I feel I may be moving from not-quite to almost.

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.

We're coming for YOU!

 

 

Now that's a hybrid vehicle

It's all about entitlement

It's all about entitlement

This here is Trigger. At the moment he belongs to Kelso Mules in Murray, Kentucky. They were kind enough to let me borrow the picture and edit in the parking sign that my friend took a picture of in Austin. The minute I saw this picture of Trigger, I knew he was the one I wanted to star in my little comedy. I don’t know how many of those signs there are around Austin, or other places, but I think it would be great fun to hitch a nice looking mule like ol’ Trigger to every one of them.

Trigger is for sale, by the way, and the Kelso Mules folks have other nice mules for sale. I wish I could afford one. I might even ride it once in a while.