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.
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.
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.
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.
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.