Mule owners seem to be inseparable from their choice of mounts, like Festus on the classic television western “Gunsmoke,” and once they’ve made the decision to switch from horses to mules, they often never look back. To get a sense of their thoughts regarding mules, a variety of mule owners and riders were questioned during their shows and classes at the National Western Stock Show (NWSS). They were more than happy to reveal what drew them to the animals and what they liked about the breed.
The best parts about owning a mule:
“We like their disposition,” said Bob and Marena Riggin of Abilene, Kan. The couple switched from horses and has owned mules for 10 years. Their stall at the NWSS was papered with winning ribbons, along with a table overflowing with trophy buckles from the 2013 mule classes. “They get to be very friendly and kind of grow on you,” they added. “They’re very easy going and they are not stubborn. If you are nice to them it seems they are nice to you.”
“I think it is their independence,” commented Billie Douglas and Pat Foster, a pair of friends from Brighton, Colo., about what drew them to own mules after having horses. “They are not stubborn. I like that they are so intelligent and they think about things. They are great analyzers. They are not going to run you off a cliff or run you into a hole. They don’t have the flight response like a horse. They’re real even-keeled, pretty much, and they are fun to ride.”
“Mules are intelligent, hardy, very versatile and different,” stated the Hurleys from Grand Meadow, M.N., during a previous visit to the NWSS. All five members of the family traveled to attend the event, including mom, dad and three young girls. “They’re smart and sure-footed,” the family continued. “They’re just fun and they have a good personality.”
“They have so much personality and are always so energetic,” revealed a trio of Colorado teens — Kaylynn Sheldon, Taylor Moya and Ashley McCain — after they had participated in the popular mule costume class at the 2013 NWSS. “I think they are really funny. They do things that make you laugh and they are not as stubborn as everybody says they are.”
In order to be a mule owner, you have to be _____?
“Patient,” was the reply of every owner queried, from Kansas and Missouri residents to those in Colorado.
“And willing to learn from an animal,” added Ed and Cindy Slemp from Sturgeon, Mo., “Because they will tell you. Mules are more honest than the people you deal with.”
“It’s very hard for a mule to trust you,” stated Douglas and Foster. “Once you get their trust, though, you’ve got it.”
“You have to be very patient and determined,” said Sheldon, Moya and McCain. “You have to really go slow. It takes them longer to process, but once they get it, they build off it much quicker than a horse does. You can force a horse into doing something,” the teen riders revealed about their experiences. “With a mule, you have to be their partner. You can’t force them into doing anything. Otherwise, it makes it worse.”
Some challenging aspects of owning mules:
“It’s learning to be friends with them and to be slow and patient and figure them out,” said the Slemps.
“I think it takes them longer to get it, whatever you are trying to do, but once they do, it clicks and then it is there,” chimed in Douglas and Foster on the topic. “Read up on them (before you own one). Talk to people that have them. I was around horses all my life and I didn’t realize how dumb I was until I got a mule,” the duo summed up with a laugh.
“We like their personalities,” said the Riggins, who used to be true-blue horse people. “They’re very easy going, they are not stubborn. They are very trainable. We don’t ever see ourselves going back to horses.”
“Everybody thinks of the stigma of mules being stubborn, but they are not,” pointed out Douglas and Foster. “They’re just smart. They’re thinking and they’re analyzing.”
“They are not as stubborn as everybody says they are,” agreed Colorado teens Sheldon, Moya and McCain. “It’s nice to ride mules because it’s different and you have a wide variety of animals to ride. You are learning different things (from mules) and different ways to ride and it makes you a better rider.”
“One thing about the mule community is, we are a family,” summed up the Slemps, who own SS Mules in Missouri. “We’re ferocious competitors. When we get in the pen, it ain’t nothing but blood,” they shared with plenty of laughter. “But afterward, there’s a lot of camaraderie and good sportsmanship. It’s way different than the horse world.”
So go ahead ... call them all “mule-headed.” But consider yourself warned. All those mule owners you run into the rest of your life will just take it as a compliment. ❖