Before 1944 my equine experience was limited to horses. This included draft horses, Morgans, and other breeds. Then, as a senior in high school I was told that the National Ski Patrol was accepting volunteers from high school seniors for the Tenth Mountain Division, part of the U.S. Army. It trained in the Colorado Rockies. I applied because I knew that after high school, at 18 years of age, I would promptly be induction into the armed forces that were fighting in World War II.
The Tenth Mountain Division appealed to me because I loved horses and, although the Cavalry was now entirely motorized, mule packing was a major part of the 10th Division training, and mules were half horse. Moreover, skiing was an essential part of the training regimen, and because I wanted to learn to ski, as well as being a mountain lover, I acquired the necessary letter of recommendation from my Scoutmaster and former horse owning employers.
The National Ski Patrol sent me a letter stating that, following infantry basic training, I would be transferred to the Tenth Mountain Division Training Center in Camp Hale, Colorado.
I excitedly looked forward to the mules, the skiing and Colorado.
My mother, however, was dismayed. She had learned that the Tenth Division, fighting in Italy, had suffered the highest casualty rate of any U.S. Army Division in the war.
I comforted her by telling her that my transfer to the Tenth Division meant months of additional training before I was sent into combat.
As it turned out, the atomic bomb ended the war abruptly and I never got to serve in the Tenth. Instead I was shipped to Germany and spent a year in the post-war occupation, ending up as a 19-year-old criminal and denazification non-commissioned officer. No mules! No skiing! (But I did learn to ski on a furlough in the Bavarian Alps.)
Anyway, that was followed by eight years of college which included a lot of horse courses and patients, and summer jobs with horses like packing for the U.S. Forest Service (no mules), wrangling on ranches, cowboying. Even during the school years my equine jobs included working at the racetrack, working for a veterinarian, but… no mules.
Finally, in 1956, just short of 30 years of age, I became a practicing veterinarian. I can only remember one mule as a patient during my first two years of practice.
Then, after a few more years, we attended Bishop Mule Days in Bishop, California. The small, historic mountain town located along Highway 395 which runs along the Eastern border of the Sierra Nevada mountains. It calls itself “The Mule Capital of the World”, is headquarters for several packing outfitters, which serve both government and private projects, but mainly vacationers.
The Mule Show is a combination of a race meet, a rodeo, a gymnkhana, both an English and a Western Horse Show, a county fair and a circus.
The versatility of the hybrid beasts intrigued me. I became not only a regular attendee at Bishop Mule Days, but I decided to become a mule owner.
After adopting one mule and purchasing another I decided that the only way I could obtain the behavior I cherished in horses was to raise my own mules and handle them from birth onward.
We raised one or two foals a year on our small ranch, keeping some and selling others.
So, in 1980 we bred two good Quarter Horse mares to a Jack I had never seen. But, I had seen his offspring at Bishop Mule Days and was sure he would produce the kind of mules I wanted.
He did! Jordass Jean (my wife names them) was born first. She was the easiest equine to start that I ever experienced, before or since. “Jeanie” became famous, competing at Mule Days, winning the Hall of Fame. She excelled at English events, never refusing a jump in her life, and never – ever – showed hostility to a human. She did make pack trips, cattle roundups, and is the only mule in history to be invited to participate in the Olympics (Los Angeles, 1984, Santa Anita Racetrack, Equestrian Competition.) She did a flawless exhibition jump course.
Two weeks after “Jeanie” was born, a male mule was foaled at our place. Debby named him “Jassper”. I used him as my saddle “horse” until he was sold at age 12 and became a winning Team Penning mount. He ultimately ended up in Kentucky, ponying Thoroughbred colts during their race training days.
As the years passed, we raised and trained other mules. Why do they fascinate me?
The great horseman Pat Parelli, founder of The American Mule Association, once said, “Mules are just like horses, only more so.”
I know what he meant. The qualities of equine behavior, both the desirable and the less desirable, enhanced by hybrid vigor in two different, but compatible species – the horse and the donkey, are exaggerated in the mule.
If trained properly, the mule can often surpass both of its parents in many ways: strength, endurance, vigor, versatility and temperament. Typically smooth gaited and intelligent, they can bond strongly with people (like me).
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