The Ears Have It!

Isabella Rodwig aboard Assassin

The Ears Have It!

By Vicky Busch

Women with children say that when they have a baby their lives change forever. I cannot speak to that nor can I surmise in which direction their lives change but I CAN say that when I got a mule, my life changed dramatically and forever for the better. 

Assassin the Mule does dressage.

The obvious question of course is “How did a dressage queen become the proud owner of a mule?” I’ve always liked, admired and have been interested in mules. When walking around the French Quarter, I’ve been the person gravitating toward the lowly beasts; really just to get a closer look. Notwithstanding the obvious EARS, I’ve also found their enormous and intelligent eyes in particular, fascinating. 

In October 2015 I was reading an article about the Bishop Mule days out in California. This weeklong event is basically the yearly Super Bowl for mules. They come from all over the country in GREAT numbers to participate in any event you would find a horse entered in, as well as events specific to the mule, such as coon jumping. This event is jumping from a complete stand still – high! Google it if you are interested. It’s amazing how high they are able to jump with absolutely no forward inertia. On the sidebar of this article was a list of mules for sale all over the country. One in particular caught my eye. He was in North Carolina (not too far) and was really gorgeous; the product of an Overo Paint Reining mare and a burro named Sam. More importantly, his video revealed three correct gaits. From a dressage perspective, he had a correct walk, trot and canter. This was important because many mules don’t really canter well – if at all! He had packed, pulled, done trails, jumped some, done western pleasure and was only four years old. Thoughts about my already busy riding/training/teaching schedule didn’t help me defy logic. I just HAD to have him. 

And it truly was love at first sight. NO, I did not go try him before I bought him. That would have made way too much sense. I just flat out bought him from the ad, the video and a long conversation with the owner. As soon as he stepped off the trailer, I was smitten – completely and totally – and have been ever since. 

For those interested, the mule is a cross between a mother horse and a daddy donkey (burro). The result is what is known as hybrid vigor, the increased vigor or other superior qualities arising from the crossbreeding of two genetically different animals (horse and burro), making the mule a highly resilient, sound, healthy and intelligent animal.

Assassin. Photo credit Marie Cobb.

His barn name is Slate, but when I got him I instantly knew his show name would be Assassin. But I must admit, on most days he is simply “the mule”. Slate is young. He was four when I bought him, so at first he was VERY challenging to steer. Mules don’t have a well defined shoulder like a horse, so steering the shoulder from the outside rein and leg (like we are supposed to do in dressage) can be a big challenge. They also have short necks, so the feeling of riding a tiny pony with no shoulder is pretty close to what it’s like. Most normal visual markers are also of no help. For instance, when riding a horse, I am careful to only see a hint of inside eye to prevent over flexing. In the case of this mule, his eyes are enormous and stick out of his head much more than a horse. Sometimes I can see both eyes at the same time from on top – very weird. Also, because he is small, (15 hands) his ears seem VERY close to the rider. And speaking of those ears, they are constantly on the move. I’m sure that’s the case with horses but lets face it – his are a bit LARGE, so the effect is dramatic. In the canter though, his ears swivel in opposite directions. It’s mesmerizing and somewhat distracting. A bit like watching googley eyes!

Myself and my junior rider, Isabella Rodwig, have had the time of our lives with this mule. Outside of his innate “rock star” appeal, he has been fun to ride, train and develop. He is different in too many ways to state here, but one thing is for sure, he does not tolerate being bored by too much dressage at once. He doesn’t get the point (imagine that?). In recent months, Isabella has focused on developing his jumping for cross country. He really seems to like that, although as expected, he has his own unique style. No effort until it gets big enough. If he can step over, why would a smart mule jump? Not long ago, he had his debut at Fleur de Leap and won all three phases of his division. Of course we were thrilled with him!

Assassin. Photo credit Marie Cobb.

In my opinion though, the most important thing that this mule does is bring attention to the plight of the millions of working equids in the world through Brooke USA. Slate became involved with Brooke when they discovered I owned a mule. Every year, my husband Eric and I give donations to a number of favorite charities. Brooke is one that we especially love because we are helping animals in addition to the families that rely on them. Our involvement with Brooke has exploded with ownership of Slate. He has been the topic of multiple press releases through Phelps Media group and even recently was asked for an article by one of Germany’s premier sport horse magazines, Cavallo. Apparently, he has also been the subject of articles as far away as Australia. We have gone global.

To say all of this is mind blowing is an understatement. I can tell you I never expected to be the proud owner of a famous mule. I know he is a bit of a novelty still, but I think his charm and charisma are showing he is more than that. He is on a mission – to help his family members in the poorest countries around the world lead better lives. Look up Brooke USA. The work they do around the world is humbling. It’s not often in life you get to do something for others that is also tied so closely to doing what you love. Slate, Isabella, my husband and I, are so very proud to be part of this incredibly worthy cause.

No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.