Growing up, Kristin Stolee never gave mules much thought.
That changed in 1990, when a friend asked if she had any interest helping to train and show the animals. Stolee, who long worked with horses, agreed on a whim.
“I just fell in love with mules,” said Stolee, who now owns 18 mules at her home in Glen Rose. “They are full of character. You can’t help but love them.”
Aficionados say donkeys and mules are gaining in popularity at shows across Texas and the country. On Sunday, more than 50 competitors showed donkeys and mules at the Fort Worth Stock Show, more than in past years.
People are increasingly drawn to their gentle nature and intelligence, said Sandi Costa of Navasota, a trainer with Country Star Training Center.
“They have a different mindset from a horse. You have to talk to ask them. You can’t just bully them,” said Costa, as she prepared to show donkeys. “They are very smart. They can figure you out in a heartbeat.”
Bobbie Ferraro, also from Navasota, said children and older adults are helping to boost the donkey industry.
“Donkeys don’t spook like horses, which makes them easier to handle,” said Ferraro, who works with Peace Pipe Ranch. “They can do everything a horse can do, and that makes them attractive to people who can’t quite handle a full-sized horse.”
Sisters Hannah Heath, 11, and Heather Heath, 17, of College Station, began showing miniature donkeys when a friend of their grandmother’s introduced them to the breed. They had grown up showing horses but immediately fell for the donkeys.
“They like to cuddle,” said Heather Heath. “They’re like lapdogs, and they are so loyal. They never forget you.”
Stolee is frequently asked if mules are indeed stubborn.
“They are not stubborn. They are conservative,” she explained. “If you take a mule to the edge of a cliff, he’ll just look at you, like, ‘No way. You go first.’ ”
Still, Stolee said she occasionally gets strange looks when people learn she shows mules.
“But as soon as they meet the animal,” she said, “they understand.”