“Stubborn as a mule” is a common saying in the parts of the country where mules, and equally obstinate donkeys, reside, but their Fort Worth Stock Show exhibitors are quick to defend their animals as loyal, level-headed and mostly cooperative.
Dianne Smith, who lives on 250 acres between Smithville and Bastrop, has been tending mules for about 50 years. Though the sturdy animals were popular as working stock in earlier days of the Old West and the early 20th century, they fell out of favor and their numbers dwindled.
But now, Smith said, mules are making a comeback as a go-to equine.
For those unfamiliar with mules, they are naturally sterile animals that result from the mating of a male donkey and a female horse.
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Smith’s handsome male, 9-year-old What About Bob, stood quietly, his gleaming black coat ready for his moment in the ring with Jessica Meuth, his handler. She wore a flouncy chapeau and period costume, as did many of the other mule exhibitors.
“Mules tend to be really good at everything,” Smith said. They aren’t as fast as horses, but sure-footed. “They’re the original four-wheel drive.”
Temperamentally, Smith said, mules aren’t as much stubborn as they are survivors.
“If he says he’s not going to do something, there’s a reason,” she said.
The Fort Worth Stock Show continues through Feb. 4 at the Will Rogers Memorial Center, just west of downtown. Details: 817-877-2400 or www.fwssr.com
People love their mules, she said, and their mules love them back.
“The best thing is, mules to me are more like a dog than an equine,” she said. “They know their people.“
‘They’re really smart’
Miniature donkeys are likewise independent, said Linda Cornell of Burleson. She was on hand with Zachary, her 9-year-old miniature donkey. By midmorning, he had already won two blue rosettes, first places that count toward his total points at the end of the show.
“He was No. 13, and my stall number is 777,” she said, speculating that luck was indeed on their side. She has been showing the diminutive animals who top out at 36 inches tall for 22 years. She has one at home, Madison, who is 22 years old and was the first one she exhibited.
“I’ve been riding all my life, and I just fell in love with them,” Cornell said as she stroked Zachary’s soft ears. “Actually, they’re really smart.”
And that reputation?
“That’s what’s fun about them, they all have attitudes,” Cornell said. “But trust me, you do have your ‘donkey days.’ ”
Sisu Morris of Dripping Springs agreed. Her miniature donkey line is called Stock Market’s Miniature Donkeys, and two of her students were showing Cash Rebate, 16, and Cash Benefit, 11.
“He’s a trick donkey,” she said of Big Ben, Benefit’s nickname. “He retrieves Frisbees; he can pull a flag out of a box and wave it.”
‘They think first’
Morris has been teaching children and teens how to show donkeys since 1997.
“I love the fact that it’s easy for children to handle and show them, and don’t get hurt,” Morris said.
Mules tend to be really good at everything. They aren’t as fast as horses, but sure-footed. They’re the original four-wheel drive.
Dianne Smith, mule enthusiast
Emma Sage Bien-Lambeth, 12, and Annie Stewart, 11, are already veterans with Morris’ donkeys.
Stewart’s mother, Mary Stewart, had been named as a major force in “spoiling” Ben, the trickster who is the animal her daughter showed in the pleasure driving class on Saturday morning.
“”He’s not spoiled. He’s special,” she said. “He can be very opinionated, and tell me what he’s thinking.”
She, too praised the donkeys’ qualities.
“They’re cautious, have a very good instinct and a sense of self,” she said. “They think first before reacting.”
But they have their assertive moments.
Mary Stewart once gently used a training whip to get Ben’s attention.
“He was highly offended when I touched his face,” she said.
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