by Notoriass Manuel
by Notoriass Manuel
A mule amidst Arabians.
Most of the equine competitors in endurance racing are full or part Arabian horses. These trim, fiery steeds have been bred to run for thousands of years. They toss their riders into the sagebrush with glee in the excitement of race day. Having (God willing) passed the half-way point in my life, my motto when it comes to wild riding is now “live to ride another day.” A good mule (note the qualifier) is one key to this endeavor in my mind. And mules can compete here.
According to Rho Bailey, AERC spokesman (who rides a mule himself), “there have been a lot of mules that have done well and have completed LOTS of miles in Endurance.” Two mules have won the Haggin Cup for Best Condition in the prestigious Western States 100 Tevis Cup Ride; Hugo ridden by Eva Taylor in 1974 and Ruby by Joseph Sandy Brown in 1998.
Other mules that have done well and who are still competing are: Junior with 3,780 AERC miles ridden by Max Melich; Mur the Blur with 3,320 AERC miles, ridden by Robert and Melissa Ribley; Walker the Mule with 3,110 miles ridden by Jill Carr; Miss Molly Mule who has 1400 miles being ridden by T. J. Edwards; and MZ Hazel ridden 1,570 miles by Marshall Bates. That’s a lot of mule miles!
Another advantage to riding my mule in the endurance race was sleeping in a bit on race day. No need for expensive glue-on shoes, special feedings, leg wraps, or blankets. The mule was good to go. He got the extra calories he needed by siding up to his horsey pals and stealing the lovingly prepared beet pulp and rice bran from their feed tubs. His barefoot hooves looked the same after three days on the trail as before. And a mule with a blanket on? Oh, please! He would roll it to shreds in an hour. That’s why we call them “horse” blankets.
Finishing (and a good roll) is winning.
On the trail we flew through the sand and trotted gingerly down sandstone slick rock like a trail ride on steroids. Manny jogged and fretted, caught up in the excitement of a race. He stopped dead at one point on a rocky stretch of trial and plucked a carrot off the ground, dropped by someone riding ahead of us. “Such a smart boy,” I thought, and we continued on. Since the ride was on Halloween, my friend, Ronnie had neatly written “NICE ASS” on Manny’s hindquarters (my mainly conceptual Halloween costume) and I received more compliments that day than I’ve heard in a long time.
At the end of each leg of the race my fine sleek mule turned into a rolling fiend. I was given 30 seconds to whip the saddle off before his knees buckled and he dropped to the ground for a right-side/left-side/right-side roll. Red sand clung to his sweaty sides. Note: next time pack a stiff brush.
We finished the 30 mile race just under the cut-off time of 6 hours and 40 minutes. Several vet assistants petted my tired mule and fed him bits of hay to bring his heart rate down just under the wire. For me, finishing was winning; for Manny rolling was the key.
Now that the Wyoming winter has set in for real, all riding has to occur in short bursts. Frozen fingers and toes are the limiting factors. Prairie dog holes have filled with snow forming invisible landmines, so for the most part we walk through the howling wind. Sometimes it is really beautiful—one night my fine mule stepped through drifts as the full moon was rising. Snow blew in silver sheets and a chorus of geese honked close overhead. On these cold short days a Wyoming mule rider begins to dream of “next summer,” setting plans that seem implausible as the wind chill drops to double negatives and the sun dips below Jelm Mountain before most people are home from work. Next summer I’ve got my eye on a few more endurance races, though, so I’d better get out and saddle up the mule.