Ruby Howell shows her mule, Molly, at the 2019 Pratt County Fair like any 4-Her would exhibit a horse, with some very interesting results.
Ruby Howell’s entry in the horse competitions at the Pratt County Fair isn’t the fastest and doesn’t look exactly like the other entries. But Howell wouldn’t have it any other way.
Howell’s choice for the horse events is her mule, Molly. This year, Howell and Molly were Reserve Grand Champions in the Performance Senior Division.
Howell said she just loves being on a mule or horse. It’s freeing and an adrenaline rush. Competing shows the bond between rider and animal. It’s not about the placing but getting better each time.
“It can be frustrating. But I just love the way it feels when we do well. It’s just amazing,” Howell said. “She is smarter than most horses.”
Howell got interested in mules during a trip to Scottsdale, Ariz. where she got to go on a trail ride on a mule. She found out just how great mules are and determined she wanted one. She asked her mother about getting a mule and the answer was “yes,”
So a trip was made to Yoder about six years ago and Ruby was able to purchase Molly from an Amish couple. It was the start of a long and happy friendship. Howell was a little older then most 4-Hers when she got involved and that was the same year she got Molly.
Howell decided to use Molly for her 4-H project and the pair has been working together ever since.
Molly is 12 now and Howell has her entered in several horse events including: Western 4-H Trail and Showmanship, English Hunt Seat, Hunter Under Saddle, Hunter Hack, Western Pleasure and 4-H Horsemanship. Hunter Hack is a jumping event where the animals have to jump over two low jumps.
Usually, Molly would also be entered in the timed events 4-H Barrels, Flags, Pole Bending and Keyhole but Howell wanted to give her mother’s mule Crowley the experience in those events. Crowley had some issues and didn’t do very well. For Howell, her favorite is definitely Molly.
Howell and Molly will pair up again to help with traffic control at the demolition derby and monster truck show.
Howell said she enjoys training with Molly. They have become pretty good in the jumping competition and travel to the Wichita Riding Academy for jump training. At the fair, they jumped crossed rails that were 18 inches high. At other jumping competitions, they go over two feet high jumps, Howell said.
They also go to Wichita to compete in Kansas Hunter Jumper Association events. She will attend events in August and September. They attended a KHJA event in Topeka earlier in July where Molly did amazing. They also attend trail rides and have been to Nebraska, Missouri and Oklahoma.
A favorite event is Ozark Days in Missouri where its 300 mules and they just have fun.
With each training session, Howell and Molly get better. They learn trust and also learn from their equine counter parts. Howell used to be scared to canter but now that and jumping is what they do.
Molly had some company in the competitions this year. Emma and Cole Freeman entered the horse project for the first time and used their grandmothers mules Socks and Goldie. Howell said she was really excited to see them ride their mules.
There are obvious differences between horses and mules. Horses are just naturally faster. But mules are smarter, Howell said.
While some will say mules are stubborn, Howell said they aren’t but they do like to know why they are doing what they do. Once they know, they enjoy doing it.
At 14-hands tall, Molly is short enough to be considered a pony. Mules can come in all sizes. They can be as big as a Clydesdale or a miniature. Molly’s parentage is unknown but Howell thinks she is a Welsh Cross.
Howell admits that Molly’s speed is slow and she’s kind of lazy but she is a quick learner. For those wanting to get involved with mules, Howell suggests more experienced riders.
Howell takes Molly to other competitions, some where Molly is the only mule entry. It catches the other contestants off guard and sometimes the judges may not feel they know enough about mules to judge them.
“When I go to shows, they don’t quite think I’m normal. Other riders wonder why I’m there,” Howell said. “It can be challenging at times.”
But once the competition gets underway, the others accept Molly and they have a good time, Howell said.
Besides the competitions, Molly also pulls a cart for rides. Howell said she would like to get involved with mounted archery. She will have to learn archery first and probably wouldn’t do it competitively but it would be fun to do as a hobby. Howell said she doesn’t know how but she would like to learn how to rope off Molly.
But for now, competitions and the county fair will continue to be their venues. Howell said she plans on doing two more years of 4-H events in Western, English and timed events but probably not go beyond that.
Until then, Howell and Molly will continue to show people just what a mule can do.