“A mule has neither pride of ancestry nor hope of posterity”
April 15, 2010 7:12 PM   Subscribe

Those familiar with the equestrian discipline of dressage, might imagine it as populated exclusively by stuck up riders and spoiled, excessively shiny overbred horses. A few mule trainers beg to differ.

Developing out of military movements and aristocratic pageants of equine grace, dressage is now recognized by non-equestrians through exposure to the Andalusian Lipizzaner Stallions or in the Olympics. Performances can include remarkable equine dancing (previously), and competition generally takes place in accordance with strict rules. These rules govern everything from the movements to be performed, the locations in the arena at which they must take place, permissible attire for horse and rider, and so forth (pdf).

However despite the upper crust reputation of dressage and in contrast to other competitive equestrian disciplines, dressage's US governing bodies - the United States Dressage Federation and the United States Equestrian Federation - permit performance of dressage with a mule. A mule is a cross-breed of two species: horse, carrying 64 chromosomes and donkey, with 62. Technically, a male donkey and a female horse produce a mule, whereas a male horse and female donkey produce a hinny. Often considered a fairly ungainly animal, inferior to the horse, mules have some staunch defenders. The dressage mules are starting to get noticed. Rider and trainer Audrey Goldsmith and her mule named 'Heart B Porter Creek' perform against the traditional warmblood and thoroughbred breeds typically used in dressage. As the apparent mule ambassador in the dressage world, Goldsmith feels the pressure: If she doesn’t ride well, people may discount the potential of all mules.

(Title quote from Robert G. Ingersoll.)
posted by bunnycup (17 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Wau. During my teen years I dabbled in dressage and was led to believe there were major physiological inputs w/r/t equine performance in dressage (obviously, to exaggerate a point, a Hanoverian will perform a pas-de-deux very differently from a Shetland) - I'd be interested to see if the different build of a mule has much effect on their suitability for advanced moves.
posted by subbes at 7:21 PM on April 15, 2010

Neat! I just had to go to YouTube to dig up some video.

- Willie shows some dressage moves.
- Mules in-hand.
- Not a mule: an agile Clydesdale.
posted by maudlin at 7:25 PM on April 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Pas-de-deux? WTF, blame the wine - I meant half-pass.
posted by subbes at 7:27 PM on April 15, 2010

This is adorable.
posted by The Devil Tesla at 7:32 PM on April 15, 2010

subbes, I found a Shire pas de deux -- set to Sir Mixalot and Queen.

Apparently there are a lot of Shires and Clydesdales, as well as mules, trying dressage. I think this is awesome.
posted by maudlin at 7:34 PM on April 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

During my teen years I dabbled in dressage

Is it just me or does that sound kinky?
posted by jonmc at 7:40 PM on April 15, 2010

Adorable? What about Fjord ponies doing Grand Prix?
posted by MisterMo at 7:44 PM on April 15, 2010

There's also Western or Cowboy dressage (which I took lessons in but never did a show), though it doesn't mention mules.

I was always told that mules were smarter than horses in the same ways as donkeys were; better at avoiding bad footing, not inclined to actually eat themselves ill, mentally quicker overall, but it's not something I can attest to from experience.
posted by emjaybee at 8:03 PM on April 15, 2010

And if your mule becomes a dressage champion, the stud fees will be fantasi—

Oh, right.
posted by nicwolff at 8:33 PM on April 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

Mules = awesome. How do I know? I HAVE A MULE! Two things about mules: (1) you cannot train them by excessive repetition and (2) they have a sense of humor. So perhaps it's no surprise that you don't see many mules in dressage.

My sport, eventing, still bans mules, even though the sport is much more suitable for them than straight dressage.
posted by grounded at 8:38 PM on April 15, 2010

Wow. I had no idea that mules could learn dressage. Very, very cool. :)
posted by zarq at 8:58 PM on April 15, 2010

emjaybee, you're right - the reason people started breeding mules is because they combine the brain of the donkey with the strength of the horse, and end up being superior to both. We own a mule, and she's much smarter than any horse. I've heard stories about farmers that plowed with mules where the mules knew when it was 5:00 (quitting time), and they would head back to the barn whether the farmer wanted to or not.
posted by rfs at 9:02 PM on April 15, 2010

Great post. I've done a little dressage and want to do more. Could someone who knows more than me tell me why you don't often see your chunky coloured cobs in the dressage arena? It tends to be more thoroughbreds and warmbloods.
posted by GeorgeBickham at 12:29 AM on April 16, 2010

Any equid that can be ridden can do dressage, it's the horse version of going to the gym in many ways, since its main uses are teaching the horse to use its body well and developing muscle strength, in addition to improving horse-rider communication, and it is part of most competitive equestrians' training for these reasons (regardless of the discipline in which they compete). To reach the highest levels (Intermediaire, Grand Prix, etc.) it's true that a horse must have certain physiological and psychological traits, but any equid that can be ridden can (and should) do at least basic dressage.

That said, while it's not surprising that saddle mules are doing dressage, it is obviously surprising to many that people are competing with them (higher-level competitive dressage is extremely snobbish and biased against pretty much anything that isn't a Warmblood), so this is very cool, mules are awesome.
posted by biscotti at 4:22 AM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Missouri State Fair sill has a lot of mules. After some tense moments at the Rooster Crowing competition, we went to the show mule final. These were some beautiful, huge animals - groomed and polished to perfection.

Of course, when one of them was being led in, it did the cartoon stereotype "stubborn as a ..." hoof dig bit. After leaving it alone for a few minutes, it joined the parade. I (heart) mules.
posted by scruss at 4:39 AM on April 16, 2010

I am pleasantly surprised to hear that mules can participate in the US. I wonder how judges deal with that. Echoing biscotti above, I've heard that the judging tends to favor the mechanics of the warmblood, leaving other breeds at a disadvantage. If that's bad for a Lusitano or Andalusian, it must be cruel for the mule.
posted by drowsy at 8:17 AM on April 16, 2010

There is something that seems very punk (and I mean that in the best sense of the term) about doing dressage with a mule.
posted by QIbHom at 10:59 AM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

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