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‘He tries his little heart out’: US rider campaigns for mules in showjumping

A US rider campaigning for mules to be allowed in the showjumping ring hopes success could lead to their inclusion in all areas of riding.

Colorado-based Katie Wetteland is petitioning the US Hunter Jumper Association (USHJA) to ask them to follow the US Dressage Federation in allowing mules to compete alongside horses and ponies.

Katie told H&H she had competed with success up to about 1.20m level with her Dutch warmblood, but when he was nearing retirement, she started looking for another horse.

Having come across — and fallen in love with — a mule when she was at military school, she also carried out research into mules. Then she saw a two-year-old advertised, some six and a half hours’ drive from her home.

“He barely knew how to be haltered,” she said. “He was at a racetrack for quarter horses and he’s apparently got fantastic bloodlines; he’s out of a racing mare who accidentally got pregnant by their Jack, and they said he’d been in a stall for two years.

“He had this fire in his eyes; not anger but intrigue, something I’ve seen in high-level, big-hearted competition horses who just want to do something with their lives.

“I said ‘he’s sold. I’ll be back next weekend with a trailer’.”

Katie said Mjolnir The Longear — named after Thor’s hammer as a nod to her Norwegian heritage but also as her countrymen pronounce it “mule near” — was easier to back than any horse she had had. She took him to his first show, a local event, fairly early as she wanted to add weight to her campaign.

“I knew mules were banned in the sport I loved so I had to compete him, to make a statement,” she said, adding that she contacted the organisers beforehand to ensure they would be happy with a mule on site.

“I took him in the 2’0 class and he got second,” she said. “He’d never jumped a full course before but he did fantastic. Tons of people came up to say they didn’t know mules could jump, and how cool it was. He never brayed, and he stood a lot stiller than some of the horses! He was the smallest one there but he tried his little heart out.”

Once Mjolnir had some results, Katie stepped up her petitioning, helped a great deal by Meredith Hodges, who had lobbied for mules to be allowed in dressage, and also talking to Christie Maclean, who rode British dressage mule Wallace The Great.

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“It’s surprising they’re not allowed,” she said. “FEI rules still class a horse as being ‘out of a mare’; a rule change was on the table last year but didn’t go through, and I was so excited as I knew there was still a chance.”

Mjolnir is still only four so Katie has not done a huge amount with him, but she believes he is capable of jumping 3’0 to 3’3” courses in future, and he has loose-jumped 3’9”. But she believes some riders are also against mules’ inclusion.

“I’ve heard murmurs of ‘I can’t believe they let that in’, and ‘how did that donkey beat me?’” she said. “It’s interesting, as I’ve been the one on the big black warmblood, who looks scary, and now I’m bee-bopping in on my little mule.”

She added: “I believe it is possible to slowly integrate mules into the USHJA… I propose that mules should be given a chance to perform at low-level, local shows under specific rules, to hopefully facilitate the inclusion of mules into all areas of English and Western riding.”

H&H has contacted the USHJA for comment.

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