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Kicking the stereotype
Mules get a bad rap as being stubborn. But those who exhibit the animals say that reputation is undeserved.
"They are cautious," said Jerry Brown of Dexter, Mo.
"A mule is smarter than a horse," the 68-year-old Brown said as he waited to show his four sorrel-colored mules Thursday afternoon at the SEMO District Fair.
Fellow exhibitor Dale Moreland of Dexter agreed. What might be seen as stubbornness is sometimes a refusal to work themselves to death.
"When they get tired, they stop," said Moreland, a sergeant with the Missouri State Highway Patrol. He has had a team of mules as a hobby since 1987.
The big mules at this year's fair were the offspring of donkeys and Belgian horses. Such mules show well, exhibitors said.
No one watches the long-eared, wide-bodied animals more closely than mule judge John Lee of West Frankfort, Ill. Lee said it all comes down to how their bodies look. "They have to have definition," he said.
Brown, Moreland and Charlie Garner of Morley, Mo., were the only three exhibitors of draft mules at the fair this year. The three men exhibited 10 mules, and they all took home a large number of ribbons.
Garner believes the low turnout is because most mule owners today aren't full-time farmers. They have other jobs that make it difficult to take off for a weeklong fair, he said.
Like Brown and Moreland, Garner exhibits mules as a hobby. He works full time for a plumbing fixtures company and took vacation days so he could show the animals at the fair.
The biggest of Garner's seven draft mules weighs 1,640 pounds. Good draft mules don't come cheaply, he said. The purchase price for a team of two draft mules can range from $4,000 to $12,000.
At one time, mules pulled the plows on countless family farms. Draft mules today pull little except wagons at fairs and in parades.
"That is all they've got to do," Garner said.
Brown's real passion is for those wooden wagons rather than the mules. He builds and sells show wagons.
"I've sold 625 wagons in 22 years," Brown said. He and a co-worker can build a wagon in as little as two weeks.
Brown, who also works as heating and air-conditioning contractor, recently sold one of his wagons to television talk-show host David Letterman, who owns a ranch out West. "He bought it sight unseen," Brown said.
335-6611, extension 123