Last year, 10-year-old Madison Iager purchased Gato Geta Blue about two weeks before the All American Mule and Donkey Congress held in April in Tulsa, Okla. “She had a rough start with him and blew through a few classes with him,” said Elisha Iager, Madison and Miranda’s mother. “She made it a goal to come back a year later and show what she could do with him. She worked with him all summer, fall and winter. She did open shows, NASMA shows, trail rides, hunter paces, and even fox hunted on him all season.” Madison and Gato Geta Blue were featured on the December 2010 cover of Mules and More showing in the costume class at the DelMarva Coon Hunter’s Association Annual Mule Show, one of the many shows they attended together.
She found out that he is a natural jumper and started competing at the jumper shows where they jumped in the 2’6-2’9 and 2’9-3’ divisions and were champion or reserve at all but one jumper show last winter. “So she was gearing up to go to Tulsa this year as a comeback!” said Elisha.
But on April 13, a few days before they were to leave for Tulsa, Gato came up lame while the Iager’s were at a show. He had bruised and stretched his check ligament in his right front leg. “We, to this day, don’t know how it happened as he was lame before she had a chance to compete on him but was fine while trail riding the day before.” The vet said Gato was to have 60 days off to try and make a full recovery.
Since Elisha had already sent in Gato and Madison’s entries, she called Congress show secretary Tabitha Holland to explain the situation. “She said she would refund the money, but realized this was more than just about money. This little girl had worked her tail off and now had no mule to ride.” Tabitha said she had an idea and that she would call Elisha back.
“Youth are so important to the future of the mule and donkey industry. When we heard that Madison might not be able to ride at the show, we knew we had to find her a mount!” said Tabitha.
“Glynda and Terry Bates of Bloomfield, Mo., had a really nice jenny, Rock Point Jolene, in training with us and I called them to ask about the possibility of one or both of the girls riding her,” said Tabitha, who with her husband Dan owns Signature Equine in Morris, Okla. “We are always looking to introduce new people to performance donkeys and this seemed like a great match.”
Terry offered to bring along another donkey, Thomas, for Madison’s sister Miranda to show. “My girls were just busting at the seams with excitement at the chance to ride donkeys!” said Elisha.
Meanwhile, Lori Montgomery of Crittenden, Ky., had found out about the situation and was busy devising a plan. She contacted Todd Barfield of Greensboro, N.C., who in turn offered his mule, Big Woods Queen Elizabeth (aka Lizzy) for Madison to show in the youth classes.
“I knew what a good rider Madison is and how she likes to jump,” said Todd. “I knew that this was going to be a great show.”
So the Iager’s, who are from Woodbine, Md., started to prepare for the show. They arrived a day early so the girls could practice on their borrowed mounts. “Madison was concerned about riding other people’s animals because she was afraid she would let them down,” said Elisha. Madison ended up riding Thomas, and Miranda on Jolene. The donkeys were perfect matches for the girls. Todd spent a lot of time with Madison helping her to learn to ride Lizzy. “The girls kept sneaking over to their stalls and brushing them, giving them treats and just getting to know them. It wasn’t much time, but they wanted to make the best of it!”
This was also Miranda’s first show on her new mule, A Touch Of Class (aka Classy). Madison and Miranda did halter and showmanship and were settling into the show, switching back and forth between mule to donkey. Madison brought up a chair so that Terry would have a ring-side seat for the show. “He held Tom for her and helped her between classes. They were instant friends,” said Elisha.
Tabitha and Dan helped Miranda with Jolene in between their already jam-packed schedule. Todd helped with tack changes between Madison’s youth classes and his amateur classes. Todd’s wife, Terrie, was sick and couldn’t make it out of the hotel, but he didn’t slow down. He left a few times to go check on her and would return to the show day hustle.
Terry had asked Madison to show Thomas in the open donkey classes, as well. “She jumped at the chance to get to be in the show ring,” said Elisha. During the placings for open English pleasure, she sat patiently as she listened to them announce sixth through second place. “You could tell by the look on her face she was disappointed. But when they called her number as first place, I thought she was going to cheer out loud! She walked out of the ring with tears of joy.”
During the versatility challenge, Madison rode Lizzy and Miranda rode Classy. In the rush of getting the tack/clothing together for two kids and two mules, Madison’s girth for her western saddle didn’t make it to the show ring. Nothing could be passed over the fence and no one had an extra. Elisha apologetically told Madison about her mistake and that she would have to back out of the challenge, and got back to helping Miranda with her tack and clothing change.
“Madison looked over at me and said, ‘Mr. Todd, is there nothing we can do?’ I told her to climb down and change clothes. Shorty and I were her grooms so we started thinking, knowing Lizzy is a very good mule,” said Todd. “We tied the leather cinch from he left of the saddle in a knot on the right side where the girth should attach and sent Madison out to continue showing. She even ran the barrels like this!”
“Madison is such a balanced rider that it worked like a charm. When she came out to get ready for reining, Mr. Todd tightened it up more to make sure there were no disasters. Madison and Lizzy ended up winning sixth in the challenge!” said Elisha.
As the show wound down, the girls were getting sad they would have to leave their new rides and go back home to Maryland. “I overheard Madison trying to convince Mr. Bates that Tom should go home with her. Miranda did the same with Jolene,” said Elisha. “They were joking but secretly hoping he would say yes!”
“I had so much pleasure watching Madison show Lizzy that when I was riding Lizzy in my classes I was thinking about re-tacking and getting her ready for Miranda,” said Todd. “Madison even gave me a lesson. She let me know that I needed to hold my lead differently for showmanship and I placed first!”
As the girls were walking out of their last class, they heard it announced Madison and Tom had won high point youth donkey and that Miranda and Jolene had won reserve. A few minutes later, they listened as they called Madison and Lizzy as the high point 13 and under mule. “They were so happy,” said Elisha. “They had an opportunity of a lifetime to ride top-quality mounts.”
“We really enjoyed watching Madison and Miranda compete!” said Tabitha. “We have won a lot of awards these past few years but watching the girls’ faces light up when they rode was the best one yet.”
“When Madison won high-point with Lizzy, there were no words to describe my joy in being able to have been a part of it. The time spent with the Iager’s in Tulsa made me realize that in today’s world there are still really good people,” said Todd. “I have watched those two girls since I started showing and have always followed their success. They both have a big future ahead of them.” It was about more than awards and prizes, though. “The mule community is amazing!,” said Elisha. “The people within NASMA organized what could have been a very sad show for Madison into one she will never forget! We drove 23 hours home from that show knowing that we had not only made some life long friends but memories we would cherish forever.”