Mules Aside




by Terri Hurley Meadow View Mules Grand Meadow, Minn.

MoSSY (Minnesotans on SideSaddle - Y, because we can!) is a group of riders with a devotion to the elegant form of riding sidesaddle. Our members host clinics, ride in parades, show, and give demonstrations. This spring, we were invited to perform at the 2011 Minnesota Horse Expo. Our charge: perform a Maypole dance, riding sidesaddle. The Expo usually occurs the fourth weekend in April, but due to Easter, was changed to a week later for 2011. Since this was the first time in the Expo’s 29 year history it occurred over May Day, they wanted to celebrate in a big way. MoSSY was only too glad to assist. The request began as a ‘short, simple’ performance on Sunday, but quickly blossomed into a request to perform a longer routine all three days! Eight riders committed to the performance. Our family comprised half the group; myself, daughters Jennifer (18) and Alyson (14) and niece, Jessica Skare (11). We ride mules, the other four ride Arabians. What a combination! Our group is comprised of members scattered throughout the state, so practicing was our biggest hurdle. The music was selected, a pattern created, attire agreed upon and each person practiced riding the elements on their own. Two weeks before the event, several members traveled to our farm, and with the visitors riding borrowed mules and horses, we had our first day-long practice. The next Saturday, each person brought their own animal and we again hosted the practice session. Condensing a performance meant for a 120’x210’ coliseum into a 50’x80’ arena made for some creative riding. We certainly found out how compatible we and our animals were! The evening before our first performance, we practiced in the coliseum with the May Pole and ribbons, made some adjustments, and were ready to go. Our first performance went very well. We were so excited! Thirty minutes before our Saturday performance, one horse became lame. What to do? We certainly couldn’t do an eight person drill performance with only seven riders. When in doubt, call in a good mule, right? A quick call to the Minnesota Donkey and Mule Club stalls and our friend Tammy Helmers, and our eighth rider was mounted. Our group had discussed what we’d do if something happened to an animal and I knew Tammy’s mule, Liberty, would handle the performance without issue. With a very quick introduction between mule and rider, Liberty entered the arena with a rider she’d never met, into a situation she’d never experienced. Watching that day’s performance, you can see some confusion on her face, but mostly a determination to do whatever asked of her, no matter how ridiculous it seemed. The next morning, the horse remained lame and Liberty was called upon again. This time the rider received more detailed instructions and time to become more familiar with Liberty. Although they’d had a bit more time, the rider opted to fore-go riding side saddle. I have no doubt Liberty would have handled it with grace. Our Sunday routine went beautifully. What an incredibly wonderful experience! We were asked to do a similar performance later this summer and our family looks forward to every opportunity to elegantly ride sidesaddle on our trusty mules.