4-H’ers learn all about mules
CENTREVILLE — Members of the Dream Riders 4-H Club of Queen Anne’s County recently visited the farm of Garon and Donna Stutzman in Centreville to learn about a less exposed equine — the mule. Of the three equestrian 4-H clubs in Queen Anne’s County, all have focused on horses as their project animals of interest. There are many different breeds of horses, most with particular specialties they perform: Thoroughbreds, Appaloosas, Quarter horses, Warmbloods, Paints, Haflingers, to mention just a few. That doesn’t include the variety of ponies that are also members of the equine family.
Mules are created by breeding a donkey with a horse. Something most people don’t know (unless you own a mule), mules cannot produce offspring. There can be male and female mules, but they are essentially sterile. They cannot reproduce. Again, the only way to get a mule is to breed a donkey and horse together. Their foal will be a mule.
Garon Stutzman moved to Centreville about 20 years ago from Middleburg, Va. He is a retired sub-surface utility engineer with a passion for mules. His passion was evident as he spent about 15 minutes talking to the 4-H members about the history of mules and their differences with horses.
“Mules are very sensitive, and ver y intelligent,” Stutzman said. “A mule has extraordinary senses. It can sense real danger, and if you’re riding one, it will refuse to take you into what it perceives as a dangerous situation.”
He told a story about a friend who was on a trail ride, and the mule he was riding refused to jump a tree that had fallen and was laying across the ground. That was very unusual, as this mule was accomplished in jumping. After dismounting, the friend discovered a rattlesnake hidden from view under the fallen tree. The mule sensed danger. Once the snake was removed, the mule jumped the log.
“A mule has a sense of preservation and protection,” said Stutzman.
In the 1990s, Stutzman and two friends, Meredith Hodges of Colorado and Lloyd Haley of Arkansas, became the first equestrians to ever ride pleasure riding mules in an inaugural parade — it was for President Bill Clinton. In his home Stutzman proudly displays a painting of that day with he and his friends mounted on their mules while dressed in fox hunting equestrian attire on the lawn of the U.S Capitol in downtown Washington, D.C.
Stutzman said, “The mule is the only animal officially buried in Arlington National Cemetery. It was buried there to honor the long history of mules used in military service.”
Garon and Donna Stutzman then took the 4-H’ers outside to their barn. Garon hooked up two of his mules to a wagon and took all of the 4-H’ers on a tour of his farm in his wagon, pulled along by the mules. Donna later allowed several of the 4-H’ers to ride her dressage-trained mule as she walked alongside to assure safety.
Dream Riders 4-H Club President Grace Park said, “The Stutzmans were so kind to have invited us to their farm and providing so much information and activities with their mules. It was very interesting.”
On their dinning room table, the Stutzmans had numerous books all about mules, including one about the Borax 20-Mule Team, famous for its crossings of Death Valley in California.
Garon announced, “They’re coming here to our farm next January (2017) before they will perform, pulling their wagon in the next presidential inaugural parade in late January.”
The Borax mule team will stay and train at the Stutzmans’ farm before their appearance.
Garon said, “I want to arrange for the public to come here to watch the mules train before the parade.”
Logistics to make that possible have not yet been worked out. However, when that happens, it will be published in the newspapers for people to make arrangements for their visit.
The Stutzmans also did a free clinic and demonstration about mules at the state 4-H Horse Jamboree at the Queen Anne’s County 4-H Park in July, which 88 young people from 12 counties around the state attended. QA 4-H educator Christine Johnston remarked, “That clinic was amazing!”
Members of the Dream Riders 4-H Club and friends are pictured inside the barn of Garon and Donna Stutzman of Centreville with one of the Stutzman mules. Pictured, from the left, Chase Vanderhoff, Sophia Kolobow, Levi Marx being held by Makenzie Miller, “Jenny” the mule, Rachel Grabowski, Mae Harrington, Grace Park, Leah Vanderhoff, Skyler Podraza, Willow Podraza, and Brooke Loveless. The 4-H’ers learned about the differences between mules and horses during a recent clinic held there.
“A wagon load of fun!” From the left, Garon Stutzman of Centreville points the direction he wanted 4-H leader Karen Marx to go as he provided a wagon guided tour of his farm pulled by his duo team of mules. He provided an educational clinic teaching members of the Dream Riders 4-H Club about the history and uses of mules. Garon and his wife, Donna, have a passion for this breed of the equine family.