Courting Jester

By October 21, 2011

Jester, a Haflinger mule, and owner Jennifer Wells.

My mule Jester was born on April Fools’ Day, hence his name. But he has proven to be no joke. Jester was a two-and-a-half-year-old untouchable mule that the breeder had “left behind” at birth, due to lack of time and interest. He was parked in a large pasture with other John mules and became uneasy about human contact.

My husband Roland had an interest in mules due to his affiliation with the Back Country Horsemen of California and he wanted a pack mule. In fact, we owned Jester’s half-brother, also a Haflinger, years prior, so after hearing his story—how no one could catch him, and the breeder no longer wanted to feed him—we feared he would go to auction and possibly wind up at slaughter.

We asked, “If we can catch him, can we have him?” The breeder responded, “If you come on Sunday, we will help you catch him and you can take him home!” So, that’s exactly what we did. We drove hours up to the breeding farm, backed our trailer into an alley and lowered our ramp, put up 6-foot high fencing on either side to close the gap, ran that mule into the trailer and slammed the door!

Days and weeks passed. Jester would eventually let me pet him only at night and only from head to his shoulder, but was still prone to bolt when he got uncomfortable. Eventually my husband befriended a former mule trainer whose specialty had been colts. Since we had no clue what to do with this mule, we agreed that if the trainer would break our mule, we would let him use Jester free of charge and even sponsor his show activities for a year.

Within one week, he had Jester saddled and ridden on the streets of Norco! There were some hiccups along the way mostly due to fear, however, the mule never tried to buck or be mean in any way. Within six months, he was competing at Bishop Mule Days in the Trail Classes, taking fifth place out of more than 30 competitors! He also was shown five months later at the LA Country Fair in all the Trail Classes, Western Pleasure, Western Riding and English Pleasure: taking second in the Green Trail class and third in English Pleasure. During all this time, it became clear that Jester had an affinity for women, and especially took a liking to me. He continued to be very fearful of men. So, I decided that I was going to start riding this mule and finish the training and trust that he had never learned in the first two-and-a-half years of his life. This is where the real adventure began!

Ringmaster: Jester takes even this spooky obstacle on the Extreme Cowboy course in stride.

Beginning in 2010, I started competing in ACTHA (American Competitive Trail Horse Association) on Jester. Out of 13 competitions, some being in the excess of 67 riders, he won 10, scored second in two and third in one. He easily reached bronze medal status. The wins earned him first in the region in October 2010, when he was ranked ninth in the entire country! I showed him at Mule Days in 2010 and 2011 in addition to the LA County Fair, and the awards and ribbons kept piling up.

In May, he and I were among the 100 chosen (from 1,000 applicants!) to be part of the TV series “America’s Favorite Trail Horse,” airing on HRTV. It’s an “American Idol”-style contest where viewers are invited to “vote” for their favorite on the HRTV website. Jester was one of four mules chosen. We were the only ones tapped to represent Norco.

On May 6 we burned through more than 2,600 miles (and $1,200 in fuel!) traveling to the Franklin Family Ranch near Austin, TX, for taping. Tasks included a CTC (Competitive Trail Challenge), an Obstacle Garden and a “Freestyle” that saw me riding Jester “hands free” through a figure eight (twice!).

We can do a “standing-in-saddle” trick that they wouldn’t allow us to perform due to safety concerns (they said their insurance company nixed it. Oh well on that one!). Our episode is the seventh in the series, and debuts Oct. 25. Those who are lucky enough to have HRTV on their cable dial can watch that way, otherwise you can catch it free on ACTHA.tv or HRTV.com.

After the initial airdate, people have only 48 hours to log on and vote. We are number 293, and as politicians say—the good ones, with the utmost humility—“I’m askin’ for your vote.” Votes are the only factor in determining who wins. We are hopeful the City of Norco and the surrounding area of Riverside County and throughout Southern California will support us so we can continue to be ambassadors for Norco and the Mule Community. If we win our episode, then in the last episode they will air all the episode winners in a final episode and then everyone will have to vote again. First prize is $25,000, second, $15,000 and third $10,000.

Jester has also shown to second place in Extreme Cowboy Association (EXCA)events and with the California Cowboy Racers. As of this writing, he is first place overall in the CCR Novice Division standings.

Jester has proven to be a trusted mount and a trusted friend. Three years ago I got bucked off my gelding and could not feel my legs for about a minute. Being a chiropractor, I am aware of the potential dangers of that sort of thing, and how important it is to have a riding partner.

Making a splash: Water obstacle at the Extreme Cowboy Racers (EXCA) event in Temecula in April.

I have found that after every adventure or activity in which Jester and I participate, our relationship grows deeper. He still has some trust issues, but they are slowly melting away, even his fears about men. I know that I can saddle up Jester and go for a ride in the hills or down Sixth Street and not worry too much about my physical well-being.

I also know that with a little more time and training, Jester will prove unbeatable in trail competitions and anything he sets his mind to. He’s building up quite a reputation, and as “Jester, the Wonder Mule from Norco!” We never get tired of hearing our competitors lament, “Oh no..the girl with the mule is here!” It makes me smile, because I am so proud of him, happy in the knowledge that he has come so far, and that even a throw away mule can be made into something incredible.

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