Thursday, May 15, 2014

February 2010 Front Cover Story - From the Dirt Roads of Oklahoma to Arena Dirt

by Jerry Rush
Sycamore Springs Ranch

In life, to be successful at anything, you must set goals. To set a goal, you must make a plan. To make a plan you must focus and believe in the end results. To have the desired end results, you must have determination, along with dedication, to achieve your goal.

That’s what was on my mind when I was unloading my jack, Sycamore Springs Joe for the first time at the ranch. Joe’s arrival was long awaited, as I had purchased him from Charlie and Jerri Moore of Braymoore Stables in southern California, from a picture they had while at Bishop Mule Days that May. As I looked at Joe’s head, neck and refined body when he jumped out of the trailer, along with his calm disposition, I felt my dreams had come true. I had never had the opportunity to own an animal like this, one that dreams are made of.

Las Vegas at the 2009 Bishop Mule Days

My being a mule and donkey lover or the desire to breed and raise quality stock just didn’t happen overnight, or while watching Joe being unloaded; it began many years ago as a young teenager growing up.

In the earlier years of becoming a teen, I spent many days on horseback. Back then all the roads around home were dirt and there weren’t many fences in Oklahoma. We could ride for hours in most directions from the house and never touch a fence. Probably some of the most memorable times of all were the several years of trips I made with my childhood friend Chuck over the dirt road from the house to the local church we attended at Four Corners.

If that old road could talk it would tell of the vivid imagination two boys shared while riding back from church on nights sometimes so dark you couldn’t see your own hand in front of your face. The times we would take turns telling ghostly stories, just trying to scare each other, but then soon to chime in with each other singing at the top of our lungs. Trying to scare off all the ‘boogers’ we had just created in our wild stories as we rode. When you’re a young boy, miles from the house on a long lonely road without even a flashlight, you have no idea as to what all your imagination can conjure up, especially when most times at night we rarely saw a vehicle on the road. It really got bad when one of our horses would get tender-footed and we would have to get off and lead them home, then there was no protection from our horses for us. It seemed as if all of the big oak trees hanging over the road would turn into big giants as we rode by, just waiting to reach down and scoop us up.

Las Vegas as a colt in 2007

During one of the times my horse had become tender-footed, my grandfather came for a visit. Grandpa and I really enjoyed each other. As soon as he could run me down he would ask all about my riding. Growing up on horseback Grandpa always shared stories from his childhood of his many adventures. In telling him how our horses came up tender so often (horseshoes weren’t an option for our budget in those days) he started the converting of my life. In the past Grandpa always told stories of a black horse he had ridden as a youth. But he had never mentioned the team of black mules he used for years when he was older and working the fields. Grandpa had a passion for mules I had never realized; his stories of the team soon replaced all the ones of the black horse. He told of the many long days the mules were used for plowing, and then later in the year to harvest and to pull the sled used to feed the cattle. When not working, he would ride them to town.

Particularly, the mules were used without shoes most of the times. Of course the ground shape they were used on was a factor. The knowledge of handling mules that Grandpa taught me will never be forgotten. This is something he passed on to me and I have passed on to others.

Needless to say, only a very short time passed before Chuck and I both had mules. They first replaced the horseback riding on the old dirt road. When winter came they packed us over all those rough and steep hills where we coon hunted. Up until we had got our mules we always walked to hunt. The hills around home were steep with lots of brush and loose rock that horses couldn’t handle well, but after we got the mules broke, even these hills were an easy task for them.

As years went by I continued my love for mules. Even though I had ridden and owned a lot of nice mules I still had never found one that fit my true desires. The mules I found were more of the draft type or heavier boned. I wanted one that looked like a quarter horse; one that had hips, enough withers to hold the saddle well, a small head, and refinement with medium to light bone…..basically, a horse with long ears. Today you may go to shows all over the country and find the type of mules I described, but they were hard to find in the early 80s.

During these years mule playdays (then sometimes called showdeo’s) were springing up everywhere close to home. They were so much fun, not for just me, but for my sons also. It was something we could all compete at and do together. At the time there were lots of mules, but no donkeys. The more I attended these events, the more I loved to go, not just to compete, but to look at all the different types of mules and ponder on the thought of finding just the right jack and the right type broodmares to someday try my luck at breeding a different type of mule. At that time in my life I wasn’t in the position to purchase the animals, but promised myself this day would come.

I continued my love of mules from the playdays/showdeo’s to my yearly hunting and trail riding trips out west. In 1999 things started changing, we were fortunate to finally make the trip to Bishop Mule Days; a long jaunt from northeast Oklahoma, but well worth the trip. This was an experience I will never forget. I met individuals that in time would be a big influence in my breeding program. I met mule men like the late Ben Freeman, Rufus Reese, trainer Tim Phillips, and breeders Charlie and Jerri Moore, just to name a few. This show was like nothing I had ever seen in my life, from the animals to the contestants, to the facility, to the breeders, to the trainers, showmen and women, to the hard-working volunteers that made such an event so great.

I returned to Bishop in 2003 in search of a jack to start my breeding program. In 1999 I was so blown away watching Jerri do the barrel races on their jack Rooster. The way Rooster turned and reined and the way he carried himself was very impressive. The first stop I made was to visit Charlie to see if there were any jacks sired by Rooster for sale. To my grateful surprise he had a young large standard colt born in April. The more he told me of the colt the more I hoped this would be the one I was looking for. After returning to Oklahoma I received photos from Jerri. The little jack was what I had always thought would help produce the mules I wanted. The first thing that caught my eye was his horse-like head. Even at this young age he reflected a well-refined body and medium to light bone structure. This donkey, Sycamore Springs Joe, was soon at our ranch.

Socorro sired by Sycamore Springs joe, as a colt in 2007

Two years later, I was repeating this moment as I unloaded Sycamore Springs Jake. A black mammoth jack, he was a sight unseen purchase from Doug Waugh of Locust Creek Mules in Mayslick, Ky. This purchase was made from recommendations from my friend Ben Freeman after he had seen the jack and felt it would fit my program. I was rather skeptical about buying Jake without seeing him, but Ben was the type of man that no matter what he told you, you could take it to the bank. Jake was around 16 months old at this time, but was the right refinement and bone structure for my plans, with a disposition to match. My dream was now becoming reality.

Joe hit the show circuit as a 2-year-old, making his mark. The next step was finding the right broodmares to breed to him. I started with hand-picked homozygous mares I purchased from Gary Manly in Indiana. Besides breeding for size and refinement I wanted to add color. My ideas of spotted colts using the homozygous mares fell short the next year when my colts from them only reflected stocking legs, rather than spots. Still, they were beautiful colts. Other mares I purchased were grey quarter horses of various breeding, including Hancock, Foundation, and Dash for Cash. These mares all threw roan colts. Within the first and second year of my colt crops I had quite the selection. I quickly made my pick of the colts that caught my eye the most…..a molly from the first year, Taos, and her full sister Socorro, along with a stocking legged black molly, Las Vegas, from the second year. These are the three I pictured and highlighted in a story published in the February 2007 issue of Mules and More focusing on them as the ones to show from my breeding program. I knew then they would be special, they were my pick.

Las Vegas was like Joe, even at a few days old, as you can see in her picture, she was well-refined and had the build of a horse. This year at Bishop Mule Days the three colts won Get Of Sire. Then Las Vegas went on to win three first halter divisions and Reserve World Champion Model Saddle Mule. Joe won Reserve World Champion Jack as well as Reserve World Champion Donkey.

My breeding program took many years to become a reality, with more colts at Sycamore Springs Ranch to train and more to foal this spring. This year will be the first for colts out of Jake. He has made his mark in the show ring as well, and both he and Joe have a bright future ahead of them. I am exceptionally proud of these two donkeys, and upcoming mules, Las Vegas, Socorro and Taos, who were all raised and trained here at the ranch. All are very special in their own way.

There are so many great jacks in various breeding programs, and I am very thankful and blessed to have two of them. Due to personal health issues I was not able to have Joe, Jake and the mules at any shows after Bishop Mule Days last year, but I am hoping we will back on the road soon.

Jerry Rush with Taos at the 2009 Bishop Mule Days

In 2009 efforts were underway to build a multi-use facility with three separate arenas at Sycamore Springs Ranch, to be used for all types of equine events, with beginning plans to focus on mules shows and events. The arena was featured on RFD and GACTV last year and the main arena was nominated by the W.P.R.A. for the Justin Best Footing award after a 3-day futurity and derby.

Look for mule events to come back to northeast Oklahoma this summer!

Thank you Charlie and Jerri for Joe, and thanks Doug for Jake. Also, I would like to send a special thanks to trainers Dale Chancellor, Dan and Tabitha Holland, Gary Bass, and Wes Stepp.

For more information on breeding, mules for sale and upcoming events at Sycamore Springs Ranch, please visit our official website or contact me at

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