originally published in 5/10
by Vic Otten - Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming, was the last place in the world I expected to find institutionalized mule prejudice. With rugged mountains, Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, and Yellowstone Park, Jackson Hole is a place of astounding beauty. Its history is filled with memories of the mountaineers who relied on mules to carry on their trade; a place where people routinely packed into the wilderness to hunt, fish and trap. Mules pulled wagons that brought supplies to the area and played a significant part in the settlement of the region.
Today, Jackson Hole is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise offering numerous activities including world class hunting, fishing, whitewater rafting, hiking, packing, camping and skiing. Wildlife including moose, elk, bear, owls and beaver is abundant. It is the home of the famous cowboy lawyer Gerry Spence, a man who spent much of his legal career fighting civil injustice.
This is why I was surprised to learn that the Jackson Police Department refuses to allow mules in its Citizens Mounted Patrol.
It makes perfect sense that this is the place that Jayme Feary, writer, photographer, and equine trainer, calls home. Some might recall that Jayme is the guy that attempted to be the first person to ride the length of the U.S. Continental Divide in a single season. He eventually rode over 2,000 miles and is working on a book describing his experiences called Riding America’s Spine (see www.jaymefeary.com).
Jayme first contacted me about the “Society To Obliterate Mule Prejudice” (S.T.O.M.P.) in November 2008. He sent me an email stating that he wholeheartedly supported S.T.O.M.P.’s efforts to eradicate mule prejudice and wanted to learn more about the organization.
Through the course of several emails, we both agreed that education was probably the best way to improve the image of the mule. Jayme likened the current situation with mules to that of the wild mustang—in the beginning, mustangs had a poor reputation. People would adopt the wild horses and have bad experiences; they would blame the horse rather than the rider. Jayme explained that the BLM eventually started to focus on training the mustangs prior to putting them up for adoption. With the advent of programs like “Mustang Challenge” and “Wyoming Mustang Makeover,” the image of the mustang then began to improve.
It was not until some time later that I learned that Jayme was prohibited from using his mule in the Jackson Mounted Unit. I was astounded. Jayme has one of the most well trained and dead broke equines that I have ever seen. I had watched a video of Jayme and Big Mama and, to this day, cannot believe what a spectacular mount she is (see www.youtube.com/watch?v=FPA7lAJoVOs). I explained to Jayme that it is outrageous that Big Mama cannot participate in the unit and that we have several mounted units in Los Angeles that allow mules. I told him that S.T.O.M.P. should take action. I suggested that we write a letter to the Jackson Police and perhaps do an article. Jayme said that he had already sent a couple of emails and that he did not want to do anything to upset the people at the police station.
When it became apparent that he could not change the policy of the Jackson Police Department, Jayme reluctantly agreed to allow me to write this article. His hesitation about the article stemmed from his desire to only bring positive publicity to the unit, which he believes is a great asset to the community. It was now time, however, to remind the equine world that even in 2010 mule prejudice still exits and that something needs to be done about it.
In the interest of fairness, I reached out to the Jackson Police Mounted Unit in an attempt to understand why mules were prohibited from its program. I sent the following e-mail to the officer in charge of the Mounted Unit:
Dear Sgt. Alan John:
My name is Vic Otten, and I am the author of several equestrian-related articles. My work has appeared in The Equestrian News, Mules and More Magazine, The Southern Sierran and The Dispatch.
I am currently working on an article about Citzens’ Mounted Patrol Units. It is my understanding that your mounted patrol unit does not allow the use of mules. As I read the page on your website, it refers specifically to horses. As a horse and mule owner, I am curious why your department has a policy of excluding mules from your program.
Does it have to do with image? I am aware of at least one mounted unit, for example, that only uses Palominos.
If not image, what is the basis for your policy?
Any information you can provide for my article is appreciated.
I did not expect to get an answer. What could the sergeant possibly say to justify the policy to exclude mules? If image was the reason for the policy, these people are taking themselves way too seriously. If there is a genuine concern that mules were not suited for this type of work, how do you explain the video of Big Mama? Why not let Big Mama enter the training class? There could be no arguing with the results, pass or fail.
Searching for clues, I turned to the website for the Jackson Police Department to understand what types of duties the equine and rider would be expected to perform. I wanted to believe that this was not a blatant case of mule prejudice. The website states that because Jackson is a small town, it relies on volunteers to help the “police departments for traffic control, public contact posts or an extra set of eyes and ears in a busy commercial district.” Regarding the type of skills a mounted patrol needs, the website states the “skills most necessary within the team are a basic understanding of the role, a safe horse and a competent rider.” (www.jacksonholepolice.com/mounted_article_1.htm).
Jayme and Big Mama would be perfect for the Mounted Unit. Obviously, there is something more going on here. The travesty is that the Citizens of Jackson are the ones that suffer for this type of prejudice in that they lose a valuable asset to the Mounted Unit. The public also loses because it will not be exposed to mules.
This month, I plan to be at Bishop Mule Days with my mules, Cheyenne Mountain Ruby and Jesse James. If Sgt. Alan John could attend this event, I believe that his opinion about mules would change forever. I suspect that thousands of people’s opinions about these amazing animals change every year as they attend Bishop Mule Days.
If you want to help Big Mama get into the Jackson Mounted Patrol, please send a letter to the Jackson Police Department describing your opinion about mules in mounted patrol units: Todd Smith, Chief of Police, Jackson Police Department, P.O. Box 1687, Jackson, WY 83001.