Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Mules: A Titsworth Family Tradition

by Angie J. Mayfield, Loogootee, Ind

DEAN and LYNN at the Great Celebration
 Mule and Donkey Show in Shelbyville, Tenn., in 2005

New names and methods emerge every few years in the mule breeding, training, and show world, but some are legends that were mule lovers, riders, and trainers long before mules were cool and were bred from the best mares. For Dean and Lynn Titsworth of Murphysboro, Illinois, everything mule has been a family tradition for decades. They trail ride mules, raise, train, and sell them. They also raised their sons, Andy and Joe, with mules and as a family won or placed in almost every national show class and race available for nearly 20 years, including High Point Champion, World Gaited Class, and Western and World Pleasure at Shelbyville; the Denver Stock Show, and even the Clinton, Arkansas Chuckwagon Races. Their mule Jed was the world champion reining mule two years in a row and roping champion at Bishop. Their mules Do It Again Dobber, Unbreakable Sally, Jammin’ Jed, Amy, and Smoky are forever embedded in their photo albums and hearts.
Lynn, who had 12 brothers and sisters, rode horses and mules from the time she was a young girl, but Dean grew up coon and fox hunting and riding motorcycles, which led to a broken leg and weak knees, he laughed. When they married 45 years ago, he bought his first mule, which he admits was “nearly worthless” but forced him to really learn to ride. They spent more time and money searching for their next mule, Kate, but she was worth it. Their kids learned to ride on Kate, and Dean could jump her into the back of his truck and take her coon hunting. Their love of mules – and their herd – grew from there. Showing mules came later. Their first love became trail riding and then breeding and selling mules. They also organized fun shows for years.
Then the boys became involved in rodeo, a natural transition from their cowboy upbringing and rough stock genes. Lynn said it seemed they were in a different state every weekend, and she worried the boys’ teachers and friends thought they were incredible liars when they came back to school with their adventurous stories. However, the time and dedication paid off. Joe was state champion three years in a row and won a rodeo scholarship to Northeastern Oklahoma. 
When not taking care of the farm, mules, and their Bloodhounds, the Titsworths also enjoy hunting and fishing and have harvested bear, elk, caribou, and wild boar in Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, and even Newfoundland and took a fishing trip to Alaska one year for a change in scenery. However, mules have been their passion and brought them the most pleasure. "We've been everywhere trail riding, driving teams on wagon rides, showing, and selling mules. We've had so many great times and met so many good people," beam Lynn and Dean. Some of their most unique and memorable adventures include delivering a mule to Mexico, selling two mules to the Frenchman who rode across the United States, meeting Joe Runyan, a two-time winner of the Ididerod, and buying a dog from him, and hanging with Dave Merriman, Max Harsha, and Anthony McAllister. “But whether swimming across a river on mules in Eminence, Mo., or hearing someone brag how 'those hillbillies smoked everyone's ass' at a mule show in Denver,” Lynn says she loved it all. 
I arrived at the Titsworth farm to buy a Bloodhound puppy but left with lifelong friends. Tucker would have gladly moved in. We laughed as they told the story of throwing firecrackers from wagon to wagon at the Decatur, IL Fourth of July parade one year. The seat caught on fire and the boys jumped out. Only a well-broke team of mules could pull off such a feat. These days, however, they're more likely to take the grandkids for a calm ride across the farm.
However, Dean admits he's always been a prankster. "We took a lot of ribbing riding mules, and it bothered Lynn, but I never put up with any crap and always took a dare. I loved to show off on my mule and to show people that mules can do anything horses can do - better." Lynn, on the other hand, is quiet and reserved until she climbs on the back of her mule. "Lynn's the real rider," admits Dean. I already gathered that from her box of belt buckles and ribbons. But also when I witnessed this petite 60-some-year-old woman grab the mane of her 15-hand mule and jump straight on like a teenager - bareback wearing Carhart coveralls even! I was in awe.
“Dean’s a hellion and Lynn’s a saint,” says Anthony “Bull” McAllister, another southern Illinois mule man who admires the Titsworths and says Dean has been a mentor and close friend for 25 years. He said he and Dean met coon hunting and their mutual interest in mules bonded them. At the time, there weren’t many mule riders in this area. Anthony stayed with Dean and Lynn for awhile when he was first hired by Illinois Dept. of Corrections in 1990 and worked at the prison in Chester. “We went coon hunting one night, and Dean rode his mule across a railroad bridge all the way across the Mississippi River. I wouldn’t go. No way. People say I’m nuts to go across Phantom Terrace in Colorado, but I realized then he was a little crazier than me - and had better mules.” But Dean will tell you he’s been a bulldog his whole life. “I’ve done what people said I couldn’t do and had a hell of a lot of fun doing it.”
Dean’s deteriorating health and a declining economy have taken a toll on the Titsworth’s adventures. Dean contracted West Nile virus, and he has kidney dialysis three days a week now. In addition to farm duties, Lynn also works for a biotech lab that makes medical serum from cow’s blood. However, the couple plans to ride at the Shawnee Mule Ride in April, and Lynn hopes to take Jed to a couple of shows this year. They are also training a new mule prospect, Lucky Lucille (named by their grandson), a descendant of Secretariet. I don’t know how they manage all they do, but I wish them the best of luck and expect to see more of them. The Titsworth family has already left behind a legacy and helped pave a path for generations of mule enthusiasts to follow.

Angie J. Mayfield is an author, professor, and long ear lover who has trail ridden in 47 states and 6 countries. She can be contacted at profmayfield@yahoo.com
Tucker at the Titsworth’s home with his new Bloodhound puppy, Copper

JOE TITSWORTH packing out elk in Colorado

Lynn and Dean with a few of their awards

6th Annual Trail Riding Guide

Now is the time to start planning your 2016 trail riding trips! We’ve gathered everything you need to plan your perfect trail riding vacation in our sixth annual trail riding issue of Mules and More
Below is our trail guide, which features our top recommendations for planning your ultimate trail riding vacation!  See our April issue to read stories from subscribers sharing their favorite trail rides from last year. Then get to planning your next great adventure! 

Fort Valley Ranch Mountain Trail Riding
Enjoy the beauty riding in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia offers.  Bounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east and the Allegany Mountains to the west, the Massanutten Mountain range rises out of the heart of the Shenandoah Valley.  With much of the Mountains encompassed within the George Washington National Forest, 100’s of miles of trails are available for the equestrian trail rider from Fort Valley Ranch.
Fort Valley Ranch’s Horse and Mule Campground provides direct access to the National Forest Trails.  The Ranch has bunkhouse cabins, camping including water and electric sites, corrals and paddocks.  Free trail maps and descriptions of the local trails are provided at check-in.  Formed by the surrounding Massanutten Mountains, Fort Valley’s trails range from lush, wooded valley to mountain top ridges providing panoramic views of the Shenandoah River and Valley below. 

Don’t have your own horse or mule?  Fort Valley Ranch offers guided mountain rides from 1 hour to a full-day adventure.  Other activities in the area include paddling the Shenandoah River, exploring civil war history, touring the vast cavern formations and enjoying a stroll down one of the many small town streets that dot the area.

Slough Creek Outfitters
Backcountry Summer Pack Trips during July and August in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness on the north boundary of Yellowstone National Park. Ride our stock or bring your own into our extremely comfortable tent camp on world famous Slough Creek, home of the Yellowstone cutthroat trout. Incredibly scenic rides on great trails over Montana mountains and through wildflower meadows.  Four guest minimum and ten guest maximum. Most trips are three to five days.  Our nearest airport is in Bozeman, Montana.  We are licensed to guide in Yellowstone Park and the Gallatin National Forest by special permit. Your guide, packer, cook, wall tents, cots, foam pads, sleeping bags, shower, home-cooked meals, cozy campfire and a great time included! For more info blackmtn2@aol.com or (406)222-7455, check out our website at www.sloughcreekoutfitters.com

Winding River Resort
Located outside of Grand Lake, CO on the north fork of the Colorado River, bordering Rocky Mountain National Park and the Arapaho National Forest offers limitless beauty and recreation.
With your own mule you have direct access to miles of designated trails adjacent in Rocky Mountain National Park, or trailer your mules to more distant trail heads.  You can even take a day trail ride through the park over the Continental Divide to Estes Park, CO.  Camp next to your mules on water/electric sites or stay in our cabins or lodge rooms with pens available at the barn. 
Camping facilities include showers, restrooms, and laundry.  For more information visit www.windingriverresort.com or call 970-627-3215.

Tin Top Ranch Trailriding
This 160-acre ranch is located in the beautiful Ouachita National Forest of southwest Scott County, Arkansas. They offer a unique opportunity to provide you with a quiet, secluded retreat where you, your mule and a few friends can get away from it all. It's not hard to do in the middle of 1.8 million acres of forest.
Tin Top Ranch’s ranch house has a complete kitchen, dining area, three bedrooms and two baths. There is also a half-basement outfitted as a bedroom. A cozy wood-burning fireplace will provide comfort on chilly evenings, after a long day hunting or trail riding. Like to star-gaze? You'll never see a night sky until you see the skies at Tin Top.
Organized trailrides are offered several times a year, or you can bring your mules and explore the wilderness on your own. During hunting season, there are hundreds of thousands of acres of national forest within a short distance. Like to fish? Catch a mess of pan-fish in one of the stocked ponds and local creeks.
For more information or to reserve your weekend or weeklong vacation, call 1-800-436-8199 and ask for Terri or Scott, or email walls_sa@yahoo.com.

Wyoming Wilderness Outfitters
Step back in time, ride with Wyoming Wilderness Outfitters.  Born cowboys, we take pride in providing you with a unique and memorable summer adventure. With the vast number of trails in northwest Wyoming and Yellowstone to choose from, we plan to make this one of the best vacation experiences of a lifetime. We’ll arrange the trip to best fit your personal needs; fishing, riding, camping, exploring, wildlife viewing, and photography.  We provide teepees, pack and riding animals, saddles, wrangler and a cook complete with kitchen.  
Whether you travel from location to location, set up camp at the base of the mountain along a river and take day rides from your campsite to surrounding valleys and passes, or bring your own living quarters horse trailer and horses/mules – we can guide you through some spectacular country. We’ll have our mules/horses saddled waiting for your call. For more information call (307) 754-4320 or visit www.wyomingwilderness.com.

Hayes Canyon
Hayes Canyon, in Eddyville, Illinois, is a family-owned campground located adjacent to the Shawnee National Forest with access to the Shawnee’s extensive trail system for hikers, equestrians, hunters, and nature lovers of all sorts. They have 30 RV campsites available for rent with electric hookups and city water, picnic table, and fire ring.  Most have sewer hookups.
Campsites have 2-4 pens for horses or mules which offers peace of mind and convenience of having your mule right there within eyesight. This is an ideal location, centrally located in the middle of the most popular trail riding area of the Shawnee, with direct access to the trails. Within a 10-mile radius of Hayes Canyon Campground there are 180 miles of Forest Service trails. (618) 672-4751, info@hayescanyon.com