Trainers from around the country flock to the Ozarks to see if they can tame a stubborn Missouri Mule 

Seven equine trainers from across the country traveled to Springfield, Mo., full of anticipation and excitement.

The lucky seven were chosen to compete in the first annual Missouri Mule Makeover Challenge. The challenge at hand – transform an unbroken mule into a champion in four months.

Among the trainers selected was Tim Cross from St. James, Mo. Tim turned to training mules full-time three years ago after retiring from the construction industry. When he heard about the Missouri Mule Makeover challenge he couldn’t resist. “That’s what I do all the time is train mules. I thought it would be fun and interesting to do,” Tim said.

The trainers for the Missouri Mule Makeover challenge were picked from a candidate pool of more than 50 people eager to be a part of the inaugural program.

The trainers chosen were Tim Cross from Missouri, Sharla Wilson from Arizona, Shane Vaughn from Iowa, Lori Montgomery from Kentucky, Leon Raber from Ohio, and Chris French from Iowa.

Coordinator of Ozark Mule Days, Les Clancy, and a handful of others, chose the trainers to participate in the competition.

“The good thing about this is – these trainers have their name on the line. They are not going to bring back a ‘half-assed’ – literally-mule,” Les Clancy said with a chuckle. “They are going to come back with something topnotch.”

The trainers will return with their mules ready to compete in a variety of classes and competitions during Ozark Mule Days scheduled for Labor Day weekend. The mules are required to complete a set of certain tasks including walking across a bridge, passing through a steel gate, opening a mailbox, side passing and neck reining.

Any additional skills demonstrated gives the trainer a chance to earn points and snag the Missouri Mule Makeover champion title. In the end, the trainers get to keep the mule or keep the cash the mule brings at auction during Ozark Mule Days.

Les, in conjunction with other donors and sponsors, purchased the Quarter, and gaited mules from breeders throughout Missouri.  “I want to make these people really get outside of their comfort zone to train. Some of these people are western pleasure people, some are cowboys, and some participate in cowboy mounted shooting,” he said.

Though slightly similar competitions have been held for horse trainers, this is the first of its kind for mules. What makes it even more unique is the extended period of time trainers receive to work with the mules before they return to compete at the show and sale.

Instead of a typical three-day challenge, trainers participating in the Missouri Mule Makeover challenge get 130 days.

“There are a lot of challenges that are a week long or shorter, but no one has ever taken a totally unbroken mule, given it to a professional trainer and said, ‘Show-me your stuff,’” Les said.

The trainers are particularly excited about the extended time frame they get to work with their mules.

The trainers, sponsors and mule industry enthusiasts gathered in the arena at the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds and Event Center on a Friday morning in April for mule selection day.

“I have never had any luck so what I am saying is that everyone else is going to get a good one and I am not,” Tim joked prior to finding out which mule would be his.

Organizers took a deck of cards and wrote the numbers 1 through 7 on random cards in the stack. One by one the trainers drew until they picked a card with a number. After several cards with no numbers, Tim picked up a card with the number 2 written on it.

So what about Tim not ever being lucky? It turns out Tim was quite happy with the luck of draw. He scored the oldest mule in the lineup, which he preferred due to the mule being a bit more physically mature. Tim named his mule, Ozarks Senior Citizen, as a nod to himself being the oldest trainer selected for the competition.

When auction day rolls around will Tim keep or sell Ozarks Senior Citizen?

“I will decide that probably when I hear what the bid is,” Tim replied with a laugh.


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