by Lesley Scott
Top Hat 'n Tails was an unusual spotted miniature mule who loved to play.
|Training Top Hat ‘n Tails
Top Hat, a spotted mule foal, hit the ground running, on the Fourth of July, 1983. He was on his feet unlike the wobbly coordination of a horse foal. Being the hybrid of a horse mother and donkey father, somehow the mule’s nervous system is better developed.
Top Hat's mother was a black pony named Buckshot, who showed up at my farm dragging a frayed rope tied around her neck. She had been neglected and was a bone rack full of worms. It was criminal, the way that pony had been abused. She had most likely suffered from abuse and neglects for years. But she was a tough one. Mary Jane adopted Buckshot and brought her good health in only a few months.
After getting Buckshot filled out, she was introduced to Sidney. Sidney was a spotted Spanish Jack, a male donkey. They presented us with an unusual mule foal. I had been trying for years to have a spotted mule by Sindey, whose pinto color was striking. The overo pattern is common in spotted donkeys, but not mules. At the time, Mary Jane owned Top Hat. I later bought him when her herd grew too large. My herd has always been too large.
Top Hat’s liver, or dark mahogany, spots covered most of his white hide. The color of the top of his head and ears were what the Native Americans call “Medicine Hat,” and was known to be favored by the Great Spirit. Top Hat had spots along his back, spots on his knees and hocks, striped hooves, mixed colored mane and tail, and the rest of him looked like a paint brush had dripped and waved along his body. His color was loud, spotted in an unusual style, and his call sounded like a cross between the whinny of a horse and the bray of a donkey.
When Top Hat was a few days old, Mary Jane put a little foal halter on him. Because he was a miniature mule, it was a bit loose on his spotted face. After about a week, he began to walk on a lead line, with a rump rope above his hocks to encourage him to move forward. Being so sharp and intelligent, Top Hat enjoyed learning new things. He quickly learned his new promps such as "walk," "trot, and canter."
I can't thank Mary Jane enough for the training and for selling Top Hat to me when he was almost a yearling. As years passed, she and I took turns with Top Hat. We want to write a book about him. Mary Jane was and still is a brilliant artist, plus writer. She would illustrate the book, and I could try to do the writing. It remains a work in progress.
He was kept in a pasture with several nice mares, most were carrying mules from my Mammoth Jack. Since his mother was a horse, not a donkey, Top Hat loved his mares and was closely bonded to the ladies. When he refused to be caught, I had an idea. I transferred the mares to the back pasture. Within minutes, he was beating on the gate and it was a snap to put on his halter and lead line. Remember this if you have a horse, donkey or mule that is hard to catch.
Top Hat picked up the habit of nipping my wrists like I was another mule or horse. It was his way of letting me know he considered me to be a pasture mate. Flattered, though I was, I couldn’t let him keep such a vice. The last time he ever nipped me was when I screamed and threw myself on the ground, saying, “Ow! You hurt me!” He was so badly startled, he never tried to nip anyone again.
Top Hat was a real pistol! He was certainly favored by some sort of spirit. We built a small round pen that I used to start training him when he was about one and a half years old. That would be young by horse standards, but he was ready for the challenge. Top Hat was always ready and loves to show off. After some routine ground work like wearing the small English saddle, some driving and flexing, Top Hat told me he was ready to mount.
For some reason, Top Hat didn’t buck at that time. He acted like he was having fun. After riding him three or four times in the round pen, he started getting ring sour. The 56 inch tall youngster was ready for the next step. My friends stopped by wanting to ride in the woods behind my farm, “Moncks Corner Mule Manufacturing.” Just to see what would happen, I chose to ride Top Hat and not one of the other herd members.
Imagine how proud I was when Top Hat went right along with the others. He acted like he was trained to ride out on trail! He was an adventurous little mule and loved to ride even more as he became older. The horse trailer was his best friend. We would trail ride in the Francis Marion National Forest, where the trees were dense. There was a winding trail that lead across fields, woods, mud puddles and smelled so good. Whenever I hooked up the trailer or rattled the locks on the back, Top Hat would come running, making a whinny/braying sound.
I registered him with The American Donkey and Mule Society" as "Top Hat 'n Tails" for the National Versatility Award when he was about two years old. We collected points by winning classes at horse shows and Donkey and Mule Shows. We rode in every parade in Berkeley County, made appearances at special events, and generally promoted long eared critters. A year later, he earned enough points to win the coveted award.
Being so loudly colored, Top Hat was always a winner in the Color Class at every show. Once, he even beat out a zebra hybrid named PJ. I was surprised because I didn't know that spots could beat stripes.
The last time I checked with The American Donkey an Mule Society, which is also international, there has never a mule with the odd colors that made Top Hat stand out. Maybe it's the "Medicine Hat" that gave him his high spirits, as well!