(T-G photo by Jim Davis) [Order this photo]
It may be a well-known saying, but trainer Anita Gravener doesn't think it's a true description.
"I don't think they're stubborn," said Gravener, a quarter horse trainer by trade who started training mules last year as a favor to a friend. "They're actually very smart."
They can be eager to please when trained and encouraged correctly, but they do resist being intimidated, which may account for their reputation.
(T-G Photo by John I. Carney)
In 2011, when Buddy Pope asked Gravener to train his mule Kate, she agreed -- and discovered that her quarter horse training techniques worked just fine. Like quarter horse shows, mule shows feature a wide variety of events and activities, requiring the animals to be versatile.
Anita Gravener discovered that she liked working with mules, and when Pope went to take his back she decided it "would be a big loss in my barn." She and her husband Steve bought a mule of their own. They now have both their own mule and Pope's in their barn on Harrison Road.
The Graveners are looking forward to this weekend's 21st Annual Great Celebration Mule and Donkey Show, which runs Thursday through Saturday on the Celebration grounds, and said the public would enjoy seeing the mules put through their paces in a variety of events, from show classes to obstacle and barrel-racing classes.
"It's just a crowd-pleaser," said Anita.
One highlight is a costume class. At previous shows, one mule was decorated like a NASCAR vehicle, while another mule and rider both came dressed as cloggers.
The Graveners like the fact that, while the competition in the ring is serious, the atmosphere outside the ring is laid-back and social, welcoming for trainers and the public alike.
"You can walk up to somebody who's washing his mule and they'll talk to you for an hour," said Steve.
(T-G photo by Jim Davis)
"We did that," said Anita.
The Graveners said they'd love to see more of the community enjoy the variety of different equine breeds which compete on the Celebration grounds over the course of a year. Some shows are more interested in spectator participation than others, but the Graveners said the Mule and Donkey Show is a great chance for the community to have a good time.
"It's right in town," said Anita. "It's at a great facility."
The mule show draws participants from across the country. The Graveners moved to Tennessee from New York, and even when they were in the Empire State they knew mule owners who came to Shelbyville for the show.
Gravener has been training quarter horses and riders for more than 20 years, earning a variety of awards on the American Quarter Horse Association circuit. She was a state champion, placed top 10 at the AQHA World Show and at the All-American Quarter Horse Congress, where she had a reserve champion and a Congress Champion. Her personal stallion has three AQHA Superior titles including all-around.