If have been following the dressage world lately, or have looked at my recent post on the topic, you probably heard about the mule, Dyna, and her owner Laura Hermanson competing in the U.S. Dressage Finals. The pair earned 67% in Training level. I have actually met Laura before; she's local and owns the tack store in town, so I decided to interview her for my blog. You can watch the video I embedded, or read the interview below if it doesn't work.
How did you get started in dressage?
Laura: I got started riding hunter jumpers and dressage as a child at the LA Equestrian Center at Foxfield Riding Academy down in southern California.
How did you first become interested in riding and competing mules?
Laura: I've ridden horses my whole life and I spent a summer packing mules up in Yosemite National Park, and that was when I was first introduced to mules, and they were fascinating. They were just so interesting to watch and to work with and so I thought, "This might be kind of interest to try and teach them dressage and to be ridden."
What made you decide to use a mule for dressage, rather than the more conventional warmbloods?
Laura: I think it was 2004 when they allowed mules into the USDF I had some clients who had some mules and liked mules and wanted some to go do dressage. They said to start looking for some that had the qualities for dressage. It took a long time and I ended up finding two mules, CR Moxie J and BB Magee. In the mean time, I also had my own personal mule, who I had been training in dressage, and that was Dyna. I waited for a while with her. She was tricky minded, and when I felt that she was ready it was time to show her dressage as well.
What is your favorite thing about mules?
Laura: That's a tough question! There are so many wonderful things about mules, but the first thing that comes to mind is their ears. That is what sets them apart in a lot of ways from horses, because they really let you know how there're feeling through there ears. The best thing is that when you're riding a mule, you look down and see these giant radars. your hope is for the relaxation and when you get it when the mule's ears start flapping, then you know you're in a good place.
Could you tell me about your mules?
Laura: Right now I'm currently riding four mules. one. he's pretty much retired and only get's exercised for conditioning. He was my first mule, Stretch, who I used for jumping. Then I have Dyna, who has just competed at the Finals but who also competes in hunters, reining, cutting, and cow working. Then I have the two I mentioned, CR Moxie J who competed at First Level, who I have been working at Second and Third Level movements for hopefully next year; and BB Magee, who is also at First Level.
How did you meet Dyna and what made you want to do dressage with her?
Laura: I found Dyna after I had worked with Stretch in jumping. He was a thirteen year old pack mule when I started, so he was a bit of a challenge, and I thought, "I'd like to try to find something younger and try to train it to be a performance horse or mule. I started looking for good breeders and found the Heart B Ranch in Idaho and chose Dyna. I was at a show in Nevada and saw Dyna and immediately knew that she was the one that was supposed to be in my life.
Dressage is my background, my basics. Whatever discipline I train for with my horses and mules, dressage is the basis for it all. She was mentally a tricky one and was very reactionary, spooky, difficult to get shown so I knew that it would take a while for her to mature before I was comfortable showing her at USDF rated shows. with horses. I just kept working on all of basics, trying to get good dressage basics in her, and when I felt she was mentally ready, which was this year, I went ahead and shoed her.
Training any equine for dressage can be difficult, but what are specific challenges you face when training a mule?
Laura: Mules are tricky in the sense that you just have to have a lot of patience. Their very smart, so you have to be clever in the sense of not overdoing something. Once they understand something, it's time to move on. You don't want to reiterate things. But also you have to have a really good sense of humor, because their dads are donkeys, so every once in a while they have days when they decide they just don't want to do something and you need to be willing to not get frustrated, be able to laugh about it, and creatively find a way to work with what you want to do that day.
Is riding and training them more difficult than riding and training horses?
Laura: In some aspects I think it is. I just think ti takes the right kind of personality. you have be someone that's not going to try to force something. You have to, like I said, have a great sense of humor, so in that sense I think they can be somewhat trickier, but at the same time there are a lot of tricky minded horses as well. I think just trying to get a good basis of good horsemanship helps with all equines.
What did qualifying for the U.S Dressage Finals include?
Laura: Originally, I had to qualify for the state finals, which was the CDS since I live California, so I had to go for the state qualifying, which was five scores of 65% or higher. For the U.S. dressage Finals you first have to qualify for the regional finals, which as an Open Rider I had to have two scores of 68% or higher at the highest test of the level. So I qualified for those scores and went to the regional championships. From the regional championships, of the horses and mules that declare nomination for the U.S. Dresage Finals, they take the top two and one wild card. By placing I was actually originally on the long list, the alternate list, which was exciting. Then I got the email that said the other horses had decided not to go, so we had an invitation to the finals.
What was your best experience in Kentucky for the finals?
Laura: There were so many incredible experiences. I think the thing that was most exciting for me was meeting al, the other competitors. There was a real comradery. Sometimes I think dressage can be looked upon as an elitist sport or as a very solo sport, but it really is about the coaches, and the grooms, and the emotional support, and friends. I think that everyone who rides dressage recognizes how difficult it is, what a group effort it is to just even get those five minutes of showing accomplished. I think there was a real sense of comradery amongst all of the competitors and their help. I think everyone in my barn aisle cam and watched each other's classes. There was a real sense of meeting people from all over the United States who share the same passion as we all do for dressage.
What are your future plans for Dyna?
Laura: My future plans are to just continue. I hope to be a better rider and continue to learn from her. We're just going to keep on our track of improving and moving up the levels as far we're able to go. This trip really taught me how there is no impossible dream. This was the impossible dream for me to go to the Finals, and the fact that it happened showed that there are no limits. I feel like I'm just trying to stay open minded and to not set boundaries and see how far we can go.
Do you have any advice to give to young dressage riders?
Laura: I think the best advice I can give is to just keep at it. I hope that my story has helped inspire other riders to want to learn dressage. I want dressage riders to realize that no matter what horse you have, what breed it is, what stage of life your horse is, to just recognize that there is something to be learned from every animal you ride, whether it's a mule, a horse, and to just stick with it because there's lessons your going to learn from riding that animal that will carry you on and teach you invaluable life lessons as well.