The Missouri Mule Team celebrates 30 years in 2014.
Mules can be described as steady, powerful, hard working, loyal, sure-footed creatures. But stubborn?
“I’m afraid you’re sadly mistaken,” says John Dodam, dispelling the cliché about the donkey-horse hybrid. “It’s actually intelligence. Donkeys tend to evaluate a situation before reacting, and that characteristic comes through in the mule.”
Throughout 2014, the Missouri Mule Team is celebrating 30 years since it was established by former College of Veterinary Medicine Dean Robert Kahrs. The current equine duo of 21-year-olds Tim and Terry — Tim, a more refined-looking mule and Terry with an unusually large head — is the third pair charged with appearing at events around the Show-Me State as ambassadors for Mizzou.
Dodam, a professor of anesthesiology at the college, oversees a group of undergraduate students who exercise, groom and feed the mules, and travel with them by truck and trailer.
“There aren’t a lot of mules who make good public relations representatives, but Tim and Terry are unique in that they are extremely people oriented,” Dodam says.
Mules are important to Missouri’s history partly because of the state’s frontier location in the 1800s. The animals were suited to make the journey across the Great Plains, and Missouri farmers could easily grow grass to feed them. Missouri farmers were also the first to breed big draft mares with mammoth donkeys in large numbers, resulting in the useful but infertile Missouri Mule.
Tim and Terry’s barnmate, Hilda, a 38-year-old member of the original Missouri Mule Team, also resides in the facility just east of the college. Her teammate, Louise, died in 2011, and Tim and Terry’s predecessors, Jill and Shirley, live on the farm of Justin Berger, DVM ’98, in Rolla, Missouri.
Through the years, the mules have met governors, chancellors, athletes and 1990 Miss America, Debbye Turner, DVM ’91. Their next big event is Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin’s inauguration ceremony Sept. 18, when they will transport the Loftin family from the Missouri Theatre to Memorial Union.
But it’s perhaps the caretaking students who most appreciate hitching their wagon to these stars.
“Every time I have an exam, I come down here to the barn to pet them for good luck,” says Darcie Sidelinger from Kersey, Pennsylvania. “I think it relieves a little bit of the tension.”