Mule Madness at the US Dressage Finals

Lexington, KY – November 6, 2014 – The US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan are just getting underway, but there is already a lot of buzz around one very special equine competing this weekend at the Kentucky Horse Park. “Have you seen the mule?” is the question of the day after word got out that Heart B Dyna, a 12-­year­-old molly mule (Heart B Lonesome Me­CCR Full of Style), had made the trip from Madera, California, to compete in the Open Training Level Championship.

Owner/rider Laura Hermanson and Heart B Dyna stretched their legs in a warm­up class on Thursday, scoring 65.000 percent for eighth place in Training Level Test 3. caught up with Hermanson after her ride to find out more about her partnership with “Dyna,” the first mule ever to compete at the US Dressage Finals.

(Hermanson and Heart B Dyna went on to score 67.267 percent for their ride in the Open Training Level Championship ­ click here to watch a video of their test.)

Laura Hermanson and Heart B Dyna

Dyna isn’t the first mule you’ve ridden. How did you get involved with mules?

I had worked at a pack station in Yosemite National Park and fell in love with these super smart and incredible creatures. I got a 13­-year-­old pack mule, and he ended up really liking to jump, so I jumped him. I had so much fun with the challenge of it, and I thought, “I want to do this again.”

Where did you find Dyna and what appealed to you about her?

She came from a great breeder in Idaho, the Heart B Ranch. They breed quality mules and really take the time to find nice mares. There are only a few people who actually breed performance mules. The second I saw Dyna at a show in Winnemucca, Nevada, I knew she was the one.

Laura Hermanson and Heart B Dyna walk down to the show ring with trainer Renee Johnson

What has it been like training her?

Mules take a really long time to mature. I got her as a 3­-year-­old, and it has taken this long to become confident and brave and mentally ready to compete at a show like this. She loves to go new places and enjoys being at shows, but it has taken her a while to not be so spooky.

Laura Hermanson and Heart B Dyna

What’s her personality around the barn?

She is an introvert and kind of a born skeptic. Just in the last two years she has really come out of her shell and become really affectionate. I think because she has been so tricky and it has taken us a long time to build this relationship, I have a deeper connection with her than any other equine I have had in my whole life. She’s finally affectionate, which is really exciting.

After competing your first mule in show jumping, what made you choose to pursue dressage with Dyna?

Dressage is my background and it’s what I am the most passionate about. I love everything about dressage: the learning and the constant, never­ending learning. My big hope in doing all of this is that people will go out and try dressage. If I can do it on a mule, it goes to show that good dressage basics are for everyone. I really hope that it inspires people to find a trainer and go take some dressage lessons. Even if it’s something you don’t want to do into the high levels, any horse and any breed could benefit from the training.

Laura Hermanson and Heart B Dyna

You ran a very successful GoFundMe campaign to support your trip to the US Dressage Finals. Were you expecting to get this kind of response to competing a mule here?

I am overcome with emotion over the fact that people have been so generous. We did not have the finances to make it out here. The kindness of complete strangers is amazing. Someone who I don’t even know has donated $1,000. The amount of letters and encouragement I have received is just unbelievable. I have had letters from Slovenia, Germany, South America and Columbia. There is a whole community around the world that has really come together and been a huge support to me.

Do you feel like you’re an ambassador for mules?

I am a board member of the American Mule Association, and of course I love promoting mules because they are incredible. My biggest hope is to inspire people. I hope that people give it a go on their cross breed or whatever kind of horse they have. I also hope to inspire more mule owners. People have written me saying, “I have a mule, but I’ve just been too intimidated to try to show.” I’ve written back to everyone and just said to go for it.

Do you get any negative reactions to going down centerline on a mule?

When I first started showing in California, I showed two other mules and they’re at First Level now. At first, people were skeptical, and the reception was a little iffy, but that went away right away. People have been encouraging. The best are the judges, who have said nothing but great and encouraging comments.

Laura Hermanson and Heart B Dyna hold their own in the warm­up

Have you encountered horses who don’t know what to make of a mule?

In the three years that I have been showing these mules, I would say maybe three or four horses have genuinely been afraid of them. I am really conscious of it, so I try to go out of my way to approach people and say “Is there anything I can do? Can they maybe smell noses, or would you like to follow her?” One time there was a pony that was really nervous, and I asked the rider to let me know when her ride time was so that I could be somewhere else. Here, there have been no problems. Most of the horses go by and don’t even realize that it’s even a mule.

What are your goals at US Dressage Finals, and how did the first day go?

I am just happy to be here. The fact that we made it here was amazing. I am happy with how brave she was today. Like I said, she can be very spooky, and she was very nervous out there but really kept it together. She came back to me and she listened. I am just so proud of her. I am so happy that we were able to make it here and live this impossible dream. This is the impossible dream come true.

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