Laura Hermanson and Behold the Desert with their coach Renee Johnson
Lexington, Ky. – Nov. 10, 2016 – For Laura Hermanson, an unusual competition mount has opened up a world of opportunities. In 2014, Hermanson completed the long trek from Madera, California, to make history aboard her molly mule, Heart B Dyna, as the first mule to compete in the national championships. It has been a whirlwind two years since then, with the production of a professional documentary aiding newly sparked interest in the mule industry all while training more mules in the sport of dressage.
Hermanson began training Behold the Desert, a 12-year-old mule, in April and the talented pair have gained an even bigger following of support wherever they go. After earning a qualifying score of 68.864 percent from the Great American Insurance Group Region 7 Championships, she knew she had to say yes to the opportunity of competing in the Training Level Open Championship in Kentucky.
“Beasley is such a good representation of the breed,” explained Hermanson. “We made the trip because for us, especially with a mule, it’s such an honor that no matter what we had to find a way to get here! I love dressage — it’s my biggest passion so to be able to show him here and have his owners, who are new to the whole sport, really be taken with it is very special.”
On Thursday, Hermanson and Beasley competed in a warm-up class to dust off any cobwebs before heading down centerline for their championship ride on Friday. They earned an impressive 69.95 percent in the Training Level Test 3 class.
Laura Hermanson and Behold the Desert
“I’m so pleased with his ride today!” said Hermanson. “Beasley was so brave and he just went out there and tried his heart out. I love teaching this mule more than any mule I’ve ever ridden. He has a fabulous brain and he is so willing. He’s a very sensitive mule. He’s one of those that once he understands what is expected of him he just ties and tries.”
Troy and Carol Delfino’s Behold the Desert, known as Beasley, has had a versatile career including trail riding, jumping, reining and now dressage.
“Just being here in Lexington with Beasley and our team is really the most important thing to us,” said Troy Delfino. “His ribbon placing is not what this is about — it’s bringing a fine mule to represent our mule community in a great way. That happened today and that is what we are most happy about! The mule community is very tight knit and we have friends from all over the country and world cheering him on because they can live their dream through his success.”
“We’ve owned him for nine years now and we love our Beasley!” explained Carol Delfino. “We ride him at home and he’s a pampered pet. I love that Laura treats him like her own. That’s very important to me because he means the world to us. We want to let him shine because mules are such incredible animals.”
Laura Hermanson and Behold the Desert with his owners, Troy and Carol Delfino
Hermanson began her love affair with mules after working at Yosemite National Park, experiencing the intelligence and kindness of the breed. From there, she bought a pack mule that she jumped and fell in love with the challenge of training mules. When she called up Renee Johnson to see if she would be interested in helping train the mule for dressage, Johnson figured she would give it a try.
“When Laura came to me [with her first mule Moxie], I was not sure it would work because I had never worked with mules before,” explained Johnson, Hermanson’s coach. “We were all three willing to give it a try and I think the proof is that two of her mules have competed at the national championships. As a trainer, I am really proud of her.
“We address the training the same way we do with the horses,” Johnson continued. “We have a very friendly philosophy. Sometimes you can ride the horses a little bit more forcefully, but with mules you have to be smarter.”
Though she continues to ride horses, Hermanson has loved competing four mules at USDF recognized shows and enjoys the support team that cheers them on. For their warm-up ride on Thursday, she had both owners, her film producer, trainer, breeder and an assortment of friends clapping from the sidelines.
Laura Hermanson and Behold the Desert
Beasley’s breeder, Candace Shauger, was thrilled to have one of her mules competing at the US Dressage Finals. She explained his bloodlines were vital to his success in the sport. His sire, an athletic donkey she acquired in Texas as a 2-year-old, had wowed her with his suspension in his trot. As the athleticism is often lost when breeding a donkey to a horse, Shauger took the time to pair him with a mare with exceptional disposition and muscularity.
“You can build a beautiful mule but it takes an owner like Carol and Troy [Delfino] to invest the time and find just the right rider,” Shauger articulated. “It is the perfect storm that the right people have come into Beasley’s life.”
In 2014, when Hermanson qualified for her first US Dressage Finals aboard Heart B Dyna, her friend of 10 years, Sarah Crowe, volunteered to film her trip.
“We we spent the week filming here in Lexington and after we got home I said, ‘Laura I can make a five-minute documentary about Kentucky but if you would let me I could go to a bunch of places with you over the next year and I could tell your whole story.’ She laughed and said ‘Okay, I’m just saying yes to everything and letting this opportunity happen!’”
Laura Hermanson and Behold the Desert with his owners and trainer
Throughout 2015 and 2016, Crowe has filmed, edited and produced a documentary titled Dyna Does Dressage about Hermanson’s journey with her dressage mules. They still have to plan the premiere event but they hope to release the film in spring 2017.
At the end of the day, Hermanson and her team hopes to inspire more riders to enjoy mules as competition partners. With the increasing success of sport mules, the United State Equestrian Foundation has proposed a bill (GR 126.2) that allows mules to not only compete at USEF sanctioned dressage, driving and endurance events, but hunter/jumper shows and eventing trials. If the bill passes in 2017, be ready to see more mules competing across all the equestrian disciplines.
Check out the trailer for the Dyna Does Dressage documentary: