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MULE CROSSING: Racing Mules

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By Meredith Hodges

Racing, the sport of kings has intrigued people for hundreds of years. Perhaps it’s the beauty of running horses, or maybe the way your heart swells with excitement as they come down the home stretch; or it could be the money. But whatever the reason, millions flock to the racetracks each year to enjoy this magnificent sport. Over the years, racing has expanded to include not only the Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds, but Appaloosas, Arabians, and Quarter Horses as well. During the past three decades, mules have emerged onto the racetrack to take their place in making racing history.

Although mule racing has just begun to take hold as a national sport, it had its beginnings in the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains of California in 1851, when Captain Boling’s cavalry troop was forced to halt for two months in the Yosemite Valley. Horse racing was one of the major sports used to keep up the spirits of the men during this unexpected respite. Army mules were included in these races to add to the entertainment. Much to the chagrin of some of the horse owners, the mules could actually beat some of the cavalry’s favorite mounts. Captain Boling purchased one Maltese, Kentucky-blooded mule (known as the Vining mule) he was particularly impressed by for one thousand dollars in gold from Lee Vining. He then went on to make many more thousands in match races with this mule against horses. To quote from the official racing program: “The Indian war of 1851 was the catalyst that started the first running of mules in California.”

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