As Grand Prix level dressage rider and trainer Vicky Busch rides down centerline and salutes, crowds of spectators lining the ring break out in an explosive applause.
It is the dressage mule Assassin, affectionately known as “Slate,” who draws the crowds and brings a new and sensational quality to the sport.
“I have ridden some of the nicest horses there are down the centerline,” Busch explained.
“There have been maybe four people watching. I rode that mule down the centerline for his first dressage test in May, and there must have been 100 people watching. It was unbelievable! They were screaming, hooting and hollering. Slate is a ham. He was hee-hawing through his test and everybody just loved him.”
Busch has always liked mules, but had never owned one before Slate. She happened across an advertisement for him online while reading an article about the Bishop Mule Days Festival in California. After watching a video of Slate, and seeing that the 4-year-old had three correct gaits, she phoned his owner. Assured that he had a good personality and no major vices, Busch took a leap of faith and bought him, sight unseen.
“I had a feeling,” Busch said with a smile. “From the moment he stepped off the trailer, I’ve just been smitten with him. He’s precious. He’s kind of shy for a mule but he really likes little kids.”
Slate has been the star of the barn ever since.
Working on his dressage with Busch, as well as competing at 4-H shows with a young rider, Slate attracts admirers everywhere he goes.
“I think the kids like him so much because he has that almost cartoon character charisma,” Busch said. “He’s like an overgrown stuffed animal. I can look at him all day. He is adorable and so cute. He does funny things and just always keeps us laughing.”
Slate has been holding his own in 4-H competition and Busch hopes to do more dressage shows with him in the future. He and his young rider, Isabella Rodwig, have qualified for and competed in the Louisiana State 4-H Horse Show, where they placed well against seasoned competitors. Busch is thrilled with his progress and plans to continue his training.
Recently, Busch learned of Brooke USA, the American-based fundraising arm of Brooke, the world’s largest international equine welfare charity dedicated to improving the lives of working horses, donkeys and mules in developing countries. She immediately identified with their mission.
Since learning about the charity, Busch has been a generous supporter. For more than 80 years, Brooke has been alleviating the suffering of equines who work in some of the poorest communities on Earth. Brooke’s practical and sustainable solutions to enormous equine welfare challenges actively improve the lives of equine animals and the people who depend on them. Last year alone, Brooke reached 1.8 million equines, benefiting 10 million people in the developing world.
Owning Slate has made the work that Brooke USA does – helping working equines including mules around the world – a cause close to Busch’s heart. She hopes that she can use the attention that Slate attracts to bring more awareness to Brooke USA, and put a personal touch on it. Busch is eager to tell Slate’s admirers at shows about the important work of Brooke USA and how they can help improve the lives of working equines around the world who are not as lucky as Slate to have such a wonderful home.