Mule Riders Uphold a Tradition of Excellence


Photo by Submitted by Victoria Happy

Veteran Mule Rider Victoria Happy decked out in gear ready to do a lap by the endzone once the Mules football team scores a touchdown. Photo submitted by Victoria Happy.

At Prussing Farm, in the quiet countryside of Warrensburg, the university’s mule mascots, Tammy, also known as Mancow, age 26, and Molly, age 11, spend their days. When they aren’t getting ready for game day with their riders, the mules spend the day with the wind blowing through their manes, enjoying the sweet smell of the fresh, outdoor air. 

 Students may have seen these long, familiar faces at the University of Central Missouri’s home football games with the Mule Riders on their backs.

  The mules are ridden by this year’s mule team, Victoria Happy and Holly Hagood. Sophomore radiology major Hagood is the mule apprentice while Happy is the veteran Mule Rider. 

  There is an extensive routine that goes into getting these mules game day ready. Both Hagood and Happy are responsible for the mules’ game-day routines which include washing, trimming, cleaning, drying, painting, saddling and warming the mules up. 

    “To be ready for game day, we typically give them a bath, which can take up to 45 minutes to an hour,” Hagood said. “We need paints, glitter, all our normal tack and sometimes different ones. We also trim their whiskers and manes. Game day routine starts with getting up at 6:00 a.m. to start anything forgotten the night before like cleaning tack, straightening hair or other odd things.” 

  Hagood said it can be difficult if the mules do not want to cooperate with them, especially when trying to paint freehand. On game day, the mules and mule riders have a specific routine. 

   “We walk through the tailgate lots and say hi to fans as well as the rival team,” Hagood said. “After a quick stop at the president’s tent, we go to the field and warm-up, and then, we go on with the game. Standing for the national anthem and doing a small lap if we score a touchdown. After the game, we take pictures, then head back to the barn to clean the mules and let them go in their pasture.” 

  Sophomore communication studies major Laney Rose described what it was like to see the mules at the games. 

  “After not being able to attend football season my freshman year, I was super excited to experience mule football this year,” Rose said. “I got to see the mules do laps when UCM scored, which I wasn’t able to see before. Being a part of game day is an experience that I will never forget.”

  With homecoming fast-approaching, the Mule Riders have to prepare. 

  UCM farms director Travis Hume said, “Homecoming is a 14-hour day for the mule team starting at 4:00 a.m. and not wrapping up until around 6:00 p.m.,” Hume said. “Preparation for game day lasts all year. Just like any other athletic team, we practice all year because when game day hits we have to bring our A-game. We can’t allow for a mistake with that many eyes on us. Perfection is expected.”

  In order to become a Mule Rider Hume explained, “There’s an extensive tryout that the prospective riders go through with me,” Hume said. “If they pass the riding portion and can handle themselves well at a public appearance, I will make a selection at the end of the season.”

  Veteran Mule Rider Victoria Happy described the history behind the mules, explaining that UCM has had live mascots starting with Gizmo. Shortly after Gizmo, there was a Mule named Little Mo in the 1950s. The third mule was Roscoe in the 1960s. Each of these mules were donkeys bred with ponies rather than horses, so they were all smaller in size. Therefore, the first three mules were not ridden. In the 1980s, Abbedale became the live mascot, and she was ridden by a staff member.


  Mancow “Tammy” was donated in 2003. As an 8-year-old, she made her debut for the 2004 football season. Molly was brought to the university in early 2017.

  Happy recalls what it was like to ride Molly for the first time, and said Molly is truly a remarkable animal.

  “When I went to ride Molly before she was purchased by the college, we went on a 6-hour trail ride where we came in contact with a lot of loud noises and things she had never seen before,” Happy said. “I was so impressed with her, and then we came to a part where we had to ride across a bridge that went over a major highway. Molly was so brave, and got us across safely. Needless to say, after that she got the job because she showed such bravery, intelligence and trust.” 

  Happy has been on the team for five years, and the amount of years she has been involved makes her the veteran rider.

  “As the veteran, I am in charge of teaching my apprentice, making sure the mules are getting the specific training to ensure they have the tools to do their job, do most of the PR and make moment to moment decisions to ensure everyone has an enjoyably safe experience with our mules,” Happy said.

  While the job may look easy from an outsider’s point of view, the UCM Mule Riders put in a lot of hours and hard work to ensure the UCM community is able to enjoy having live mascots. Happy explained the mules are training between before each appearance or game. Additionally, the Mule Rider team has to be able to work together and trust each other, especially the mules and their riders.

  “The job is far more than taking care of mules, sitting on a saddle and looking pretty,” Happy said. “We train in PR, riding, game prep, overall equine knowledge and so many more details.”

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