PRATT — Ruby Howell's entry in the horse competitions at the 2019 Pratt County Fair wasn't the fastest and didn't look exactly like the other entries. But Howell wouldn't have it any other way.

Howell's first choice for county fair horse events is her mule, Molly. She also rides horses, but for her, the mules have her heart.

“It is true that horses are faster,” Howell said. “But my mule is smarter than most horses. She remembers what to do when and is easier to ride.”

This year, Howell and Molly were Reserve Grand Champions in the Performance Senior Division. Their best events were in the English riding category, which included jumping and trail maneuvers.

“I just love being on a mule or horse," she said. "It's freeing and an adrenaline rush. Competing shows the bond between rider and animal."

As for showing mules, she said the training might take longer, but when aspects are learned, they last forever.

"It can be frustrating. But I just love the way it feels when we do well. It's just amazing. It's a real accomplishment for me to show what my mule can do,” Howell said.

This year several other riders joined Howell in bringing mules to the county fair horse show. Emma Freeman and Cole Freeman rode their mules, Socks and Goldie, provided by their grandmother, as part of their first-year 4-H horse show.

Pratt County Extension Agent said the increase was welcomed by fellow competitors, but sometimes the judges brought in were a bit confused.

“We tell the judges we bring in for the fair each year that we have mules and they are always surprised,” Drake said. “Sometimes they are not sure what to think, but the kids involved have never had a problem with it.”

Howell and her favorite mule, Molly, have been competing at the Pratt County Fair for several years now, and this year, Howell brought along another mule, Crowley, to get some experience under the saddle.

She first got interested in mules during a trip to Scottsdale, Ariz. where she got to go on a trail ride on a mule. She made a trip to Yoder about six years ago and was able to purchase Molly from an Amish couple. It was the start of a long and happy friendship. Howell was a little older then most 4-Hers when she got involved and that was the same year she got Molly. The pair has been working together ever since.

It’s likely Howell will take only Molly to the Kansas State Fair in September, where mules are somewhat of an oddity in horse events.

“At the state fair, they have classes specifically for mules in open class,” Drake said. “But Ruby has always preferred to show her mule in the 4-H horse events as that is how she qualified.”

Howell also shows her mule at other events. They have become a pretty good pair in the jumping competitions and travel to the Wichita Riding Academy for jump training.

They compete in Kansas Hunter Jumper Association events each year in Wichita in August and September. They attended a KHJA event in Topeka earlier in July where Molly did amazing, Howell said. They also attend trail rides and have been to Nebraska, Missouri and Oklahoma.

Howell said one of her favorite events — Ozark Days in Missouri — is bigger each year as the popularity of mules seems to be growing nationwide.