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NEIGHBORS : Mule Fanciers Weren't Horsing Around at Fair : They're proud of their long-eared steeds and say a reputation for stubbornness is undeserved.

September 02, 1993|PANCHO DOLL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Diversity was the watchword at the Ventura County Fair Horse Shows as mules, those sod busting engines of the American frontier, shared the show ring with the haughty steeds of gentry.

One day, Andalusians, the bull-fighting breed of Spanish nobles and Tennessee Walkers, the preferred mount for Southern plantation owners, were forced to follow in the hoof prints of the humble mule.

"Them mules are making their way into the world," said Jan Janikowski, superintendent of the show.

Mules, for those non-cognoscenti, are a cross between a male burro and a female horse. Mules are most often pictured in front of a plow or under a pack, but their vaunted utility has broadened to include jumping and dressage. In the beachless desert town of Bishop, they even attach boards to mules' backs and "surf them," said Tammy Morris of Santa Paula.

Morris keeps 13 mules at her ranch and has been showing them in saddle classes at the fair for the past four years. Mule people insist (and the encyclopedia confirms) that mules' reputation for stubbornness is ill-deserved. They say the image is the result of pilot error.

Evidently, mules don't suffer fools gladly.

"You can't yell at them or treat them ugly. If you do, they won't work. My husband had a mule that, if you said any curse word at all, he'd go to the barn and wouldn't come out until you apologized," Morris said.

Since she started showing, Morris said the stigma of long ears has decreased and they no longer hear the taunts, "can't you ride a real horse, why do you have to ride a half ass."

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Sentimentality appears to be on the decline among the county's youth. This letter comes from Christy Monteith, 13, of Ojai who raised a lamb for 4-H.

"I purchased my lamb from the Painted Pony Petting Farm," she writes. "I think that is the reason she is so mellow. Due to her mellowness, I think she would be excellent breeding stock if you would like to use her for meat."

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The frivolous question of the week: Why are sail covers on boats all blue? Take a look at the boats tied up at the Ventura Harbor and you will see row upon row of booms all swaddled in blue cloth covers.

Tom Maires, a cover maker from Ventura, said that years ago all boat covers were made of olive-colored cotton canvas. (Maybe to better hide sea gull calling cards)

"About 20 years ago they came out with a synthetic material that they produced in five principal colors, red, yellow, white, green and blue. Everybody liked blue better."

Pacific blue was the most popular color, Maires said.

"If you look around closely there are other colors out there. Now there's navy blue and royal blue."

Sailors, it turns out, are a conformist group. Any plaid, prints or chintz sail covers?

"I get an order for a stripped sail cover every once in a while when somebody wants something unique, but that's pretty rare."

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