Abby, not in attire for dressage, but she is on Fay who was in the Rose Bowl Parade.
When you come to the Hoffman’s farm located at the corner of Lamos and Skeels roads, the first thing you don’t see is the eight mules and two mammoth donkeys. One donkey, named Hank, stands over 14 hands.
What you do see is their modern counterparts: an extensive collection of enormous towering machinery that sets the tone of modern farming.
But that other part of the Laurie Hoffman story can be seen further on past these parked industrial and mechanical monsters. The working predecessors are frisking about in a large field: well-groomed, healthy, inquisitive mules and donkeys of various heights and shades, mostly of light brown and gray, an occasional black.
Laurie Hoffman explains why she has this preference for mules and donkeys as, “I had horses my whole life, and I had some broken bones to mark it. I heard mules were safer, they do not bolt, and I found when I started being around mule people, they are fun.” From that discovery to today it only took Laurie five years to build her herd.
Mule stereotypes have had centuries to become established. For instance, mules are mentioned in Greek classical literature as early as 8th Century B.C. The most familiar stereotype “stubborn as a mule,” Laurie says “no longer applies because of vastly improved breeding techniques. Since the mule is sterile and a hybrid between a horse and a donkey, more attention is paid to the mare and her characteristics. The result is that it is possible to say ‘smart as a mule.’”
Laurie points out another difference from the horse world, although the mare has increased in importance, “The breed is not political. You do not need to prove lineage and pedigrees. Your eyesight tells you it is a mule or donkey. Look at the ears.”
The cost of mules has, of course, escalated as their role and better breeding has changed. According to Laurie, “a show mule can go as high as $6,000, while the going rate for a decent harness-driving mule is $2,000.”
Now, mules are adding to their history of work animals and entering competitive shows and other events. Perhaps a “famous” Hoffman draft mule is Fay, who was in the Rose Bowl Parade. Her mother is a Belgian draft horse, and her father a donkey. Here, in addition to the ears, Fay’s unmistakable tawny brown color, blond mane and tail, and placid disposition make her a stand-out.
Laurie does not have to do all the work herself. She is fortunate to have Abby Christmas as a constant helper, rider, and admirer of mules at the farm. The association takes on added meaning to Laurie because Abby, a long time friend of her son Bennett who was fatally injured in an accident, “in addition to her love of animals, works at the farm as a continuing tribute to Bennett.”
Every action of Abby as she works with the mules and donkeys shows skill and admiration for the animal, a feeling that is reciprocated by the mules. The relationship between them sets a pattern for Abby’s work with them. She says she finds the mules “really fun and different, and always a challenge.”
As an indication of how mules are becoming part of the traditional horse shows, Abby showed in 10 Michigan events this summer. The show rules and techniques for mules are the same as for horses, including dressage and attire. “The mules train well so I ride, jump, and race them along with the horses,” she explains.
Abby also becomes a wagon/carriage driver for those featured rides (weather permitting) as part of Laurie’s business The Line Shack. It is open Saturday and Sunday in the fall, noon-6 p.m., 231-750-4033.