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Mule Lift

Deep in the New Zealand bush, cave divers use 2 main forms of transportation. The helicopter and the mule reign supreme. For helicopters, we choose to ride with Syd Deaker of Action Helicopters whose many thousands of hours flying the local mountains fill us with confidence. http://www.actionhelicopters.com/

For mules...well, we pack our own.

Jonny River's Diving Mules...the full story!

You must be a real sad loser to be reading this far into the Wetmules website. But anyway, this story has the full approval of the Wetmules vet so don't be concerned. Enjoy...

"Sue was a small mule standing just 41 inches at the shoulder...our ideal jumping size is 39-41 inches at the shoulder"

High Dives Make Stars Of Mules It Started With One Mule, Became Family Tradition
July 19, 1987|By Jim Yandle, Special to The Sentinel

MCINTOSH — An old adage says you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. That may be true, but when Jonny Rivers takes his mules to water, they don't drink, they dive into it -- from 30 feet up.

The discovery that his mules like water came early one morning in 1959 in South Florida when Rivers took two of his horses for a swim in the ocean as part of a training exercise.

''In addition to the horses that morning, I took along a little mule I called Sue and tied her to a tree while I worked the horses,'' said Rivers. ''She was so anxious to join in the fun that she dug a good-sized hole with her front feet trying to get to the water and the horses. So I untied her and in she went,'' he said.

''I got the idea that if Sue liked the water so much, maybe I could train her to fit into some other animal acts I had at the time,'' Rivers said.

''Sue was a small mule standing just 41 inches at the shoulder. In fact, she could swim and float in waist-deep water,'' he said.

After Sue's first swim in the ocean, Rivers began to train her to jump and it was not long before she was a high-diving mule, the first in what would become a long line of performers.

And she loved it.

''When Sue proved that diving mules could be very popular we added two more, Lucy and Lena,'' Rivers said.

Rivers said that the mules are easy to train because they are very intelligent and like routines.

''One time Sue made her dive and before we knew it, she had climbed out of the tank, climbed the tower, and jumped in again. The crowd loved it,'' he said.

To allay any fears that the animals are forced to perform, Rivers has had the mules checked by veterinarians during performances.

''Whenever the vets checked my mules, they always found that all their vital signs were just as they should be.''

''Each one of our mules must be able to work alone and we train them for two years before they make their first appearance before the public,'' he said.

Although the mules that Rivers uses are small, they are not to be confused with miniatures of some other breeds, such as miniature horses.

''This type of mule is small because they were originally bred to work in the coal mines where height was a very important feature of the animal,'' said Rivers.

''The size of the mule is important to us because of simple logistics. The standard size mule would require larger transportation vehicles, and you can imagine how big a tank and how much water it would take. Our ideal jumping size is 39-41 inches at the shoulder.''

Rivers, 70, and his wife Delma live in a comfortable mobile home at the Rivers Ranch in McIntosh, a small community in north Marion County.

A couple of heart attacks and quadruple bypass surgery three years ago has slowed this cowboy who ''had never been sick a day in my life''.

After his father's heart attack, younger son Tim, 37, and his wife Patty took over the traveling road unit. Tracy, the couple's 11-year-old daughter and a showman herself, travels with her parents during school vacation.

Older son Dennis, 47, also a horse trainer, currently is working in the movie Pipi Longstocking, which is being filmed in Fernandina Beach.

Middle son Bill, 38, also works in movies with animals and operates Movieland Animals in Riverside, Calif.

Although there is a pony in the road unit, Rivers said mules have several advantages over horses.

''Mules can be taught to climb higher and dive into less water and they don't panic. There is less difficulty in transporting them and they can be taught to work alone,'' he said.

The road unit consists of two mules, a pony, a dog, and a Macaque monkey that rides the pony as it dives into the water.

''The monkey enjoys the swim as much as the pony,'' Rivers said.

During the show while the other animals are doing their tricks, the dog is kept at the stock trailer awaiting his entrance. On cue, the dog runs into the arena and begins diving, much to the consternation of Rivers who tells the audience that this dog must be in off the streets.

''The audience really gets a kick out of the dog,'' said Rivers.

To reach the diving platform, the animals climb a cleated walkway rigged at a 45-degree angle. Inside the tank is another walkway for exits. The tank measures 20 feet in diameter, is six feet deep and holds about 15,000 gallons of water.

''There is only one of the original mules left and that's Lucy. She worked for me for 20 years and I retired her to the ranch here,'' Rivers said. ''I figured she deserved it.''