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Think You Own A Trail Equine?


How would you like to promote your favorite mule or donkey, and earn recognition awards just for trail riding? Both the North American Saddle Mule Association and the American Donkey and Mule Society have trail riding programs in which you can log the number of hours you ride and in turn receive certificates and/or patches for your accomplishments. But there’s also a new all-breed association strictly for trail riders, the American Trail Horse Association, (ATHA) which invites mule and donkey riders to join them in helping to promote the all-around trail riding equine. Realizing that often an equine used for trail riding was negatively labeled as “just a trail horse or mule”, the ATHA has set out to promote and recognize the true talents of these special equines. Therefore they have established the American Trail Horse Registry open to all breeds, colors, and sizes of equines. Registration is not based on bloodlines but performance. Their goal is to promote well-trained, dependable and willing equines that can meet the challenges of today’s trail rider.

Even if you don’t want to join ATHA, why not take the challenge and see if your mule can qualify to become a Level 7 equine like Otto Watch Ginger.

“Think you own a Trail Horse?” As an avid trail class enthusiast, this simple sentence in a local horse publication captured my attention. It was just a simple question, but to me it was an open challenge since I ride a Trail Mule! Tentatively, I called the toll-free number and said, “I ride a Mule. Can we join your group?” There was a short silence, then an enthusiastic, “I don’t see why not!” Still, I was skeptical, thinking maybe this ATHA was just a “log the hours” type group. But when I received their paperwork, I was very impressed. They have a special “Stamps of Excellence” program which provides a building block system of awarding equines on their performance. There are seven levels to the program with various tests that must be passed to advance. Some of the tests are very basic, such as being able to catch, halter and tie the equine, load him in the trailer and having him stand quietly while being clipped. Other tests require the equine to work various obstacles such as crossing water, working a gate, stand for mounting and crossing a bridge. Though these may sound simple, it’s amazing how many “aged” saddle equines can’t do these basic steps. But what impressed me the most was that in order to achieve the top honor of Level 7, an equine must pass Level 6 which requires them to participate on an actual trail ride and pass Level 7 where he has to work an obstacle course in the arena. This really impressed me as I know many folks who own Champion Trail Class equines that can’t be ridden on the trail and others who trail ride but can’t get their equines in the arena. Personally I feel a well-trained equine should be able to do both and was happy to see that ATHA feels the same way. This is a big step in helping folks produce quality trail equines. Think how much more it would add to the value of your mule or donkey if you could present a prospective buyer with registration papers that show your equine has been rated on various trail skills.

To participate in the “Stamps of Excellence” program, both equine and handler must be registered with ATHA. There’s no time limit on how long it takes to work through the various levels since they are geared toward developing equines with a sound, basic foundation so even foals and inexperienced handlers can succeed. ATHA is not a competitively focused association and each participant proceeds at his own pace. Qualifying for the various levels can be done either in person at an ATHA approved event or witnessed by an ATHA Representative or done by video and sent to the main office.

Aside from the Stamps of Excellence program, ATHA offers a mileage program where members can earn awards based on the number of miles they have ridden. ATHA also has a registration system to help track stolen horses and a freeze branding program. They have an interesting website at and are looking for folks to serve as State Representatives who would be interested in helping local individuals with the “Stamps of Excellence” program and promoting good trail equines.

I’ve been the Idaho State ATHA Representative for two years now and have really enjoyed the opportunities to meet with other trail riders. It’s also given me a great way to promote my favorite breed. The mule I ride, Otto Watch Ginger, owned by Joe and Bev Craigmile, is the first mule registered with ATHA and the first Level 7 mule. Together we have miles logged with ATHA and hours in the NASMA Versatility Trail Program. I always have a good time when I’m riding Ginger and wearing my representative tee-shirt that has, “Think you own a Trail Horse?” embroidered across the back. Folks always have to comment that Ginger’s “not a horse!” That opens the door for me to tell them about the reputation that mules have for being outstanding trail equines and before they know it, those persons are being gently inducted into the wonderful world of mules.

For more information on ATHA, you can visit their website listed above or call 1-877-266-1678 between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. central time. Then, why not check out the requirements for the “Stamps of Excellence”. Even if you don’t want to join ATHA, why not take the challenge and see if your mule can qualify to become a Level 7 equine!



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