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MailTribune.com
  • Grants Pass teen mule-rider aims high in state equestrian finals

  • Grants Pass High School equestrian team standout Sam Henricks doesn't horse around.
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  • Grants Pass High School equestrian team standout Sam Henricks doesn't horse around.
    She rides a mule in the horse-dominated world of competitive high school riding, and she's used to loping away from the competition around Southern Oregon.
    Henricks has qualified for the Oregon High School Equestrian Teams State Finals three years in a row and is on track to keep her streak alive with top-notch performances so far at this year's district meets.
    But the 18-year-old's winning comes with a price — glares from most of the other horseback competitors.
    "I just take it with a grain of salt. I kind of like it. You get underestimated when you're not on a horse," Henricks said. "When we go out there, we do about the same, if not better, than all the other horses."
    Henricks rides Rachael, a 19-year-old mule who, like most mules, is smarter than she is stubborn.
    "Mules have a sense of self-preservation. They are not going to get themselves into trouble, where with a horse you can get it to do just about anything," said Lyle Henricks, Sam's father.
    Southern Oregon High School Equestrian Team district chair Val Hackett said "mules think; horses react."
    "I would like to see more than just horses out here, but mules don't seem to have quite the popularity, and I don't know why," Hackett said. "(Rachael) is as good as any of the horses out here."
    The Henricks family believes the downfall of mules' popularity at equestrian events has little to do with performance and more to do with a misconception that they are stubborn.
    "They are really a lot more versatile, and they're really easy to train," said Lisa Henricks, Sam's mother. "If you don't work with them a lot, they will get kind of ornery, but you basically just train them like a horse."
    Today is the final day in the second of three Southern Oregon district equestrian meets at The Expo in Central Point, and Sam Henricks is confident she and Rachael will finish with a good result.
    At the first district meet this year, the pair took first place in hunt seat and trail equitation and second place in western horsemanship.
    Saturday, the pair were sitting third in hunt seat, with the other styles yet to run.
    "I couldn't even imagine going through with a horse," Sam Henricks said. "Rachael has one gear, and it's slow ... but she is just so consistent in her patterns."
    Sam Henricks learned to ride and show from her mom, who said training and showing mules runs in the family.
    The whole family, which includes 14-year-old Jessie and 12-year-old Jake, trail ride with the mules, and Lyle Henricks uses the animals for hunting.
    Mules are the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse.
    There is another high school equestrian competitor in Southern Oregon with a mini mule, but Sam Henricks is the only rider on a medium-weight mule, Hackett said.
    "Those two have had a lot of success together," Hackett said, referring to Sam Henricks and Rachael, who have been competing together for six years.
    "I think she likes being a little bit different from everybody else," said Lisa Henricks. "It's a good feeling when you have been working so long with an animal and have that success even when there is a stigma."
    Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-776-4471 or swheeler@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/swhlr.
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