Vail Valley local Anita Percifield wins world mule team title
EAGLE COUNTY — Anita Percifield is a teamster in the most literal sense.
Percifield and her mules, Jane and Judy, won Bishop Mule Days, in Bishop, California, and that makes them world champions.
“They have to know what they’re doing. So do you,” Percifield said. “It’s called a team event, after all.”
Along with accolades, she won a buckle big enough to be used as a lethal weapon. It has to be big to hold all the letters in “world champion.”
“It’s the neatest thing I’ve ever done,” Percifield said.
Support Local Journalism
All about the mules
Anita and her husband, Jake, tried Bishop last year, to see how it fit.
It was a good fit. They loaded up two trucks and two trailers with mules and every kind of rig imaginable, and headed west to Bishop.
Bishop isn’t hard to find. It’s where U.S. Highway 6 ends — or begins, depending on your perspective.
They went back this year with two trucks, two trailers and high hopes. More than 800 animals were entered. Anita and Jake packed their days, entering 37 events between them.
The event had three arenas going at the same time.
“Anything you can do at a horse show, they have a class for it,” Percifield said.
Percifield won five events and her world championship.
She appreciates the attention, but it’s all about the mules, she said
“They’re 17 years old, and they deserve it,” Percifield said.
She and Jake bought Jane and Judy from her mentor back in Indiana. At their stables in Leadville, those mules have hauled everything from wagons to 300-pound men to screaming kids.
Jane and Judy have been together 15 years and have taught five or six kids how to drive, Percifield said.
The judges especially liked that about Jane and Judy. On the score sheets and in conversations, they said the same things: “I like the fact that these mules have worked for a living.”
Precision and Percifield
The mules were named Jane and Judy when Percifield got them. They’ve been together for 15 years, and their precision is something akin to a Broadway dance team.
“When you’re driving animals, you don’t change the name,” Percifield said.
You don’t change commands either, which are remarkably simple:
Gee: Go right.
Haw: Go left.
Step up: Go forward.
Over: Go sideways.
A mule is the offspring of a female horse and a male donkey. The other way around makes it a henny, not a mule.
Mules are a hybrid and do not reproduce.
That gives them hybrid vigor and makes them tougher than horses. They require less feed and tend to be intelligent, Percifield said.
You can bully a horse into crossing a stream it doesn’t want to, but you have to sweet-talk a mule into thinking that it was its idea.
Percifield is originally from Columbus, Indiana. She moved to Colorado in 1981 and worked on a ranch in Carbondale training horses and herding sheep. The sheep herder disappeared one summer, so the ranch manager outfitted her with a pack and some mules, and sent her into the mountains to look after 800 ewes and their babies.
A few years later she landed in this valley to work with Steve Jones Stables and learned to drive teams while running sleigh rides.
There was the time she was driving sleigh rides and the temperature fell to 17 degrees below zero. When she was unhitching the team, she had to do it one buckle at a time, then warm her hands.
These days she drives an ECO bus, not a sleigh.
“The heaters on the buses aren’t great, but they’re better than a sleigh,” Percifield said.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.