AEDC team member Kim Russell and her mule Gus land cover of Western Mule Magazine

Kim Russell, AEDC property specialist, shows off the reining skills of her mule Gus. Russell had shown horses in competitions for many years but later became interested in acquiring a mule. She later found Gus through an ad on Craigslist and has since trained him to become a competition-winning mule. (Courtesy photo/Kim Russell)

Kim Russell, AEDC property specialist, shows off the reining skills of her mule Gus. Russell had shown horses in competitions for many years but later became interested in acquiring a mule. She later found Gus through an ad on Craigslist and has since trained him to become a competition-winning mule. (Courtesy photo/Kim Russell)

To the surprise of Kim Russell, AEDC property specialist, the June edition of Western Mule Magazine featured herself and her mule Gus at the 2016 Great Celebration Mule & Donkey Show held last summer in Shelbyville, where Gus won the Open Mule Reining Class. (Courtesy photo)

To the surprise of Kim Russell, AEDC property specialist, the June edition of Western Mule Magazine featured herself and her mule Gus at the 2016 Great Celebration Mule & Donkey Show held last summer in Shelbyville, where Gus won the Open Mule Reining Class. (Courtesy photo)

ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, TENN. -- As a relative newcomer to the world of mule ownership, Kim Russell takes steps to ensure she receives the latest mule-related news and tips.

Russell, AEDC real property specialist, subscribes to both of the national periodicals devoted to all things mule. The magazines are typically filled with photographs, stories and information on activities such as rides and shows.

But the June edition of Western Mule Magazine contained something unexpected.

“When I went out to the mailbox, it was a complete surprise,” Russell said.

A photograph of Russell atop her 10-year-old mule, whose full name is It’s All About the Gusto, graced that month’s cover.

The picture, which depicts Russell and the mule affectionately known as “Gus” participating in an open mule reining class competition, was taken during the 2016 Great Celebration Mule & Donkey Show held last summer in Shelbyville.

While pleased, Russell wanted to know how the picture of her and Gus in action ended up on the cover of Western Mule Magazine. This led her to contact the magazine’s editors, who advised that the staff go through proofs of previously taken photos when selecting an image for the cover.

Landing the cover of Western Mule Magazine is just the latest feather in the cap of the mule Russell acquired in November 2014.

“Ten years ago, if somebody had said I was going to own a mule, I would have said, ‘No way,’” Russell said.

Russell came across Gus three years ago while perusing Craigslist for mules. Although the then 7-year-old mule had never been shown, several things about Gus appealed to Russell.

“[The ad said that] this mule can have a gun shot off of him and he will lay down for you to mount or dismount,” Russell said. “Now I’m interested.”

Russell traveled to southern Indiana to bring Gus to his new home in southern middle Tennessee.

“This is the first mule I’ve ever bought or owned,” Russell said.

And Russell had big plans for Gus. She became interested in getting a mule several years after stepping away from training and showing horses, an activity she had participated in since the age of 11.

Russell applied the reining skills she had honed during her years of training horses to Gus. She rode and worked with the mule virtually each day after work and on the weekends.

“I did it myself,” Russell said. “I didn’t send him off to anyone.”

Gus had received basic training from his prior owner, just enough, Russell said, to break the mule for riding. But Gus proved to be a quick study and, just seven months after acquiring him, Russell entered Gus into his first national show – the 2015 Great Celebration Mule & Donkey Show held in Shelbyville.

Gus took home top prize in the Open Silver Amateur Trail competition.

During the 2016 show, when the image that would eventually find its way onto the cover of Western Mule Magazine was snapped by photographer Jon McCarthy, Gus won the Open Mule Reining Class, a competition that Russell said is typically dominated by quarter horses.

Reining is a discipline in which animals are judged on their ability to be willingly guided through a precise pattern that has a series of spins, circles and stops.

Gus continued his winning ways this past summer by placing first in an open reining class held in Missouri over Labor Day weekend. He also won one of the two obstacle course classes in which he competed in the Alabama Chuckwagon Races, an event held annually in Tuscumbia, Alabama.

An illness prevented Russell from getting Gus to the Great Celebration Mule & Donkey Show held this past July, but she said she may take him to a show to be held in Oklahoma the first weekend of November.

Mules, the offspring of female horses and male donkeys, have a reputation for being “dumb” and “stubborn,” Russell said.

But she added, if Gus is any indication, mules are the equine equal to horses and are even more surefooted than horses on riding trails.

“He’s a great multipurpose ride,” Russell said of Gus. “I turn around and also trail ride him, too. He wears many hats.”

Russell said she was previously contacted by an author working on a book to dispel the stigma surrounding mules. This author asked if Gus’ pictures could be included within the book’s pages.

Russell’s 3-and-a-half-year-old grandson Caisen adores Gus, and she also plans on acquiring more mules in the future, as Gus, now a cover boy to go along with being a multi-time national champion, has proven to be a great investment.

“Right now, I’m just afraid to sell him because I know he’s going to be really difficult to replace,” she said.