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Rocky, the Amazing Trick Mule

Updated on October 17, 2011
DonnaCSmith profile image

Donna Campbell Smith is an author, freelance writer, and photographer. She has an AAS degree in equine tech and is a certified instructor.

While writing The Book of Mules: Selecting, Breeding, and Caring for Equine Hybrids and The Book of Draft Horses: Gentle Giants that Built the World I have met some very nice folks and made some good friends. Probably the most colorful characters among those folk are Rocky, the trick mule, and his owner, James Lamm.

Slide Show of Rocky

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Photo by Donna Campbell SmithPhoto by Donna Campbell SmithPhoto by Donna Campbell Smith
Photo by Donna Campbell Smith
Photo by Donna Campbell Smith
Photo by Donna Campbell Smith
Photo by Donna Campbell Smith
Photo by Donna Campbell Smith
Photo by Donna Campbell Smith

America's Ultimate Horse Idol is not a Horse

Rocky is a six-year-old saddle mule, clearly out of an Appaloosa mare. The white splatters across Rocky's butt on a chestnut background are a dead give away to his maternal heritage. Rocky's flashy appearance comes in handy as a star performer. People might forget his owner's name (James Lamm) but they all remember Rocky.

What gave Rocky star status was winning the America's Ultimate Horse Idol National Finals on October 27, 2007 in Richmond, Virginia. That was after winning the North Carolina contest earlier in August 2007. Okay, I am going to take some credit for Rocky's celebrity. Yep, I saw the notice on the Internet for the contest and emailed the info to James. I was sure Rocky could win, and I was right. Of course, I am sure someone else would have had the same idea, and told James about the contest. Everyone who has met Rocky knows he is the smartest equine around.

"They didn't expect a mule to enter, let alone win," James Lamm said with a big wide grin.

Horses have been a life long hobby. In fact James loves all kinds of animals and has brought home horses, cats and dogs that needed a home, sometimes at the dismay of his wife, Louise. In fact, Rocky is the second trick mule James has trained. When James retired he found he had plenty of time on his hands.

What James has taught Rocky with all that time he has on his hands is nothing short of amazing. Rocky's repertoire includes several tricks done at liberty including fetching objects such as a whip, big orange cones, and even his saddle. Rocky jumps at liberty, will lie down and let James's dog, Mandy, sit on his back, rolls a barrel around with his nose, and stands on a pedestal on command. Rocky demonstrates a mule's uncanny surefootedness by walking onto a teeter totter bridge, then places his feet carefully until the bridge is perfectly balanced. Under saddle, but without a bridle or anything on his head or neck, Rocky will work a trail class complete with backing and side passing obstacles, jumping, negotiating a gate while James unlatches it and re-latches it after they have gone through it, and for a grand finale Rocky jumps into the bed of James's pickup truck. Of training horses or mules James says. "There are no easy and fast ways to train a horse or mule."

Rocky and James are on the way to going pro. Until recently their public performances have been for Cowboys for Christ events, youth gatherings, and local horse clubs. Rocky and James also show the traditional way in western pleasure and trail classes at area events. Sometimes at small shows James will show Rocky in the trail class without his bridle.

"They think I am showing off," James said with a grin when asked how the judges react to him showing Rocky without the bridle. Of course, in a sanctioned show he would be disqualified for improper equipment.

James says he hasn't told Rocky he's being trained, that's a secret. Rocky thinks they are playing. It is obvious Rocky is enjoying the attention he has gotten since winning the American Ultimate Horse Idol Contest. He isn't rattled one bit by the applause, but he did pull a sneaky trick on James at the 2007 Cowboy Up Festival in Elm City, North Carolina. They had finished their routine and James was about to make their exit when Rocky thought it would be appropriate to take a victory pass at full speed gallop around the arena. No one was any the wiser, it looked like part of the act. James just laughed and took a bow when Rocky stopped.

"I knew he wasn't going anywhere," James said.

Recently the pair performed with Tommy Turvey. James was a little nervous, but the crowd loved Rocky.

"Like all ways Rocky did great. To show you how much faith I had in Rocky I rode him with no bridle like all ways, and this was his first time ever seeing a spot light. I think the first few minutes he was nervous of the shadows, but like all ways he pull thru for me," James said

It has truly been a joy knowing Rocky and James. When they become world famous I will be able to say, "Rocky and James are friends of mine. I knew them before Rocky became America's Ultimate Horse Idol." So, R&J, don't forget the little people when you get rich and famous!


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    • DonnaCSmith profile imageAUTHOR

      Donna Campbell Smith 

      9 years ago from Central North Carolina

      Come see Rocky at the Tractor Supply in Youngsville, NC Dec 5th.

    • DonnaCSmith profile imageAUTHOR

      Donna Campbell Smith 

      11 years ago from Central North Carolina

      LeslieAnn, he has video at youtube/jrlamm33

    • LeslyeAnn profile image


      11 years ago from Yoncalla , Oregon

      Way to go Spotted Mule! I'ld love to see a video of James and there one?

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      Jim, you and Rocky are amazing. I've known you for a while now... and you are one of the best Horsemen I know. You've worked hard and spent much time with Rocky and you love that mule. He loves you too and responds well to you. I know the both of you will go FAR and do exceedingly well in the circuits. So I leave with the chant we all say... "ROCK ON ROCKY!" God bless you Jim... Sage**

    • profile image

      David Herring 

      11 years ago

      JAMES -

      You look just as young and an expert horseman as you did a few years ago at Lake Waccamaw


    • profile image

      Cynthia Shear 

      11 years ago

      Thanks for sharing this article & picture with me. I think Rocky is precious. I have even ridden him once! Thanks for being my friend, James. Hope to see you soon competing in Robbins again.

    • profile image

      Anne Shrago 

      11 years ago

      James and Rocky are the greatest, and I love them both!

    • profile image

      Tabitha Daniels 

      11 years ago

      Rocky and James Lamm is amazing....I actually rode with him at my nephew's brithday party....first time I ever rode anything like was awesome!!! Takes a very special man and a very special "Rocky" to do the things they do!!

    • profile image

      james lamm 

      11 years ago

      donna, i am so proud to have you as a friend you need more credit than you know, because you have written so much about me and rocky, is why we are so well know. thanks for every thing, mostly for being my friend james lamm

    • DonnaCSmith profile imageAUTHOR

      Donna Campbell Smith 

      11 years ago from Central North Carolina

      I don't know. There are 44 million donkeys in the world today. So many its possible, given they are used as transportation in a large part of the world.

    • donnaleemason profile image


      11 years ago from North Dakota, USA

      They say that more people get killed by donkeys than plane crashes each year, is it true?


    • DonnaCSmith profile imageAUTHOR

      Donna Campbell Smith 

      11 years ago from Central North Carolina

      A mule is a hybrid. Its daddy is a male donkey (a jack) and its mama is a female horse (a mare). A hinny is a cross between a male horse 9stallion) and female donkey 9jennet.)

    • evemurphy profile image


      11 years ago from Ottawa

      Sometimes I'm so thick! At first I thought the mule was a plastic one or stuffed or something , because he looks that way in the photo, being so flawless and standing on that platform. I guess if I said that to Rocky's face he'd give me kick like any mule would! :)

      Anyway I found your story about him lots of fun. My brother has a donkey at his I have seen those. Wonder if there is difference between a mule and donkey? ;)


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